We Need More Black Lawyers.
This Black History Month, I felt compelled to urge you to encourage and Black and Brown students to pursue a legal career. Although this letter speaks specifically to legal education, the concepts and ideas can be applied to any industry or profession. Thank you for reading and sharing.
This letter is for you. Yes, YOU, whoever you are reading this letter. You don’t have to be Black. You don’t have to be a lawyer. But YOU can encourage Black students to pursue the legal profession. It is essential to have more Black lawyers despite the barriers to legal education. By the end of this letter, you’ll be equipped with the tools to to increase the number of Black lawyers.
There aren’t enough Black Lawyers!
If you’ve read my piece “The Exclusion Practice of Law,” (read it if you haven’t) you’d learn in 2019, the National Association of Law Placement reported, of 108,529 total lawyers, the percentage of lawyers who identify as Black is 5%, and only 8.73% identify as women of color. (2019 Report on Diversity in US Law Firms.
FIVE PERCENT of lawyers in the ENTIRE UNITED STATES identify as Black. About 12% of the US population identify as Black or African American. (2020 US Census).
The importance of representation!
In an interview with ABC11 News (for the picture above), I expressed, Black lawyers are necessary for the communities they come from that are often underrepresented, under-respected, and under-served. Our community members often rely upon Black lawyers as someone they can trust when dealing with legal matters or explaining legal issues. Black lawyers are also viewed as community protectors to little black boys and little black girls.
We need Black Women Lawyers.
We need Black Men Lawyers.
We need Black criminal defense lawyers to protect the rights of Black people facing the criminal justice system.
We need Black family lawyers to protect Black couples, parents, and children confronted by a system that all too quickly separates families.
We need Black Social justice lawyers to combat the injustices of over-policing and mass incarceration.
We need Black Civil Rights Lawyers to protect voting rights and advocate for the Black LGBT+ community’s protections.
We need Black real estate lawyers to help Black homeowners get fair deals.
We need Black business lawyers to guide Black entrepreneurs through the process of protecting their assets and minimizing liabilities.
We need Black health lawyers to work in communities and hospitals to ensure health equity and access to healthcare in Black communities.
We need Black environmental lawyers to prevent factories that populate the air and water in Black neighborhoods.
We need Black employment lawyers to work for companies to stop discriminatory hiring practices and create an inclusive culture through retention and professional development policies.
We need Black Intellectual Property lawyers to help Black creatives, business owners, and inventors protect their ideas.
We need Black wills and trusts attorneys to help Black families build generational wealth.
We need Black bankruptcy lawyers to protect Black lenders from predatory practices.
We need Black law professors who can teach effectively and with empathy, respecting their students’ varied experiences.
We need Black [fill in the blank] lawyers.
Barriers to legal education.
As a lawyer and law school administrator, I am familiar with the barriers to legal education. Some are the result of a historically exclusive profession. Other barriers are due to a lack of knowledge about the process. Let’s explore these barriers and their solutions.
Barrier: There Aren’t Enough “Qualified, Diverse Applicants.”
Thoughts: First, I would like to challenge your use of “qualified” and “diverse.” I dare you to be more specific.
Qualified how? They have higher than the median LSAT and a strong GPA. What other qualifications are you seeking?
Diverse in what way? Name it. Black? Asian? Woman? What “diversity” would qualify a candidate?
Solution: If you’re not seeing enough “qualified, diverse applicants,” there is possibly an institutional reason they aren’t applying. Look inward before blaming outwardly. Expand your recruiting practices to specifically target the students you want to see in law school. Go to them. Invite them to you. Walk them through the admissions process early, from beginning to end.
Barrier: The LSAT is Hard!
Thoughts: The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is an integral part of law school admission in the United States, although some schools are accepting the GRE.
Although some research suggests LSAT scores are not significant indicators of Bar Success, many schools still rely on the metrics to sell the school and promote exclusivity.
There are scores of law schools who look at law school applications holistically, taking into account the experiences a student brings to the overall law school community. Relying solely on entering LSAT and GPA has its advantages when you get over 2000 applications a year and need a quick (maybe lazy) way to uphold the integrity and prestige of your institution — despite the exclusionary impact.
Solution: You will need to prepare for it early. Preparation includes mentally preparing for the substance of the test and financially preparing for the costs. Law schools can see ALL of the scores; getting a high score the first time is critical! Register to take the LSAT the summer before your senior year and plan to start studying 2–4 months in advance of your LSAT date. Plan regularly scheduled study times every week. You will also need to consider the LSAT costs, LSAT prep cost, and the fees associated with submitting your score to schools. There are fee waivers you can apply for and free LSAT prep options like Khan Academy. Start preparing for all of this early to reduce stress about paying for the LSAT while studying for it.
Barrier: Submitting Last Minute Admissions Applications.
Thought: Not “after the deadline” late, but “just before the deadline and after everyone else” late. Several law schools have early decision deadlines and/or rolling admissions. Some schools are already accepting early applications in November and admitted highly qualified students in December. These proactive students are getting in before the spring deadline for applications.
Solution: If you know you want to go to law school, apply early. Take your LSAT early and start submitting applications in September and October. Get ahead of the rush to increase your chances of being admitted by applying early. Get familiar with the applications and the deadlines on www.lsac.org. Studies show students of color apply to law school in late-March. The downside of that — some schools have application deadlines in February, and many others have scholarship deadlines even earlier!
Barrier: Law School Costs TOO Much!
Thoughts: Yes, law school is expensive. You’re paying for the future value of your growth potential. Intellectually and financially. You’re not merely paying for a degree; you are paying to be a part of a profession. I write this having law school debt myself. The skills that I developed are invaluable.
Solution: SCHOLARSHIPS. Remember I said to apply to law school early — scholarships are another reason why. Apply when there is more money for schools to give out. Also, note any scholarships that have a separate application and deadline — often earlier than the admissions application. Search the internet and legal organizations for grants and scholarships. They exist. If you want them, you’ll do the work for them.
Barrier: “I don’t want to be in a courtroom/talk in front of people. Or I don’t like to argue.”
Thoughts: Not all lawyers do this. If you don’t like to argue, you’ll probably be more successful as a lawyer because you’ll focus on building other skills.
Solution: Stop watching Law and Order and How to Get Away with Murder. Not all lawyers go to court. Very few cases ever make it to court. Go back to the top of this letter and search for lawyers in those industries. Reach out to them and ask to learn more about what they do.
Use Your Resources.
If you are a high school or an undergraduate student and thinking about law school, consider the resources available to you. Use the career center, on-campus writing center, pre-law advisors, and AccessLex and LSAC to learn all you can about financial management and the admissions process. If you are already thinking of a couple of schools, attend their events, especially while they are happening virtually. Admissions departments LOVE talking to early college students because they can advise how you can be competitive in law admissions.
How YOU (a non-student) can help.
You may be a parent, a supervisor, a cousin, a mentor to a young Black boy or girl, a friend, or a confidant to a Black man or woman. You have the power to encourage them to pursue law. You can do that, right now. As an ally, you can encourage someone you know to pursue law as a career.
TODAY — right now, as soon as you finish reading this, share this letter with two people. You likely know one person with an interest in pursuing law and a second person connected to someone interested in pursuing law, like a school counselor or pre-law advisor.
I am working with high schools and universities to speak with students of color and encourage them to pursue law school and start the pursuit early. If you know anyone who can benefit, contact me today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Thank you colleagues and friends who contributed to this letter.