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Law Schools: Where the Girls Are

Vivia Chen

April 13, 2018

Women-style-1950sI 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 51.27 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 (sidenote: 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 0ver 50 percent women:







Another interesting tidbit: Duke has the lowest female (41.3 percent) enrollment among the top schools, even though Vanderbilt, another prominent Southern school, has over 50 percent women. 

Not so surprising, perhaps, is that the law school with the rock bottom female enrollment is Brigham Young (36.2 percent), which is well-over 90 percent Mormon. Though women have averaged only 30 percent of the applicant pool over the last five years, says BYU Law's admissions director Stacie Stewart, "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 says, "we definitely aggressively recruit women." The trend, she says, 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 bottom-feeders that everyone should 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 P.R. 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," says 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 shiny example of a top school that's attracting a huge number of women. What's it's secret sauce?
"We have not taken any specific actions to recruit women to Berkeley Law," says 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 adds that women might be attracted to the school because of the high number of female faculty "who may serve as mentors." Another reason she cites 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?


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"[t]he schools with 60 percent or more women are bottom-feeders that everyone should avoid" OUCH!!!

This is not just a US trend. Is it possible that there are FEWER male applicants, therefore more female attendees because the vast majority of lawyers are not working on Wall Street (or its equivalent elsewhere), there is no guarantee of employment together with a guarantee of a significant debt for many students? There are some law schools in Canada where female students have been at or above 50% for years. However, it has not necessarily translated into partnership or equal pay 20 years later, and “female led” law firms are considered minority led law firms even today.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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