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Dialogue with the Deans: Legal Education & Diversity

As many current law students and recent graduates know, the legal hiring market has been particularly difficult for the last couple of years and is only slowly rebounding. We see a smaller number of clerkships at large law firms and employers that are more tentative in their hiring practices than they were in the early 2000s. As more law students are having issues finding a job, word has gotten out to potential students, and the number of people applying to law school has declined, nationally.

Dean Eric Janus

Dean Eric Janus

Associate Dean Ed Butterfoss

Associate Dean
Ed Butterfoss

As fewer people apply to law school and local law schools are accepting fewer students, we wanted to know how this is affecting diversity at their schools. In a recent roundtable discussion, leadership from the four Twin Cities law schools discussed practices and policies that they have implemented to address this new normal in legal education and the lack of diversity in the legal profession pipeline.

The roundtable participants – Associate Dean Ed Butterfoss (Hamline University School of Law), Dean Eric Janus (William Mitchell College of Law), Director of Diversity Artika Tyner (University of St. Thomas School of Law) and Dean David Wippman (University of Minnesota Law School) – cited various strategies that laws schools use to try to attract a more diverse pool of J.D. candidates, including scholarships, programs highlighting what makes the Twin Cities great, law school fairs from other regions of the country, and law school prep programs.  Despite these strategies, however, with a reduction in the incoming class size at each school, comes a decrease in the total number of diverse law students entering law school in the Twin Cities.

Employers are also increasingly seeking graduates with practical skills, reports Dean Janus.  Each of William Mitchell, Hamline and St. Thomas have implemented additional curriculum, extern- and internships and certifications aimed at developing skills law students can use to hit the ground running after passing the bar. In addition, the University of Minnesota now offers business development programming, Hamline is hoping to launch a master’s program in the study of law, and law schools offer targeted study groups and academic support for students.

Dean David Wippman

Dean David Wippman

Artika Tyner, Director of Diversity

Artika Tyner
Director of Diversity

Dean Wippman noted that the recent expansion of generally available online courses (a phenomenon also known as “MOOC Mania” for the massive open online courses, often offered free of charge) may also cause law schools to rethink the basic model of legal education, as these courses could cover topics only previously offered by law schools.

Questions from attendees spurred discussion about a recent study by Professors Schultz and Zedeck which challenges the premises underpinning law school admission decisions. Leadership, recruiters and law schools in the local community should think critically about traditional admission, recruitment and hiring models based on the competencies highlighted by this research.

By the Numbers:

Students of color make up 24% of the 2012 class at Minnesota, 19% at Hamline and 13% at each of St. Thomas and William Mitchell.

Do you want to read the results of the Schultz and Zedeck study on what makes a successful lawyer? Find out more information at the link below!

Predicting Effectiveness – Shultz & Zedeck

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