The Docket, February 1994
Law School Admissions: Serving the Privileged
by Al Muratsuchi (3L)
As a publicly-funded law school, UCLA W should be serving the legal needs and interests of all taxpayers, not just those in the higher income tax brackets. Indeed, an official goal of the UCLA W admissions policy is “to produce a student body that is diverse in its members’ backgrounds” and career goals, in order to “promote the objective of providing legal representation for the underrepresented.” An underlying premise of this goal is that since students from underrepresented communities, particularly low-income communities of color, are more familiar with their communities’ legal and social needs, they would be more able and willing to serve their respective communities as lawyers. However, despite UCLAW’s official rhetoric, its actual record has been geared toward serving the interests of socioeconomic elites rather than the larger number of poor and working class Americans.
To be fair, I should first acknowledge UCLAW’s achievements in, promoting racial diversity in the legal profession. Our school is perhaps the most racially diverse among the top law schools in the country. Generations of student and community activists since the 1960s have pushed hard for affirmative action programs to overcome racial barriers in the legal profession. In 1967, Professor Leon Letwin and others led UCLAW’s effort to establish one of the first law school affirmative action programs in the country. Since then, liberal members of the administration and faculty have continued its support for racial diversity at UCLAW.
After the Bakke decision in 1978, where the U.S. Supreme Court declared racial admissions quotas to be unconstitutional, UCLAW adopted a new admissions policy that more or less remains in effect to this day. This policy calls for the admission of up to 40 percent of every enrolling class on the basis of grades, LSAT scores, and a wide range of socioeconomic factors. These “diversity” admits include white students as well as students of color. The rest of the class is admitted solely on the basis of grades and LSAT scores. The non-diversity admits also include students of all races.
While UCLAW’s admissions policy has made significant advances on matters of race, it has largely failed to achieve much class diversity. For example, a faculty survey of the Class of 1993 indicates that UCLAW tends to perpetuate socioeconomic privilege from one generation to the next. The survey states, “Whether one measures the income, students come from families with incomes of more than $100,000, with a median family income of surveyed students of about $70,000 (compared to the national median of under $35,000). The median family income of white students was $75,000, and $47,000 for students of color. 45 percent of students’ fathers and20percentofstudents’ mothers have graduate degrees (compared with about 7 percent of all American men and 4 . percent of all American women). The report summarizes its findings by stating, “As anyone could have predicted, the results show that persons of elite backgrounds are substantially over represented at the school.”
In addition to its failure to achieve much class diversity, UCLAW has also failed to admit more students with the career goals of serving disadvantaged communities. The employment survey for UCLAW’s Class of 1993 reveals the clear orientation toward large corporate firm practices that is typical of our graduates. 67.5 percent of 1993 graduates had jobs with firms of more than 50 attorneys. In stark contrast, a mere 1.2 percent secured jobs with public interest groups, while another 4.2 percent planned to work for government agencies. Admittedly, these statistics are not accurate indications of either the initial or long-term career goals of UCLAW students. Other factors must be acknowledged, such as the prevailing expectations to. enter big firm practice, loan repayment and other financial considerations, and the scarcity of public interest jobs,. Nonetheless, these employment statistics at least support a skeptical view of UCLAW’s commitment to admit and graduate students who want to do more than occasional charity work for underrepresented communities.
Thus, despite its “liberal” reputation, the facts indicate that UCLAW is primarily oriented to serve, protect, and perpetuate socioeconomic privilege. This should come as no surprise to anyone, since the administration and faculty is concerned more about the school’s prestige than in serving the legal needs and interests of all people, and prestige is almost always defined by the interests of the privileged.
As a public institution, UCLAW should be held accountable for its failure to produce more lawyers committed to serving the poor and· the working class. Concerned students should organize to advocate for an admissions policy that will enroll a greater number of socioeconomically disadvantaged students who are committed to serving their communities. As Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.”