October 2021 / Episode 2 / About 30 minutes
A Conversation With Dean Leonard M. Baynes and Angela Winfield
Welcome to the Keeping Up to DataSM podcast, a new space in which we discuss, analyze, and contextualize trends and perspectives in the current law school admission cycle by taking a deeper dive into the most up-to-date data and making sense of the complicated world of legal education.
SUSAN KRINSKY: Welcome to Keeping Up to DataSM. I'm Susan Krinsky, LSAC's Executive Vice President for Operations and Chief of Staff. During today's episode, we will be joined by two special guests to talk about the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal ecosystem. First, I have the honor of chatting with Dean Leonard M. Baynes of the University of Houston Law Center about the Black Lawyers Matter Conference recently co-hosted by the University of Houston Law Center, the SMU Dedman School of Law, and LSAC. And later, we'll be joined by LSAC's Chief Diversity Officer, Angela Winfield, who will update us on her DEI and the Law Listening Tour, but first, let's take a look at some 2022 admission cycle data. At the beginning of October, we began publishing the current volume data for the Fall 2022 JD Admission cycle. The data is updated daily on LSAC.org throughout the admission cycle, with the goal of giving applicants and law schools information about what is happening in the world of law school admissions.
Remember, it's still very early in the admission cycle. Last year, only 12% of 2021 applicants had applied by the middle of October, and in the two prior years, only 10% and 11% of the eventual total had applied by mid-October. For that reason, we urge caution in drawing any conclusions about how this admission cycle will turn out. Early volumes can be extremely volatile and not necessarily predictive of the future. When I mention a year in conjunction with applicant numbers, I'm talking about applicants who would start law school in that year. So, 2022 applicants are those applying now for admission in 2022. 2021 applicants applied a year ago for admission in 2021. Overall, the number of applicants and the number of applications are somewhat higher than they were at this point last year.
At least some of this increase may be due to spillover from last year — that is, candidates who decided not to apply last cycle. In fact, we've seen the early surge in this year's volumes already start to moderate slightly over the past few weeks. Currently, the number of applicants to law school is 9.8% higher than it was last year at this time, and applications are up 14.8%. Last year, applicants for 2021 admission were up almost 40% over the previous year, and applications were up almost 65% at this time. So, even with the smaller increases we're seeing right now, this year's volumes are still dramatically higher, between 40% and 50% higher, than 2020 volumes and 2019 volumes. For most racial and ethnic groups, this year's applicant volume is slightly or even moderately above last year. American Indian/Alaska Native applicants are up 5.1% over 2021, but up 24% to 25% over the previous two years. Asian applicants are up 18.8% over 2021, but close to 65% over the prior two years.
Black/African American candidates are up 10.5% over last year's volumes, but over 48% higher than 2020 volumes. Hispanic/Latinx applicants are up 13.6% over 2021, but on average 50% higher than the previous two years. Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander applicants are up 42.1% compared to last year, but when compared to the previous two years, we see increases of 74% and 93%. Caucasian applicants are up 9.2% over last year, so a little less than the overall increase in applicants. The one exception to the trend is that Puerto Rican applicants are currently down almost 29% compared to 2021, although up over the 2020 volumes. We know we saw an extraordinary year-over-year surge in Puerto Rican applicants early last year, so that may be part of what's driving the year-over-year decrease early this year. Of course, we'll be investigating this data, and we'll share additional information as we have it.
We should also remember that while last year's volumes were high compared to the previous few years, they were actually not as high as the applicant volumes we were seeing, year in and year out, prior to the economic downturn in 2009. Digging a little deeper into who was applying this year, the numbers of re-applicants and deferred applicants — that is, people who applied last year, but didn't enroll — appear to be very much in line with previous years. However, an unusually large percentage of this year's early applicants are applying with an LSAT score earned during last year's testing cycle or even earlier. This may support the idea that many of this year's early applicants were considering applying last cycle, but decided to wait until this cycle instead — or maybe they were just thinking ahead. Naturally, we'll continue to keep an eye on this.
Looking at gender, this year's early applicants are similar to the last few years, with a slightly higher proportion of women than men applying to law school. With respect to LSAT score trends among these early applicants, you may recall that last year, there was a dramatic increase in applicants in the highest score bands. For fall 2022, the percentage of applicants in those highest score bands, 170 to 180, is currently down 18.5% compared to this time last cycle, but still higher than we saw in 2020 and 2019. Again, it's too early to draw any conclusions from such a limited and potentially unrepresentative sample. As for LSAT volumes, the August administration, the first since early 2020 that included an unscored variable section along with the three scored sections, saw just under 25,000 test takers, of which almost 64% were first-time test takers. We anticipate that the October test taker numbers will settle out at about 22,000, and a similar number for November, although we're still several weeks before the November administration. You can go onto our website to view the volume data, which is updated daily.
