The University Record, August 16, 1999

Study measures results of 30 years of affirmative action at Law School

By Nancy Marshall
Law School

When a law school seeks a racially diverse student body, does it end up harming the supposed beneficiaries of affirmative action? Does it admit unqualified students who fail to succeed professionally? These concerns, often raised by critics of affirmative action, are refuted in an important new study of the experience of U-M Law School graduates.

“Doing Well and Doing Good: The Careers of Minority and White Graduates of the University of Michigan Law School, 1970-1996,” is published in the summer issue of Law Quadrangle Notes.

Authors of the article, David Chambers, Richard Lempert and Terry Adams, surveyed all of the approximately 700 African Americans, 300 Latinos and 60 Native Americans who graduated from the Law School during a 27-year period to learn how their careers have progressed. The authors compared the minority graduates’ achievements with those of a sample of more than 900 white graduates from the same time period. The picture is one of exceptionally high success, with very few significant racial differences.

Chambers is the Wade H. McCree, Jr. Collegiate Professor of Law, Lempert is professor of sociology and the Francis A. Allen Collegiate Professor of Law and Adams is a senior survey specialist at the Survey Research Center and a social science senior research associate at the Law School.

More than 97 percent of minority graduates passed the bar of at least one state. The average incomes of those who graduated in the 1970s and 1980s are well over $100,000 per year. As a group, the graduates of all 27 years are satisfied with their careers. They devote substantial time to volunteer community service.

The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct encourage lawyers to perform at least 50 hours of volunteer community service (“pro bono publico”) every year. Both minority and white graduates of Michigan in private practice average more than 50 hours. The minority graduates, in fact, average more than 100 hours per year.

In making admissions decisions, Michigan uses both quantitative factors (such as undergraduate grade point averages and LSAT scores) and non-quantitative factors (such as choice of undergraduate curriculum, letters of recommendation and essays). One interpretation of the study’s findings is that Michigan is using non-quantitative factors effectively. At the time of admission, minority graduates had, on average, somewhat lower quantitative scores than their white classmates, but the numbers failed to predict achievement beyond graduation.

Chambers explains: “It is important to remember that Michigan is a highly selective school, and our study is only of people who were admitted. While on average there were differences by race in grades and test scores at the time of admission, the differences were relatively small in comparison to applicants at law schools across the nation. All admitted students, regardless of race, came to Michigan with powerful quantitative and non-quantitative evidence in their files that they would succeed professionally. And that is exactly what they have done.”

Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman describes the study as highly significant. “We have long known that our admissions program works extremely well. But until this survey, the evidence was anecdotal, reflected in the experiences of individual graduates. Now we have powerful evidence that we are accomplishing our goal of preparing excellent attorneys who succeed in their careers and give back generously to the larger society.”