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Perspectives: Meeting the Standards, Not Lowering Them

Recruitment of students of color in the legal profession has always been a subject of interest. However, the onslaught of articles advocating for the lowering of admission standards to achieve greater diversity has now become degrading and somewhat insulting. As a recent law school graduate of color, I offer a more effective alternative.

Instead of concentrating on the admission requirements and how they are “too high,” “culturally biased” or “unfair,” the focus should be on the availability of preparatory tools available to law school candidates of color. Concentrating more on mentorship, LSAT preparation and critical reading/analysis skills during high school and college will drastically improve the admittance, retention and employment of law students of color.

As a disclaimer, yes, more credit needs to be given to nontraditional backgrounds and extraordinary and diverse life experiences. However, the idea of lowering the standards must be abandoned. When in practice, a judge will not grant a continuance because the attorney is Black; likewise, an institution of higher education should not lower its standards because an applicant is Black.

A quick listen of your local radio station, or a review of this year’s Grammy and American Music Awards will reveal that the music industry will provide an example of how we are very capable. Today, African-American artists not only drive the latest and greatest trends in music, but also control the writing, producing, and marketing of the art. An even greater testament of our success is the development of our own artist labels and styles, forming some of the most successful conglomerates in the fashion, music, retail and sports industries. The standards of the music industry were not lowered to accommodate us, we raised the bar and the industry had to change to match our success.

Students of color have the same drive and desire to meet the challenge of law school. A lack of motivation and perseverance to pull themselves up “by their own boot straps” is not an issue. The real problem is that there are no straps. For most, applying and being admitted to law school is similar to an attorney attempting to get through a trial without any knowledge of the rules of evidence. Basic knowledge of traditional support systems, preparatory materials and personal mentors are lacking in the minority community. Indeed, while there are students of color interested in law school, most are oblivious as to how to navigate the Law School Admission Council system, how to write effective personal statements and how to prepare for the LSAT exam.

Similar to young athletes being trained by coaches, students of color interested in the legal profession require the same mentorship and guidance to achieve success. There are numerous summer camps to teach the next Jim Brown, Venus Williams and Tiger Woods. However, there is a lack of camps geared towards the next Johnnie Cochran, Michelle Obama and Clarence Thomas. Organizations, private firms, and academic institutions must develop sponsorship, mentoring and tutoring programs. These supplemental support groups should concentrate their efforts in assisting students of color navigate the treacherous waters of legal education and develop the skill set that will be necessary to become admitted and succeed in law school. Mentorship by academic and legal professionals will serve students of color much more than lowering the standard to be achieved.

The legal profession has evolved beyond the days where doors have to be held open. Nevertheless, there must an assurance that the keys to unlock the doors are available to every student who desires to walk through. As long as the keys to success have been made available, students of color will be able to match, if not surpass, the expectations that have been established.

Rafiel Deon Warfield is an alumni recruiter at the Syracuse University College of Law and class of 2008. He is entering into the Navy JAG Legal Corps in 2009.

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