Diversity and equity in legal education have been part of LSAC's mission for decades, but recently, we have expanded that mission to encourage diverse, talented individuals to study law and also to support their enrollment and learning journeys from pre-law through practice. Dean Leonard M. Baynes is one of the leading voices in the ongoing discussion about diversity in the legal field. The school at which he's dean, the University of Houston Law Center, recently co-hosted the second annual Black Lawyers Matter Conference, and his writings and lectures have inspired many to take a closer look at diversity issues affecting the legal field. Dean Baynes, welcome to Keeping Up to DataSM.
DEAN LEONARD M. BAYNES: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.
SUSAN: You hosted the inaugural Black Lawyers Matter Conference in 2020, and at that time, you wrote, "We and the other law schools have much more work to do in diversifying our faculties, staff, and student bodies. Without a critical mass, how do we ensure that students of color are not isolated, marginalized or tokenized?" In your view what is the work to be done, and by whom?
DEAN BAYNES: I believe the work has to be done by all of us. It has to be done by law schools, including faculty, staff, and alumni. It has to be done by legal employers, judges, law firms, and others, and by the ABA and LSAC. Everyone can do more, because it's going to take a concerted, community-wide effort to tackle this problem. And what needs to be done — well, there's a couple of things that need to be done. One is I think that we really need to make the law spaces more diverse — or, as Fordham law professor Bennett Capers says, less white. Students of color need to feel welcomed and appreciated in these spaces, and the content of our courses and our curriculum needs to be more accessible to them and to avoid certain cognitive incidents that they experience when they're learning — that is, basically, in some aspects of today's racism, "You can't do anything about it." The law is the law, and we have to appreciate their lived experiences and figure out ways that they can figure out how to remedy the issues that they face in their everyday lives.
And most importantly in all of this is, the reason why we have such underrepresentation of students of color is because I think deep down, a lot of people still question their capabilities and their qualifications. If we all believed that students of color, especially African-American students, could do well and succeed, we wouldn't have this problem and we would work to make sure that happened. What I see with a lot of this is that many times, whether it's legal employers, law school faculties, law, school admissions process, everyone's looking for the "unicorn." By the unicorn, I mean that exceptional Black or Latinx candidate. And the challenge with that is there's very few exceptional candidates generally.
And those exceptional candidates will have lots and lots of opportunities. And so then, when we pursue and everyone's pursuing the same unicorn, guess what happens? Most people don't get him or her, right? And then we say to ourselves, oh, my God, we really tried. We really tried. And we couldn't get them, but you tried. You tried, but you didn't really try the right thing. People need to soul-search and figure out what they really need to do to make a difference. Sometimes, if you can't find that candidate that you're looking for, you have to try to make the candidate. That's why pipeline programs are so important. Whether it's pipelines to law schools, whether it's pipelines to the legal profession or law firms or legal academia, they will help you find those candidates. They will help you develop those candidates. So, don't tell me there's not candidates out there. It's just the will that we all have to pursue to find those candidates and make our world a much more diverse place.
SUSAN: I love that concept of building the candidates.
DEAN BAYNES: I think it's true, and I love what LSAC is doing with Khan Academy. It's making a huge difference, because Khan Academy is allowing these students to at least get some feedback on the LSAT before they actually take the LSAT. And that's the reason why LSAT scores are increasing, because very often, many students of color, many of them first-generation, they think, "Oh, the LSAT is like the SAT. I did well on the SAT." Or, "Oh, I have really good grades, so I don't have to worry about the LSAT." And then they take the LSAT and they get very disappointed, because the LSAT is very different than many other standardized tests and may not necessarily be evaluating you like the SAT does. And so, I applaud LSAC for its work there, because I think it's making a huge difference.
SUSAN: Well, thank you. I know back when I took it, the prevailing wisdom was, "Oh, you can't prepare for it."
DEAN BAYNES: Yes, I know.
SUSAN: The 2020 and the recent 2021 Black Lawyers Matter Conferences were very well attended and have served as a forum for a much-needed dialogue. What are some of the themes coming out of the conferences? What do you see as some key action items and next steps?
