It is no secret that minorities have been hit hardest by the subprime mortgage crisis. African Americans and Latinos were more than three times as likely to have a high cost loan. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, subprime foreclosures will affect about 8% of African Americans and 10% of Latinos, but only about 4% of whites.
However, some argue that minorities also benefited the most from the “mortgage innovations” that gave rise to the crisis. The argument is, or at least was, that subprime loans allowed more minorities to buy houses than ever before.
I’m discussing this because I see the same kind of Catch-22 situation percolating in the debate over the ABA’s stricter bar accreditation standards. The ABA has tightened its accreditation standards, requiring that at least 75% percent of a school’s graduates pass the bar in 3 of the past 5 years, or that the bar passage rate be within 15% of the state average.
As the American Lawyer reports in its latest, greatest Student Edition, many minority advocates argue that the tightened standards will disproportionately affect minorities. In response to the tightened standards, many schools have tightened their own admissions standards, raising their reliance on LSAT scores. Heavy reliance on LSAT scores has historically lowered minority enrollment (.pdf) at America’s law schools, so minority advocates argue that law schools will end up admitting fewer minorities as a result of the ABA’s tightening measures.
The problem here, though, is the same as with the subprime mortgage crisis. If the ABA kept its regulations loose, allowing schools with low bar passage rates to stay open, more minorities might have the opportunity to go to law school. However, you can’t practice law without passing the bar, so at the end of their three years, minorities attending these law schools may be left holding a large bill for law school with no ability to pay it off.
Thus, the Catch-22. Minorities who want to become a lawyer or buy a house won’t have the opportunity under tightened rules governing accreditation or “mortgage innovations.” But if those rules are loosened, they still may not be able to reach their goals due to low bar passage rates at accredited law schools and bank foreclosures.
As with any Catch-22, the problem here is, by definition, impossible to solve without changing the premise. Perhaps instead of focusing our ire on the ABA’s standards, then, we should be focusing on changing the LSAT, or developing other indicators of bar passage success that aren’t as inherently discriminatory.