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URMs in Law School

athenaNYathenaNY Registered User Posts: 299 Junior Member
edited December 2004 in Law School
Hi guys,

I really not trying to spark a heated debate on the merits/weaknesses of Affirmative Action (of which there are several of both, I think). My question is, do you think that affirmative action is more or less of a factor in law school admissions than it is in undergraduate admissions?

The reason I ask is that it seemed pretty all-important during the college application process. I'm not referring to public schools, which I know have faced some challenges since the Michigan case. I'm really talking about the top private universities. Thanks for any help/insight!
Post edited by athenaNY on

Replies to: URMs in Law School

  • Susan777Susan777 Registered User Posts: 75 Junior Member
    This is a good question, and I'm not certain of the answer.

    There is certainly more controversy over its use in law school admissions, I would say. Law school admissions are more competitive, so this might be one reason.

    I would argue that it probably helps more in the law school admission process, because there simply is (I believe) less diversity at that level. So schools seeking that probably work harder to create it.
  • ariesathenaariesathena Registered User Posts: 5,088 Senior Member
    Roughly 4% of law students (I think - maybe it's practicing lawyers) are minorities. So, there is a desire, at least at some schools, to get some diversity. To say anything beyond that would be pure speculation. You could argue that there are huge affirmative action tendencies to recruit more minorities, given the few of them who actually go to law school; but you could argue that, as they benefited from AA undergrad, the minorities have the advantage of coming from a better school (though, statistically, with a lower freshman year GPA).

    As for more or less important - I think that it depends on the undergrad school that you are comparing to. I know, I know - last thing you want to hear! Seriously though; some schools undergrad really work hard to get minorities, while others give little or no extra consideration. Also, with undergrad, there's a lower bar for the "Can you do the work?" question - essentially, it's a lot easier to prove that you can do the work at most colleges. With law school, there is a huge hurdle to prove that you can handle the workload, pace, and stress. Seriously - I think that a lot of law school admissions (with LSAT and GPA) is admissions trying to figure out who can handle it. While the days of "look to your left, look to your right; one of you won't be here next year" are gone, law school is never a cakewalk.

    Anyway - I'm not trying to say that minority students cannot handle the work, just that there is less wiggle room to admit a student who may not be quite as qualified. At many undergrad schools, a minority or recruited athlete or pick-your-own-cause-to-debate/complain-about-student can get academic help, take five years to graduate, take Rocks for Jocks, and get the degree. Law school doesn't work that way. As such, it's a much more numbers-focused admissions - they don't care about your year abroad or Habitat for Humanity projects - the huge priority is to find the people best able to handle the work.

    That all said, the rumour floating around here is that they'll accept minorities with LSATs about 15 points below the median. Then again, the rumour around here is that they are trying to change the political leanings of the student body, so who knows.
  • Susan777Susan777 Registered User Posts: 75 Junior Member
    Actually, about 15 - 20% of students at most law schools are minorities. "Underrepresented" minorities (african-american, hispanic, native american) may be more like 10%. (I think you probably are thinking of practicing attorneys.)

    That said, there is no question that URM's receive preferential admissions. This isn't a matter of speculation -- it's a matter of public record. Take a look at the data surrounding the Michigan lawsuits, and you'll see this pretty quickly. Some URM's, of course, have the requisite numbers either way. But most probably receive some degree of preference in admissions.

    However, I agree this doesn't answer the question of how much preference is granted. The Michigan case, if anything, indicated a more mechanical preference for URM's at the undergrad level, and a more flexible preference for URM's "as one factor, among others", in law school admissions. But that doesn't really explain which is greater.

    That said, being a URM is a signfiicant advantage when applying to almost any law school. I seriously doubt that most such applicants have LSAT's 15 points below the median, but you can probably be below the 25th percentile, and still have a decent shot. I would think anything within 5/6 points below might be workable, with greater leeway given in certain cases. So if you're uncertain, cast a wide net. Your best bet would be to contact the schools in question and ask them directly what your chance might be. But in general, if you're anywhere near their desired range, they'll probably take an extra long look at you if you fall within that category.