DEAN BAYNES: When we decided to do this, it was last year with my colleague Dean Collins, from SMU — we did it jointly. And then this year, we're very proud and honored to have LSAC. All three of us co-convened it — so, University of Houston Law Center, SMU Dedman School of Law and LSAC. The goal really was to respond to the Black Lives Matter issue and movement and recognize that there's no justice, or people perceive there's no justice, in terms of their lived lives in the street and how they encounter people acting under color of law, then how will they believe [in justice] if our law schools are not diverse, our judiciaries are not diverse, and our lawyers are not diverse? So, it was really important for us to get together last year and this year to really focus on ways to improve the diversity and to really give people a toolkit to figure out how they can improve the diversity.
And really, the goal is to show people across a wide variety of areas of the legal profession what they can do to improve the diversity in the law. And so, last year we focused specifically on pipeline programs, admissions issues. We examined the role of historically Black law schools that they still play today. In fact, about 20% of all Black law school students attend the six historically Black law schools. And overall, there's only still about 7% of all first-year students who are of African descent. And if you take into account those that go to the historically Black law schools, then the other almost 200 law schools have only 6%, and African-Americans make up almost 14% of the population. It's unfortunate. It's such underrepresentation. And if you have that underrepresentation of law schools, well, of course you're going to have underrepresentation in law firms and other legal employers and the judiciary and law faculties and whatnot.
So, we gathered both last year and this year to provide people with information. And this year, what we focused on is basically: Who's teaching the students, how are the teachers selected, and what curriculum are the students receiving? And then we focused on: Who's hiring the students, and how can law firms and other legal employers do better? And then we're always focusing on solutions. And basically, it reminds me of that great Supreme Court case that said sunlight is the greatest disinfectant. And I think highlighting the issue is really important, because a lot of schools and a lot of legal employers will focus on "We have all this diversity," and that's great. I appreciate the diversity and the broadness of the term "diversity." I think it's wonderful to have more people of all different backgrounds in the legal profession, but what often sometimes happens is that when we focus on all of that, African-Americans, as we see in the numbers going to law school, are low and stay low, even though it's been 71 years since Sweatt v. Painter.
And Sweatt v. Painter was a Supreme Court opinion that basically desegregated law schools in the South, but also large parts of the country. So, 71 years ago, it involved the University of Texas Law School, which did not admit Black students based on the color of their skin. If you are a Black student in the South 71 years ago, before Sweatt v. Painter, you couldn't go to law school in your state. And the only way you could become a lawyer is to leave the state and be educated in a law school, probably in the North, that would admit you, and then come back and practice in your state, which had lots of issues, right? Because, one, it requires the resources to leave and go to another state. And secondly, it also limits your ability to network with the people who went to law school in your state, but that's 71 years ago. And that's when there was almost zero Black students at law schools and in the legal profession. And now we have maybe 7% of the first-year class is African-American, but the number of Black lawyers went down from 5% to 4.8%.
And so, we have a lot of work to do. Even though we have this long history, and our profession prides itself on its equality principles, and our profession's the one that helped open up the doors and desegregated most of the South and the North with Brown v. Board of Education, Sweatt v. Painter, the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Act, but our profession, the least worst profession — there're more dentists, there are more doctors, there's more everything that are Black than lawyers. That's a shame.
SUSAN: That is so striking — that this profession made these things happen, but this profession itself can't seem to make it happen for itself.
DEAN BAYNES: Correct.
SUSAN: At the Black Lawyers Matter Conferences, leaders from academia, government, and the private sector, among others, joined the sessions and contributed to the dialogue. Do you see the conference as an important forum to connect people from these different sectors? How do you see the conference developing and evolving in the future?
DEAN BAYNES: It's hard to know how we evolve. I'm glad that it's going to be a regular conference, because I think it's important for us to always do a gut check and a taking stock of where we are. Once people see the numbers, it's hard to deny them. So, last year's conference was national, but it really had a Texas focus, given the fact that Jennifer Collins, the dean of SMU Dedman School of Law, and I were the co-conveners. This year's conference is more of a national scope with a planning committee of deans and others from across the nation, but since that last conference, there's been a lot of movement in a lot of law schools really discussing the issues. You see it certainly in the listservs, with really a much more robust conversation of diversity issues. You see it in the Dean's Dialogues. We've had the ABA deans where there's been a number of speakers talking about diversity issues and what people can do better.
