For blacks graduating from middle-rank law schools, racial preferences are costly, writes Rick Sander, a UCLA law professor and visiting Volokh blogger who’s relying on national data on young lawyers’ education, jobs and pay.
Black students enter law school with lower grades and test scores, Sanders writes in part one of his opus. Part two finds that black law students earn lower grades have a higher drop-out rate and are much more likely to fail the bar exam.
At American law schools that use large racial preferences, half of all black students end up in the bottom tenth of their first-year class. Put a little differently, the median black student performs in the first-year at about the 7th percentile of the median white student.
Black law graduates who’ve earned poor grades have poor career prospects, part three concludes.
Law school prestige is important, but for law graduates as a whole, good grades are a much more powerful predictor of getting a higher-paying job than the eliteness of one’s school.
What this implies about racial preferences is not completely obvious. One needs to estimate both how much of an “eliteness” boost the typical black applicant gets in the admissions process, and how much the average black student’s law school GPA would go up if admissions were race-blind and the student went to a lower-ranked school. Both calculations are difficult, and subject to some debate. That said, I think the general pattern is fairly clear. Anywhere outside the most elite schools, new black lawyers are hurt by preferences more than they are helped. For a typical black graduating from a middle-ranked law school, the grades/prestige tradeoff that goes with affirmative action lowers her earnings by about twenty percent.
At top 10 law schools, the gains from prestige offset the grade disadvantage.
Black lawyers are more likely to take government jobs and to work in small firms. Some of this undoubtedly is due to preference, writes Sander, but lower grades also are a factor.
Not surprisingly, Discriminations has more on Sander’s study.