Friday, September 17, 2021

Gender Equity in Law School Enrollment: An Elusive Goal

Deborah Jones Merritt and Kyle P. McEntee, Gender Equity in Law School Enrollment: An Elusive Goal, 69 Journal of Legal Education 1, 102 (2021).

This article addresses the somewhat hidden gender inequity in law school enrollment.  Although the percentage of students self-identifying as female has reached over fifty percent in nationwide aggregated law school enrollment statistics, this number obscures the fact that law schools have not yet achieved greater gender equity.

Professor Merritt and Director McEntee utilize a variety of weighing measures to conclude that “[w]omen are still less likely than men to apply to law school, less likely to gain admission when they do apply, and less likely to attend the most prestigious schools after admission.”  The authors delve into the common reasons that deter students from applying for law school and note that key concerns, such as expense and confidence of successful completion, are felt more acutely by women than by men.  Thus, women are applying for law school at a lower rate than their similarly situated male counterparts. At the institutional level, law schools tend to place greater emphasis on LSAT scores rather than college grades, even though statistically the former favors male candidates while the latter favors female candidates. These, and other factors, lead to an underrepresentation of female admittees at laws schools generally ranked higher in the US News system, and an overrepresentation in those generally ranked lower.  This perpetuates the inequity into legal practice, as “[h]ighly ranked schools open employment doors that, as a practical matter, are not available to graduates of lower-ranking schools” and attending them increases the likelihood of finding a practicing position in the legal profession more broadly. 

The authors conclude by discussing various steps an institution can take to address these gender inequities and asserts the importance of doing so.  “Assuring full equity for women in law school enrollment is the first step toward achieving full gender equity throughout the legal profession.”

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