Do Preferences at Large Law Firms Actually Hurt Blacks?

I had a small role in an event where Richard Sander (along with some other leading legal empiricists) presented a paper for the North Carolina Law Review's 2005 Symposium this last October, Empirical Studies of the Legal Profession. The finished written work of the Symposium is coming out soon, and Sander is already causing controversy for his theories. Sander gathers data that shows that Blacks are hired at large law firms at a higher rate than their class ranking and other credentials would predict and that Blacks are less happy and less likely to succeed once they are hired. Sander then theorizes that the paradox of aggressive hiring and unhappy Blacks once they are working at the firm is a result of mismatch. Not being published yet, I am not a liberty to discuss more details on his current thesis; however, he published a similar theory on law school admission and Black performance where he stated:

What I find and describe in this Article is a system of racial preferences that, in one realm after another, produces more harms than benefits for its putative beneficiaries. The admission preferences extended to blacks are very large and do not successfully identify students who will perform better than one would predict based on their academic indices. Consequently, most black law applicants end up at schools where they will struggle academically and fail at higher rates than they would in the absence of preferences. The net trade-off of higher prestige but weaker academic performance substantially harms black performance on bar exams and harms most new black lawyers on the job market. Perhaps most remarkably, a strong case can be made that in the legal education system as a whole, racial preferences end up producing fewer black lawyers each year than would be produced by a race-blind system. Affirmative action as currently practiced by the nation’s law schools does not, therefore, pass even the easiest test one can set. In systemic, objective terms, it hurts the group it is most designed to help.

I am undecided on this issue but thought that I should post it here for some discussion; in part because I had a small part in it, but also, it was posted about on the US News and World Reports blog
today. The post on the US News blog is the most national attention received for any of the symposia hosted annually by the Law Review.


It sounds reasonable

but I have zippo knowledge about this type of stuff. I know my older brother would not have been happy in a large busy law firm. His personality wouldn't have meshed. He's very happy being a redneck lawyer in Lexington, NC.

I hope some valuable dialogue will develop from the study. It sounds interesting.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Targator...this is the new "joke" going around

It started with some trolls and now we're getting the "Why do you hate _________" on every post. Even I asked Screwy why he hated pie. It's kinda snowballed from there. A poster calling himself Oggie Spears is the most frequent name to show up. I think this might be along those lines.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Why do you refuse to answer

Why do you refuse to answer the "tough questions?" Do you want everyone to wear the burka?

Naked Under My Burka

The tough questions: "Why do you hate money?" Boy, I think that question is super tough. Real tough. Almost as tough as "Neener Neener" or "When did you stop boning your mother?" I recommending traveling through the BlueNC blogroll to learn the answers to these burning questions.

Scrutiny Hooligans -


I have to ask, though it means I'm running the risk of being disappointed when I find out that I'm wrong: is that a picture of cheese-grater toilet paper?

I think the most interesting criticism of Sanders' work

In the response linked from his site is that he doesn't break the data out into similarly situated student groups and see whether his conclusions play out there. A 3.5 GPA from Harvard Law is probably worth as much as a higher GPA from, say, UNC Law. So if black students come to law firms on average from more elite schools, then their GPAs might be normal compared to other starting associates from the same schools, but lower than the overall average GPA.

I'm so not qualified, though, to really stake out a position on this.

At The Symposium

At the Symposium he addressed this in a quick fashion. The general trend with firm hiring is to be hiring from more schools and students with higher GPA's (which they can do based on the going to more schools). But it is true that they need to find some way to normalize grades, especially considering that scales differ across schools and some do not even give out numerical grades.


As an African-American law student about to go off to a large firm, I think the answer to Sander's theory has more to do with the fact that many large law firms simply don't have a high number of African-American attorneys, The attorneys at these firms are largely white and often these African-American attorneys are handled "differently" thereby making them feel less accepted.

Also, I think because of the self-segregation of America, most African-American attorneys were born, raised, and grew up predominantly around other blacks, embracing black culture, and living in black America. With law school and then law firms, they are separated from said black culture and thus feel alienated, unwelcomed, and unwilling to accept a predominantly white culture that structures most law firms. In working in a big law firm, you cannot escape and go back to black culture, but instead must embrace (unhappily) white legal culture.

I think Sanders may be on to something with regards to affirmative action (he recently spoke at Duke Law), but I think his new theory with regards to law firms is a bit much.

Good luck with your law firm

Chris. I'd love to hear how things go re: this topic as you settle in. Thanks for stopping by.

The paradox

Is that many firms are reaching out to Blacks to bring them into the firms, but Blacks typically do not become partners and are unhappy at firms. I think Sander's data shows either his mismatch theory, rampant racism, or the culture issues you stated. The problem with social science sometimes is finding the root cause.

I too am starting at a large firm and would not consider myself a larg firm type, so I feel your pain in that regard.