Law schools have taken years to build diverse student bodies, providing students with more opportunities, a better education and classes more reflective of the world.
Most of the most diverse law schools – those with large numbers of minority students – are in the West or Southwest and on the East Coast.
The schools with the largest populations of African Americans are those whose historic mission is to serve black students – Howard University School of Law, Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern, Florida A&M University College of Law, the Southern University Law Center and North Carolina Central University School of Law. Some of these schools have gradually changed focus slightly recently.
Thurgood Marshall, for example, started with an all-black student body, said Dannye Holley, dean of the Houston-based law school. Now there are about 50 percent blacks and almost 25 percent Hispanics as well as other ethnic groups; from 15 to 21 percent are white students as well.
“White students often say to me that they had other options for law school, but they wanted to experience a different perspective by going to Thurgood Marshall,” Holley said. “As the generations go by, there are fewer assumptions that can be made about who should be in our law school.”
Holley said his school has more competition for its historic race — African Americans.
“The population applying to our school has changed because of competition from other schools that want more diversity,” he said. “Minority students now have more options. So we’re competing for blacks and Hispanics. We’ve had to offer lots of scholarships.”
The law school with the highest proportion of students identifying themselves as Asian and Pacific Islanders — more than half — is at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Other schools that attract many students in this category are in California: Santa Clara University, the University of California-Davis School of Law, Loyola Law School-Los Angeles, UC-Hastings College of Law, and the University of Southern California. U.S. Census data indicate that half of America’s Asian and Pacific Islanders live in the West.
A public school, Florida International University, has the largest percentage of Latino, Hispanic and Mexican-American students in its student body – more than 40 percent. Other schools with strong populations of these students are: St. Thomas University in Miami, the University of New Mexico School of Law and Texas Southern.
American Indian candidates seeking a J.D. are most strongly represented at the University of New Mexico where more than 10 percent of the students are Native American. Other schools with strong populations of these students are the University of Tulsa College of Law, the University of Oklahoma College of Law, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and Arizona State University College of Law.
More than 50 Navajos have graduated from law school at the University of New Mexico and have gone on to serve in roles as diverse as president, legislator, and Supreme Court justice for the Navajo Nation, according to Kevin Washburn, dean of New Mexico’s school of law.
One advantage for the school has been a pre-law institute for American Indians held every summer at the school. Many Indians who attend the event held by the American Indian Law Center end up attending law school in New Mexico.
University of New Mexico also has a diverse faculty.
There are five Latino women on the faculty and five Latino men. The faculty also has several representatives from American Indian tribes, including the Chickasaw Nation, Isleta Pueblo, Jemez Pueblo, the Santee Sioux, Taos Pueblo, and the Navajo Nation, according to Dean Kevin Washburn. There are also two Asian American and two African-American professors. The student body is more than 40 percent minority and the faculty is as well.
Having a diverse faculty is attractive to students, Washburn said.
“Students see professors that are like themselves,” he said.
Schools are also increasing efforts to hire more women and minority educators. Rutgers-Newark for example recently hired two professors with a Chinese background and another who is a Palestinian Israeli.
“The reality is that the demographics of the country mean you can no longer have a good legal education that is not a diverse legal education,” said Jeffrey Brand, dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law.
Forty-five law schools make our honor roll for diversity earning a B- or higher. Click here find out where the law school's rank and for more of the feature story in the March issue of The National Jurist by Rebecca Larsen.