Minorities, Poor, and Middle-Income
Shut Out of High-Priced Law Schools

Sherwood Ross

Low- and middle-income students are being shut out of the legal profession because they cannot afford to attend law schools where tuition is kept high by costly expenditures mandated by the American Bar Association (ABA).

The tuition at a private ABA law school currently is about $30,000 a year --- far beyond the means of a working-class family, according to an authoritative book on the subject.

“Demanding extravagant wages, working conditions, and lifestyles for law professors, and demanding plush facilities and libraries, the ABA standards required enormous financial resources,” author Debbie Hagan charges in her book “Against The Tide” (University Press of America).

This drives up costs and tuitions “dramatically” and excludes “the working class, minorities, and (individuals making) midlife career changes,” Hagan writes. The standards also thwart innovative new schools, such as the Massachusetts School of Law (MSL) of Andover, Mass., which strive “to keep costs and tuitions low.”

ABA standards regulate everything from how many hours’ law school professors may teach to their pay, sabbaticals and faculty numbers, building and classroom size, entrance examinations, and even the number of books in the library, Hagan notes.

Pointing out how great power is concentrated in the hands of the nation’s 1-million lawyers, Hagan reports lawyers make up 53 percent of U.S. senators, 37 percent of congressmen, 46 percent of state governors, and 17 percent of state legislators. Except for a few traffic court magistrates, all judges are lawyers and lawyers wield great influence in Corporate America.

Last year, the report of the ABA’s own Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Legal Profession found minorities woefully under-represented in the legal profession. According to the report’s author Elizabeth Chambliss, a New York Law School professor:

“The legal profession already is one of the least racially integrated professions in the United States when all four minority groups (African-American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American) are aggregated,” Chambliss said. “African-Americans, too, are represented at lower levels than in many comparable professions.”

She said in 2000 African-Americans made up only 3.9 percent of all lawyers, compared with 4.4 percent of physicians, 5.6 percent of college and university professors, 7.8 percent of computer scientists and 7.9 percent of accountants and auditors.

Chambliss cited “the heavy reliance” of law schools on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) as “one of the main barriers to increasing diversity among law students.” She noted, “African Americans and other minority groups score lower, on average, than Whites, on the LSAT, yet law schools’ reliance on this measure of aptitude has increased markedly over time.”

MSL admits students based on their educational transcripts and academic achievements, not LSAT aptitude scores. It is also the only law school to require a personal interview focusing on why students seek to become lawyers.

As author Hagan points out, if there were more affordable law schools around the country such as MSL, “this would adversely affect many high-cost law schools, make them look bad, and might even run a few out of business. It could also result in more competition in the legal profession, possibly driving down fees.”

On June 27, 1995, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint formally charging ABA with fixing professors’ salaries and other violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. It charged ABA with furthering “the self-interest of professors instead of improving education,” Hagan said.

Although ABA agreed to a DOJ consent decree at the time, Hagan said this did not put an end to ABA’s restrictive practices. “Even after the consent decree, the ABA continued to require schools to hire huge, expensive full-time faculties who had light teaching loads, to build expensive buildings costing millions of dollars, to have a huge and expensive hard copy library even though legal materials are available on-line, and to demand high LSAT scores from applicants.” Hagan reflected, “The decree did nothing to open law schools to persons who had been unfairly excluded.”

Dean Lawrence Velvel, a co-founder of MSL and a former DOJ attorney, said MSL is offering high quality, low-cost (about half of what ABA-accredited law schools charge) practical legal education “to competent, hard-working people who had been excluded from many of the benefits of American life.”

Sherwood Ross writes on politics and military affairs. Contact him at msherwoodr1@yahoo.com.

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