    (I'm not really sure why they would try to change the political leanings of the student body. Most profs in academia today, including law school, are liberal, as are most students. Most students seem to be pretty thoroughly brainwashed by the time they get to law school, so this shouldn't be an issue.)
  • athenaNYathenaNY Registered User Posts: 299 Junior Member
    Thanks Susan, and Ariesathena (awesome name!)

    I have a little bit of an ethical problem with affirmative action, but being half Hispanic I would feel more comfortable at least being able to assess my chances (given that AA exists, I may as well know about it!)

    I am a junior right now at Dartmouth College. I'm not sure how it is regarded grade inflation wise, but I am a double major history and government. They are two departments where it is not too hard to do okay, but it is hard to do amazingly well. Thus my GPA is fine, but not stellar. I anticipate my LSATs being pretty high, 170 and above, and I am wondering if this puts me in the running for more competitive law schools than I would otherwise be eligible for based on my GPA, etc.

    Ariesathena- you are absolutely right. It is hard to claim "economic disadvantage" having attended Dartmouth. But my first year did get me off to a rocky start, as I was coming from a very poor high school, and also had to work during college when most of my classmates did not.

    I suppose I can contact the schools. It just seems a bit awkward to say "Hi... I'm a minority... how much preference will you give me?" ;) Any recommendations as to how to go about that?

    Thanks for your thorough answers!!
  • ariesathenaariesathena Registered User Posts: 5,088 Senior Member
    Because I go to a conservative law school. :)

    Honestly - Dartmouth, double major, "fine" GPA (what, about 3.5ish?), and 170 LSAT - even without AA, I think that you have a great shot at most law schools and a good chance (which is all you can ask) at the top ones. Combine that with minority status and you'll be in great shape.

    Here's what I would do. If your first year grades were low, most law schools will overlook that, but give them more reason to. Explain that you went to a poor high school and also let them know that you've worked all through college. FYI: you probably won't be allowed to work during your first year of law school. It is strongly discouraged. Fin. aid information is sent in separately from the application, so they probably won't be able to see (or really care to look up) your exact economic situation, so let them know.

    Well, if you want to ask in a roundabout way (considering that you aren't a fan of the direct route)... here are my suggestions:
    *Ask about how they will account for freshman grades, as you came from a not-so-great high school
    *Go to any minority law school sessions
    *When you sign up for LSDAS, sign up to receive mailings (this will make more sense later, when you fill it out). You'll get some based only on your LSATs - free applications, basically - and some (maybe) based on other factors. Free applications are good. I fared better at the places which sent me them (even when they were better schools) than the ones that didn't. Law schools know what they are looking for, and they'll entice you to apply.
    *Calculate a GPA within your two majors (presumably, you've done quite well in those courses, and most of them weren't during your freshman year).

    Do this at the LSAC fairs. Seriously. If you are face-to-face with an admissions officer, they might be able to get the subtle question - that you're wondering if they'll give you an edge. Listen carefully to what they say. If they get all excited about you, saying that you'll be fine and whatnot, apply. If they get all uptight, don't apply. Also, when you apply, mention in your cover letter anything interesting that they said about the school and mention meeting them (good thing to do anyway).
  • athenaNYathenaNY Registered User Posts: 299 Junior Member
    Thanks so much for the advice. And yay for conservative law schools! I want to go to U Chicago... but it's a serious reach.
  • Susan777Susan777 Registered User Posts: 75 Junior Member
    Ahh.... fair enough.

    Hey, Athena.

    I wouldn't get hung up on the ethics of AA at this point. The system is what it is, and you would be foolish not to work it as it exists. (Other people get advantages too.) Moreover, if you were in fact economically disadvantaged growing up, even just from attending a poor high school, then I think most people would agree that that's something which should legimately be taken into account -- at least in terms of your early grades in college, and especially if you were able to adjust and improve.

    It's hard to say without knowing your precise GPA, but I would say that, if you have a 3.3 or above, and you crack 170, then you'll definitely be accepted into some top schools. Even with a 3.0/170, you might have a shot.

