New Study Refutes the Thesis That Blacks Are “Mismatched” When Admitted to the Nation’s Highest-Ranked Law Schools

In a 2004 article in the Stanford Law Review, Richard Sander, a professor at the law school at UCLA, contended that black students were underperforming when compared to their white peers at the nation’s leading law schools. Sander argued that because of affirmative action admissions policies, black students were “mismatched” and destined to fail. Sander maintained that high-ranking law schools were doing black students a disservice by admitting them to schools where they would fail.

As a result, if affirmative action admissions at top law schools were discontinued, according to Sander, the number of blacks in the legal profession would actually increase.

Subsequently, JBHE refuted the Sander thesis in showing that black students at the nation’s leading law schools were graduating at a very high rate and in most cases at rates very similar to their white counterparts.

Now a new paper by Katherine Y. Barnes, an associate professor at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona, presents further evidence refuting the Sander thesis. The paper, published in the Northwestern University Law Review, presents a statistical analysis of graduation rates, bar examination passage rates, and job attainment in the legal field by black law school students.

Professor Barnes finds that when students of any race with lower credentials are admitted to top law schools they actually learn more and achieve greater success because they are challenged by higher-performing classmates.

Contrary to Sander’s position that there would be an increase in black lawyers of about 8 percent if affirmative action admissions in law schools were no longer practiced, Barnes’ data shows that ending affirmative action would result in a decrease of 22.6 percent in the number of new black law graduates, a decrease of 13.4 percent in the number of new black lawyers, and a decrease of 23 percent in the number of black law graduates who obtain well-paying positions in the legal field.