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Research Roundup: American Bar Foundation Study Provides Data on Law School Diversity

A new American Bar Foundation-sponsored study analyzes demographics of Juris Doctor (JD) law school attendees since the Great Recession of the 2000s based on gender, race and nationality. The purpose of this study is to provide a foundation for discussion into the diversity make up of law school students and lawyers.

According to American Bar Association (ABA) data from 2018, 85% of lawyers are white and 36% are women.

The study, which took data from the ABA and the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), found JD enrollment overall has declined by almost 25% since it peaked in 2010. However, there has been a slight increase since 2016. The researchers do not anticipate this enrollment to continue rising due to economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, although applicants since 2016 have increased by nearly 11%, new enrollments have increased by only 3%. The study found this slight increase is entirely attributable to women’s enrollment.

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Despite women outnumbering men in law school, researchers found that women are disproportionately enrolled in lower-ranked schools with low levels of bar passage and post-graduate employment. Therefore, it is uncertain whether this increase in women pursuing law will affect the current male-dominated landscape of the profession.

Most of the women who have recently enrolled are Asian, Black and Hispanic. Numbers of white and Asian applicants since the 2000s recession have enrolled at lower rates than Black and Hispanic law students. However, Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately enrolled in lower-ranked schools than white and Asian students. The researchers stated that further analysis is needed to determine how many of these Black and Hispanic students go on to practice law.

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“Given the substantial indebtedness and opportunity costs that students incur by attending law school, the changing racial and ethnic makeup of recent enrollments should be interpreted with caution,” the report says.

The number of law students who identify as multiracial is growing, which presents a challenge because the ABA and LSAC do not record information on the specific racial and ethnic makeup of non-Hispanic multiracial students. While data on those who report being of two or more races” grows, numbers of white, Asian and Black students will appear to lower.

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Asian American enrollment since the recession is also significantly down — lower than any other racial or ethnic group. The study predicts the number of Asian American lawyers will begin to plateau in the next decade. However, International JD enrollments are up, especially at upper-tier law schools. Forty percent of these international students are from Asian countries.

“These trends underscore the importance of distinguishing between Asians and Asian Americans in reporting enrollment data,” the study states.

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