Risk disclosure 3.

Between 1991-97 the LSAC (people who run the LSAT) did a study called the LSAC-BPS. They tracked 27,000 law students before, during and after law school to see what factors influence graduation rates and bar passage.

The following charts are based on my own computations using the LSAC-BPS data. Keep in mind that in law school admissions, Asians are not considered under-represented racial minorities, and typically don’t receive preferences. Nor, obviously, do whites. Similarly, African-Americans and Latinos almost always receive preferences.

Thnk about what these figures say about the status of racial equality in legal eduation.

Attrition rates prior to graduation

African-American: 19.5%

Asian: 8.8%

Latino: 13.2%

White: 8.2%

Overall: 9.3%

This is the proportion of students of each race who started law school but hadn’t graduated by the end of the study. African-American and Latino students are considerably more likely to drop out than Asians or whites.

Failure rates on first bar exam

African-American: 38.6%

Asian: 19.3%

Latino: 25.4%

White: 8.1%

Overall: 11.4%

The disparity in graduation rates becomes even more pronounced at after the first bar exam. This makes sense, since students who scraped by in law school are less likely to be performing at an adequate threshold for the bar. And who are these students near the bottom of the class? Many of them were admitted under preferences.

African-Americans fail their first bar exam at over 4 times the rate for white students. For Latinos, it’s over 3 times that rate.

Net bar exam failure rates

The LSAC-BPS didn’t track the results for every bar exam taken during the study, just the first and the last. Roughly speaking, that lets us figure out what proportion of the study members ended up with a valid bar membership, i.e. could actually practice law.

African-American: 22.4%

Asian: 8.1%

Latino: 12.3%

White: 3.3%

Overall: 5.2%

In other words, during the time of the study, Latino law students were about 4 times less likely than white students to end up as lawyers. African-Americans were 7 times less likely.

(Actually, the real numbers are even higher, because I’m not factoring in students who dropped out of school, or who graduated and never took the bar. They didn’t become lawyers either.)

As for equality in legal education, I think the numbers speak for themselves. I will only add two points:

1) The loss of so many minority students on the way through law school & the bar means admissions preferences are effective for creating racially diverse law students but not nearly as effective for creating racially diverse lawyers.

Worse, the attrition means there’s plenty of URM students out there who paid for multiple years of legal education and have the debt to prove it, but not the bar membership. Is it good enough for law schools to admit a diverse student body, or do schools need to make sure these students are actually becoming lawyers?

2) Schools have been on notice for a while now about the disparity in graduation and bar passage rates. Every school knows which students graduate; every school knows which students pass the bar. Is it good enough for law schools to have this information and not share it or act on it?

12 Jun 06


I’ve been following your posts, but this last one leaves me confused-if Asian Americans aren’t given admissions preferences but still drop-out of law school and fail the bar exam at more than twice the rate of their white peers, how do you attribute the disparate performance in law school and on the bar of different racial groups to admissions policies?

Posted by: jk at June 13, 2006 02:12 PM

When I did the research, I had the same question. The dropout rates for Asians and whites are about equal (8.8% vs. 8.2%) But there’s definitely a gap on the bar exam (more than 2x). I don’t have a full answer, but here’s my thinking.

Recall (per pt.1) that entering credentials explain a portion of racial underperformance effects, but not all. There’s obviously other factors that contribute to a student’s success in law school & on the bar. Some of these ‘unobserved’ factors are likely to fall more heavily on certain racial groups.

These are necessarily coarse racial categories, and conceal complexity of individual results. For instance, the heading ‘Asians’ refers to all students of Asian descent, regardless of whether they were raised here, abroad, or a combination. (If English is your second language, you probably won’t do as well on the bar.) It includes Japanese, Koreans and Chinese students, who have typically have better entering credentials than Filipino or Vietnamese students, who are also included. (In fact, some schools have started to make finer distinctions among ‘Asian’ students to apply preferences to some.)

To the extent minority groups (including Asians) have lower average entering credentials than whites, they won’t perform as well on the bar. But I don’t think of racial preferences as being the core issue—the “bottom 10% of the class” problem is what we should be concerned about.

Preferences seem to exacerbate both the degree of the problem and the racialization. For instance, even if you just look at elite schools in the LSAC-BPS, over 50% of the African-American students ended up in the bottom 10% of their class.

Overall, I don’t think risk disclosure should happen based on racial group identity, it should be based on race-neutral individual measures (ie. entering credentials). What these numbers illustrate is that the inequality of opportunity that racial preferences are trying to cure re-emerges after the bar exam as inequality of results.

Posted by: MB at June 13, 2006 09:18 PM

Update on Asian students. I did some asking around and found out that during the time of the LSAC-BPS study (early 90s) most law schools were still giving preferences to Asian students (though not as strong as the preferences that went to Latino and African-American students). Therefore, the disparity in bar results is a consistent result.

So, in my previous comment, I somewhat mischaracterized law school practices with respect to Asian preferences. Let me correct that. 15 yrs ago, most Asians got preferences. Preferences for northern Asians (Korean, Chinese, Japanese) have largely been phased out since then. Preferences for southeast asians (Filipino, Vietnamese, et al) continue.

Posted by: MB at June 15, 2006 02:11 PM

More about Asians:

Is there any data out there to find out whether East Asians (K,C,J) now have similar bar passage rates to whites now that they don’t get an admissions bump?

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