I don’t know whether to celebrate or go into a funk.
First, let me give you what appears to be the good news: For the second year in a row, women constitute the majority of law students. Based on 2017 data, women make up 51.3 percent of enrollees. We’ve crossed the 50 percent mark! Hooray!
But if you think women now dominate the top schools—as I had assumed—you’d be disappointed. According to Enjuris, a site about personal injury law (side note: female personal injury lawyers also have a tough time competing against men), women have not cracked the 50 percent mark at most top law schools.
In fact, among the top 20 law schools, only six schools boast enrollment of more than 50 percent women:
Another interesting tidbit: Duke has the lowest female enrollment (41.3 percent) among the top schools, even though Vanderbilt, another prominent Southern school, has more than 50 percent women.
Not so surprising, perhaps, is that the law school with the rock-bottom female enrollment is Brigham Young University (36.2 percent), which is more than 90 percent Mormon. Though women have averaged only 30 percent of the applicant pool over the last five years, BYU Law’s admissions director Stacie Stewart said, “Each year we have trended up,” adding that she expects “a balanced class within the next two to three years.”
And despite the conservative Mormon culture, Stewart said, ”We definitely aggressively recruit women.” The trend, she said, is that Mormon women are marrying later and having kids later like women in the rest of the country.
BYU is an anomaly in many respects, but what’s really troubling to me is where you’ll find the highest percentage of female law students. Women dominate some of the worst-ranked (or unranked) law schools in the nation. With the notable exception of Berkeley, the schools with 60 percent or more women are the bottom-feeders to avoid, including Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, District of Columbia, Golden Gate University, Florida A&M University, North Carolina Central University, New England Law, City University of New York, Texas Southern University, Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico and Western New England University.
“For whatever reason women are more willing to accept offers from, and invest in, lower-ranked schools than men are,” said law school application consultant Anna Ivey, a former lawyer and University of Chicago admissions director. “That’s not always a wise decision, given bar passage rates, employment prospects and heavy debt burdens.”
To say it’s not a wise decision is much too subtle. Permit me to be blunt: If you assume a heavy debt to attend a crummy law school, you are foolish.
But let’s not end on a depressing note. Let’s look at Berkeley, the shining example of a top school that’s attracting a huge number of women. What’s its secret sauce?
“We have not taken any specific actions to recruit women to Berkeley Law,” said Kristin Theis-Alvarez, the assistant dean of admissions. Since 2013, Berkeley “began to receive more applications from women than from men”—a trend that continues to increase. She added that women might be attracted to the school because of the high number of female faculty “who may serve as mentors.” Another reason she cited is the school’s liberal vibe: “We recognize many female or female-identified applicants have intersectional identities.
It all sounds very Berkeleyesque. But, hey, who am I to argue with success?