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Belonging to a minority group is a mixed blessing for lawyers hoping to land a law school tenure-track position. A recent study found that minorities are more likely than their white counterparts to be hired by law schools, but they are significantly more likely than whites to end up teaching at schools outside the top tier. Those findings are from “An Empirical Study of Race and Law School Hiring,” written by Ming Zhu, a 2009 Harvard Law graduate who is a litigation fellow with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, a nonprofit organization that represents discrimination victims. As an aspiring academic, Zhu wanted to know what law schools look for in faculty candidates, and she wanted to better understand why there are so few Asian professors. As the co-chairwoman of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association at Harvard, she has lobbied top law schools to hire more Asian faculty. “Every time we pushed for more Asians on the faculty, we would hear that there weren’t good minority candidates out there,” she said. “I thought, ‘That can’t possibly be true.’” Zhu sought to figure out whether race plays a role in law school hiring. Law schools have been under pressure since the 1980s to boost the number of minority faculty members, which often is seen as a key to increasing minority student enrollment. In turn, higher minority enrollment is a cornerstone of increasing diversity throughout the legal profession. “There are still far too few students of color in law school overall, especially at the top schools,” said University of Washington School of Law Dean Kellye Testy, who has been active in faculty diversity efforts. Minority students often do not receive the same mentoring as their white classmates because of a lack of minority faculty, she added. Zhu’s study concluded that race appears to have both positive and negative implications for minority candidates. “While being a minority resulted in a positive bump in getting a tenure-track law teaching job, minority status also had a statistically significant negative effect on the prestige of the hiring law school,” the report reads. Zhu analyzed data from the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) recruiting process during the 2004-05 academic year to determine how often minority candidates were hired and which schools they went to. Most entry-level law school hires are made though the AALS’s recruiting and interviewing program, although some schools seek candidates outside the AALS process. In addition to race and gender, the AALS data Zhu analyzed included a great deal of information about the candidates, such as where they had gone to law school, in what journals their research had appeared, whether they had done clerkships and what schools they had previously taught at. Of the 889 candidates, 191 — just more than 21 percent — were hired by the following academic year, according to Zhu’s study. Minorities made up nearly 20 percent of those who were hired, but Asians, blacks and Latinos were all more likely than whites to be hired. Asians topped the list of successful hires, with nearly 43 percent of candidates landing a position. About 29 percent of Latino candidates got jobs, while slightly more than 24 percent of black candidates were hired. By comparison, about 21 percent of white applicants landed positions. “Taken alone, these results seem like a good sound-byte for the argument that minorities are being preferred in faculty hiring,” the report says. It notes, however, that without more information on qualifications, it’s impossible to know if the hiring decisions were a result of affirmative action or a stronger minority applicant pool. The picture gets a bit murkier when it comes to where minority applicants were offered jobs. “Examining the placement of the hired candidates, it is immediately clear that minorities do considerably worse than non-minorities in terms of placement,” the study reads. There were no minority hires at the 16 most prestigious law schools, as determined by the U.S. News & World Report rankings from 2005. While the highest-placing white candidate landed at Harvard Law School, the highest-placing black candidate was hired at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, which had the 18th-highest prestige score at the time. The highest-placing Latino candidate was hired by the University of Notre Dame Law School, while the highest-placing Asian landed at Fordham University School of Law — ranked No. 33 and No. 36 for prestige, respectively. The percentage of minority hires increased vastly at schools with lower prestige scores, the study found. The study offers numerous possible explanations as to why law schools hired minorities in higher percentages than whites, and why minority hiring was relatively uncommon at the most prestigious schools. One theory holds that a lack of minority mentors at top law schools could make it more difficult for minority candidate to land positions there. “Especially at the nation’s best law schools, the importance of strong fellow-faculty recommendations and prominent mentors willing to call up the hiring committees could be monumental,” the study says. Another theory suggests that top law schools do more lateral hiring from other law schools, circumventing the AALS recruiting process. Those outside minority hires would not be reflected in the information gathered in this study. Testy said that since top schools often hire seasoned laterals, the pool of suitable minority candidates may still be shallow, but will deepen in the coming years thanks to improvements in faculty diversity at lower-tier schools. Yet another potential explanation is that an earlier push for diversity among top law school faculties has “exhausted their need for minority hires,” and it is lower-tier schools that are most in need of diverse faculty. Another theory holds that minority candidates are less likely to accept job offers at the top schools because of their reputations for not being supportive and welcoming to minorities. The study does not discount the possibility that racial discrimination could be a factor in faculty hiring at the top law schools. Without a broader set of data from subsequent years, it’s impossible to know which theory, or combination of theories, explains why top schools aren’t hiring minorities in large numbers, Zhu said.

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