The Legal System v. The New York Times


The New York Times is chock-full of law-related coverage and does not pass up the opportunity to critique the legal system. From law enforcement to law schools, no institution is safe. Law schools haven’t shied away from the legal system’s flaws, and the following 3 YouTube videos highlight their willingness to explore them.

1. Harvard Law – Panel on Law Schools in Crisis

In 2011, New York Times writer David Segal explored law students’ significant educational debt and dim job prospects in a series of articles:

At Blueprint JD, we have been actively monitoring the law school crisis and its impact on the future of legal education. We are not alone in our interest. Harvard Law convened a panel discussion last year, to explore the questions raised by the recent scrutiny. The panel discussion was entertaining, and also revealed why many have a love-hate relationship with Harvard Law. 

There is incredible homogeneity in the market for law schools that’s really surprising when you think about it.  In reality I think that there are really only three models of law schools. There is Yale, where the focus is not on teaching people to practice law really; it’s about producing legal scholarship and legal scholars. Again, you know, I call it as I see it. There is Northeastern and other schools like it that have a focus on a co-op system, where it’s about placing students in co-op positions and a real focus on public interest law almost exclusively. And then there is everybody else, of which Harvard – you know, we like to think we’re the good, the best part of the undifferentiated product market. Right? But it is really a very homogenous product market – and it’s all priced relatively the same. And that piece is bizarre. Because you know if you were buying a car and there were BMWs and lemons, you’d expect to pay more for the BMWs and less for than the lemons. And yet it seems as though the lemons in the law school market charge about the same thing.  –Prof. I. Glenn Cohen


2. UVA Law – Prof. Alex Johnson, African-Americans, Law Schools and the LSAT


In 2010, the New York Times noted the declining diversity in law schools, in particular, lower numbers of African-American and Mexican-American law students.  Writer Tamar Lewin examined the joint research effort of Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) and Columbia Law professor Conrad Johnson, which is memorialized on the web site A Disturbing Trend in Law School Diversity. The study concludes that despite relatively constant numbers of African-American and Mexican-American applicants and 3,000 additional law school seats, admissions still lag. In particular, 61% black applicants (as compared to 34% of white applicants) are denied admission to all of the law schools to which they apply.

Later that year, UVA Law held a talk featuring Prof. Alex Johnson, a past chair of the Board of Trustees of the Law School Admissions Council, which develops and administers the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Johnson responded to the SALT/Columbia Law study and explored the achievement gap in standardized tests such as the LSAT.

The first thing is that there is a [test] score scale differential. It is greatest between whites and blacks. And it is typically in most administrations, one standard deviation. So if you look at the LSAT, 153 is roughly the average score. The average score for African-Americans is still about 143… The persistence of that gap is real. At one point it was about 1.5 [standard deviations] the LSAC is proud of the fact that…they narrowed that gap…When you look at standardized tests, you see this persistent score gap in every standardized test in the United States today, and indeed you can document it as early as 2nd graders taking standardized testing.  Here’s the problem. No one knows why…You cannot point to race as the rationale for that gap.


3. NYU Law – Michelle Alexander, New Frontiers in Race and Criminal Justice – Keynote Address

On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, a black teenager as fatally shot as he walked through his father’s gated townhouse community in Florida. By mid-March, the tragedy garnered national media attention. In a March 16, 2012 article, New York Times writer Charles Blow criticized the lack of an arrest, addressed the racial sensitivity of the case, and discussed the universal fear of parents of black young men that their children will be unfairly profiled. 

In 2012, NYU Law held a conference devoted to the intersection of race and criminal justice. In the conference’s keynote address, Prof. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, discusses the how the Trayvon Martin tragedy exposes the myth of colorblindness. 

One of the reasons that Trayvon Martin’s death has resonated so powerfully with millions of people, especially black and brown men is because it is one of those rare situations in this so-called “era of colorblindness.” A time when we have been so seduced by the appearance of great racial progress with the election of Barack Obama and the sprinkling of people of color through elite institutions and halls of power thanks in large part to affirmative action. A time when even mentioning race is itself perceived as a violation. Suddenly, suddenly the curtain is pulled back. And all of the justifications and rationalizations that are routinely trotted out for viewing young black men as suspicious, as a problem, as threatening, as dangerous – are suddenly revealed to be little more than fantasy. All you have is a young man on the phone with his girlfriend carrying some Skittles and an iced tea…[i]t is this experience of perceived as a problem, as a walking problem, as a perpetual threat, no matter what you are doing…that unfortunately defines the experience of what it means to young, black, and male in America.


Does your law school engage in self-reflection? Let us know about it in the comments.

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Melinda Hightower

Melinda Hightower

Founder and Chair at Blueprint JD
Melinda Hightower is passionate about legal diversity, literature and community activism. When she’s not busy earning her keep as an attorney, she operates Blueprint JD, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to building diversity in the legal profession.