You see it, I suppose, in a number of African-American deans that actually are now in charge or deans of law schools across the country. There's now, I think, a little bit shy of 30 Black women deans, and there's maybe about 12 or 13 Black male deans. So it's almost 50 Black deans of about 200 deans. So there's been some progress, certainly, but what we hope is for folks to get together to discuss these issues, figure out ways that they can work to resolve them, but some of the other law schools are now starting pipeline programs, which they didn't have before. Some have hired deans of diversity, which they didn't have before. Some firms are deciding to partner with our historically Black law school in the state, TSU Thurgood Marshall School of Law.
The future, I hope, is that the conference will be national, but that people go back to their communities and see what they can do by working with their bar associations, with their law schools, with their law firms, with their corporations — see ways that they can solve this problem, because nationally, it's important to discuss these issues and highlight them, but a lot of the action's going to come on the around, with determination and the interest of those stakeholders in particular states and cities to make a difference. And I think that it will take, really, a village to remedy this underrepresentation.
SUSAN: We are focused on our approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but we seldom talk about ways to measure progress. Are there important metrics we ought to consider? How do we begin to measure progress, or the lack thereof? In other words, how do we know if the strategies we're discussing and putting into practice are working?
DEAN BAYNES: Again, I think to the extent we have this Black Lawyers Matter Conference every year and we focus on the numbers that will be helpful. I think it's important for us to look at these metrics, and a lot of the times the metrics are there in big cities. There is a report card that the Bar associations often have for the law firms, especially indicating how they're doing. NALP has a report card for the law firms as well, but the problem is that I don't think it gets the publicity it needs. And maybe what we need to do is figure out ways to make sure that it gets more publicity locally so that people see how underrepresented they are. People often will focus on singular success to sort of say, "Oh, we elected a Black president." "Oh, we have a Black team." "Oh, we've made a lot of progress." And yes, those are certainly an issue of progress, but it doesn't mean that we [are finished] just because we have a Black president. We can't forget that we need to do a lot more. You can have more African-Americans, or Latinx, or Asian-Americans in law firms, the judiciary, et cetera. You're going to have actually more impact than being a Black president or a Black dean, because they're going to have more influence on a wide variety of things that a Black dean or a Black president won't have.
So, I think those are things that we need to figure out, and what to do is highlight the lack of diversity, make it much more known, hold people accountable to it, but also be mindful that the Supreme Court doesn't like some of this. They may see it as quotas and whatnot. So, we have to be careful not to go too far, but we still need to measure progress, and the fact that we have so few African-American or Latinx lawyers is something that we all should be concerned about. Especially as our society becomes more diverse, right? Because it's expected by 2044 that a majority of our citizens will be Black, Latinx, Asian-Americans and Indigenous. That's 2044, which sounds like a long time away, but it's really not. For a lot of the students who are in law school now, they're going to be in the prime of their careers. And if our legal system is not more diverse, the population's going to feel like they are not getting justice, because there's not going to be people like them judging them. So, we really need to do a better job at all of this.
SUSAN: Dean Baynes, thank you so much for joining us today. We are honored to have you participate. I look forward to following up with you on the progress of this magnificent effort.
DEAN BAYNES: Thank you.
SUSAN: LSAC's Chief Diversity Officer, Angela Winfield, believes that people learn more when they listen than when they talk. This is important, because the legal education community is currently considering, debating, and striving to understand issues and challenges that will impact not just the future of our legal education system, but the soul of our country and the direction it will take for decades to come. In mid-September, Angela embarked on the LSAC DEI and the Law Listening Tour, a six-month trek that will take her across the country and back to learn more about the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in legal education — and, most importantly, to listen to the concerns of those affected. Angela, welcome to the podcast, and thank you for taking a little time out of your schedule to give us an update.
ANGELA WINFIELD: It's my pleasure, Susan. It's always a delight speaking with you.
SUSAN: Thank you. You began your DEI and the Law Listening Tour on September 14. Where have you gone, and what have you learned at this early stage of the tour?
ANGELA: Oh, well, I have been, let's see, I started in Pennsylvania. I've been to California. I've been to Ohio. I've been up to Minnesota and then over to Wisconsin, down to Illinois, and then I'm heading off to North Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia next week, and those are all of the in-person visits. I've also been doing virtual visits, and there, I've been in New York, Oregon, and a couple other places. So I'm getting around. I'm getting around so far. And what I'm learning is that our stakeholders, and I'm talking to a wide range of folks. It's not just law schools. I am talking to plenty of law schools, but I'm also talking to pre-law advisors, pre-law programs, pipeline programs, both inside and outside the law. I've talked to a law academy at a high school. So, it's a wide range of stakeholders, and what I'm really hearing is that people are ready for transformational change.