    As noted by Aries, be sure in your essay to discuss any hardships you had to deal with, especially as it affected your early grades. Also discuss the fact that you worked in school. Anything that makes you stand out is good (and obviously mention your hispanic heritage).
  • athenaNYathenaNY Registered User Posts: 299 Junior Member
    Thanks! You guys are great :) I am very nervous about this process (and probably a bit too soon).

    My GPA right now is a 3.37, and will definitely be higher if I wait a year to apply, and apply with my final GPA. Dartmouth is on a quarter system so I technically have 5 more terms to raise my GPA if I wait.
  • Susan777Susan777 Registered User Posts: 75 Junior Member
    In that case, you should be fine. Apply with your final GPA, and prep long and well for the LSAT. You'll definitely end up at an excellent school. (Just apply to all the top programs, and you should get into at least one, assuming high 160's or 170+)
  • ariesathenaariesathena Registered User Posts: 5,088 Senior Member
    Do NOT, in your essays, discuss such hardships. The proper place for that is in an addendum. It should be no longer than about a half page, should be titled something such as "Addendum: Explanation of Freshman Grades" or similar, and should be clear and concise. Law schools often want to see essays about why you want to be a lawyer or go to law school, a significant experience, or how you will contribute to the school (I wrote one of those about being an engineer). If the only "personal" side of your application discusses a less-than-advantaged background, and you are Ivy educated - well, that probably won't come off well.

    Read Robert Miller's "Law School Confidential," as it will give you some great information about applications and the like. Also - Susan - getting the feeling that you are not a 1L but rather starting in August 05 - phenomenal book if you haven't found it.
  • Susan777Susan777 Registered User Posts: 75 Junior Member
    Let me clarify -- you should in fact discuss your hardships in your essay, but discuss their relationship to your grades in a separate addendum.

    The reason you should discuss your hardships in your essay is because your real "hook" is that you are, theoretically, a disadvantaged minority. Regardless of whether or not you attended Dartmouth, if you grew up with less advantages, attending a poorer high school, etc., then those are obstacles you had to overcome to make it to an ivy, and that give you a different perspective. (I don't know your exact situation, but if you had to work during school, and attended a poorer high school, then I assume your parents weren't loaded, and that you were heavily dependent on financial aid, loans, etc. Ivy doesn't necessarily equal privilege, of course.) This is the kind of stuff admissions officers eat up, especially when you're a URM. I think pretty much any professional admissions consultant would agree.

    Aries is right that you should probably save the grade discussion for a separate addendum, although you could lay the groundwork for it in your essay. I just get lazy sometimes when discussing these issues, and throw them all under the heading of "essays", in the assumption that people will read up on it further before applying.

    I'm actually a 2L, aries, but thanks anyway. I actually think Susan Estrich's book "Getting into Law School" is even better. (Check this out if you get a chance, Athena.)
  • grxkngrxkn Registered User Posts: 382 Member
    You're not half-Greek by any chance, are you? My long-lost half-siblings (according to my uncle) would be half-Greek/half-Hispanic (Mexican, most likely). Your name is Athena, so I was just wondering.
  • Susan777Susan777 Registered User Posts: 75 Junior Member
    P.S.: Where are you applying, Aries? Let me know if you need any essay tips -- mine was pretty helpful.
  • athenaNYathenaNY Registered User Posts: 299 Junior Member
    I am half English and half Puerto Rican. Athena is just from a mythology class I took!!
    Thank you for your advice. My dad is a New York City police officer, my mom is a waitress, so yes were heavily dependent on financial aid (and my working during college).
    I am not one hundred percent sure where I am applying yet. (This is only my junior winter, so I will be narrowing that down after this term.) But I want to apply to University of Chicago, UVA, Cornell, and NYU, as well as Notre Dame, GWU and Richmond.
  • PSedrishMDPSedrishMD Registered User Posts: 712 Member
    Hey athena, my kids are half PR & half jewish :)
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