Diversity in Law Schools: Idealistic, Unnecessary or Vital?

by Aman Singh Das | March 16, 2010

  • My Vault

Everyone and everything in this world has a stereotypical image, whether we believe it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not. And the law industry is no exception. Like the newsrooms from the 1970s and '80s conjure a bunch of white men deciding what news to feature, law firms construe a mainly male, mostly white dominance. Although, firms have been trying hard to diversify their ranks and their progress has made leaps and bounds in recent years. If you have a law firm in mind, see how they do by visiting Vault.com's Law Diversity Database, which allows you to compare firms on their initiatives, etc.

Today, two separate news pieces caught my attention regarding diversity in the law industry. One, an announcement by University of Denver's Sturm College of Law on their newly-created position of Associate Dean of Institutional Diversity and Inclusiveness. A long title but succinct duties. Professor Catherine Smith, currently an associate professor at the college, will be primarily responsible for outreach to local minority bar associations and pipeline projects for admissions. Or increasing minority enrollments and diversifying their ranks. The title might well be the first of its kind for a law school.

The second item was a debate regarding U.S. News' ranking methodology for law schools. Penned by Vikram David Amar, the associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law and Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the School of Law, both at the University of California, Davis, the argument stems from the decision to exclude diversity as a factor in the rankings. Their argument of including diversity as index in the rankings isn't new. What is interesting is their take on why U.S. News continues to avoid the diversity branch: "... the U.S. News survey is not–and never has been–designed to measure how well each law school is accomplishing broad social objectives, or how much social justice each law school is achieving. (If the survey were designed for that, it would look completely different..) Instead, U.S. News seems to try to measure, albeit imprecisely, how good a job each law school is doing in producing top-notch lawyers and leaders for national and international roles in the bar, bench, business community, government and academy."

And here is their argument: "Diversity is relevant to what U.S. News is trying to gauge, but not because a diverse school is doing a good job in redressing past injustice in its state. Diversity is relevant because ... a diverse school provides a richer learning environment for its students, who will then be better prepared, going forward, to enter and succeed in the realm of diversity that is the entire United States and the world."

Clearly this is a debate with many viewpoints and the authors acknowledge this: "[M]easuring how successful law schools are at achieving diversity is a very complicated issue that cannot easily be included in our rankings formula in a fair and meaningful way... For example, U.S. News would need to determine what scale would be used to measure diversity for each law school. How should law schools be compared in ethnically diverse states like California and Florida, say, with those in far less diverse states like Maine and Kansas?"

All relevant arguments but no consensus on the best approach yet. Read their complete post on FindLaw. Got something to add? Do you agree with their premise of increasing diversity for the sake of diversified thought, and not mere numbers? Leave a comment, write to In Good Company or follow us on Twitter @Vault CSR. For specific news on the law industry, follow us @VaultLaw and for law school guidance, follow @VaultJD!

Filed Under: CSR

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