People are looking for not the usual kind of programs. I'm getting some ideas and suggestions and kind of tweaks around the edges and things that we can do better, but what I'm really hearing is that people are ready for something big. They want to see a difference and get some momentum behind diversifying the profession. I'm getting that loud and clear. And they also are looking and not shying away from some of the difficult issues, so that's been really exciting to hear, and I've been just so grateful for people's candor.
SUSAN: Where did the idea of doing a listening tour come from, and what do you ultimately hope is the outcome of this effort?
ANGELA: Well, listening tours, I mean, it's an old, traditional thing. Many leaders get out there and do listening tours when they come into a new role, and that's partly where it came from for me. The other part is that it was certainly part of the job description and also part of what the stakeholders wanted when they were looking for a CDO, but the other and kind of final part for me is that I really do believe that I cannot be successful in this role, and I cannot lead change, I cannot help to create some solutions and help reduce barriers unless I listen to our stakeholders. I really, really value and appreciate hearing what the challenges are and what the frustrations are, because I think that's where the creativity lives and that's where the solutions live. So, it's something that I guess is part of traditional leadership, but it's also something that's embedded in my personal values. And what I hope comes from this is that I want to narrow down and prioritize LSAC's top three to five focus areas on DEI. And I'll tell you what I mean by that.
So, this listening tour is getting everything on the table. Nothing's off limits. I'm listening and hearing, and people are really putting out their concerns, their hopes, their wishes, their frustrations, all of it on the table. And then what I'm going to do, both with stakeholders and also with my team internally, is sift through this, understand: Where are the themes? How do we organize? How do we prioritize? And then also, how do we assess and say, you know what? These are the areas that LSAC really is well positioned to move forward on, and identify those top three to five large areas and large issues where we can align our resources and say, you know what? These are the dials that we're going to be looking at. These are the dials that we're going to move the needle on in the DEI and legal education space. And I'm really hopeful we're going to get there, Susan.
SUSAN: And I am absolutely confident you are. This is such an important project. You participated in the Black Lawyers Matter Conference, and you've certainly been part of this dialogue. Do you think more efforts like this are needed?
ANGELA: That's a really great question. And I'm going to be honest, because I always strive for honesty. And I'm going to say yes and no. So yes, in the sense that we need to dive in, we need to convene the right groups of people, and that certainly was the right group of people — from the workforce side and the Bar, to faculty members and folks in the law school — and getting together and getting alignment. I think that's really, really critical, that we've got to make sure that we're all working toward the same things, that we know it's happening in each other's spaces, and that we're coordinated so that the pipeline is smooth traveling for folks. So, I think that's incredibly important. We need to do more of that.
And then the "no" part comes in because that's not where we stop. We cannot just do more programs like that. We have to do programs like that, but we've got to go beyond the conferences and the conversations and really start looking at, OK, now that we've had this conversation, what's the next step? How do we move this into action? What's going to be different? What are we taking back, and what are we implementing? Because, again, that's what I'm really hearing from folks. They're eager. They're excited. They're a little nervous, but they do want change, and they want to be a part of it. So, great conference. Yes, we need more of it, but we need even more than just conferences. We need the action behind it.
SUSAN: What else should I be asking you?
ANGELA: Oh, I don't know, Susan. There's so many questions. Am I having fun doing this? Yes. I guess that's a question that's always important. This is really difficult, challenging work, but it can be emotionally exhausting work. And it's really personal work for many people, but it's also joyful work, and it's exciting work. So, I guess that's the question. Am I enjoying this? Absolutely. And I'm really hopeful. I'm enjoying working with everyone and meeting all of our wonderful stakeholders.
SUSAN: Understanding that you are a month into a six-month listening tour, do you have a sense of how many visits you will make over the course of six months?
ANGELA: It's looking like an awful lot. I wouldn't be surprised if it's upward of a hundred different places.
SUSAN: Angela, thanks so much for joining the podcast today. It was terrific to hear from you. We can't wait to hear more.
ANGELA: Thank you so much, Susan.
SUSAN: Please join us next month, when we'll be able to present data from the October LSAT administration. In addition, we will have special guests talking about takeaways from the fall virtual and in-person LSAC Law School Forums. If you have suggestions for future podcast topics, please send them to podcast@LSAC.org. Until then, take care and thanks for tuning in.
Thank you for joining us. Keeping Up to DataSM is a production of LSAC. If you want to learn more about the current law school admission cycle and the latest trends in news, visit us at LSAC.org.