‘Leaky pipeline’ study spotlights gender inequality in law schools

November 30, 2016

The problems of gender inequality in the legal profession start when women apply to law school, according to a new report from Law School Transparency.

Data compiled by Deborah Jones Merritt, professor at Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, and Kyle McEntee, executive director of LST, shows the pipeline leading women to a J.D. degree has many leaks. Women are applying to law school at a much lower rate than men, they are not admitted in the same numbers as their male counterparts and they are more likely to attend schools that have worse job placement rates.

McEntee described his reaction to the data as “shocked.” Crunching numbers from the American Bar Association, he found that since 2000, the inequality between men and women law students has increased. By 2011, the split had become statistically significant and could not be attributed to random behavior.

The study found that 2.6 percent of female college graduates apply to law school compared to 3.4 percent of male college graduates. If women applied at the same rate as men, applications would jump 16 percent overall.

The lower number of applications cannot be linked to women not having an interest in graduate education. Women outpace men in earning master’s and doctoral degrees, 59.9 percent and 51.8 percent respectively.

Once they apply to law school, women are less likely to be admitted than men, the study found. Male students outnumber female students in law school. Overall for the class that enrolled in the fall of 2015, 79.5 percent of male applicants were admitted as compared to 75.8 percent female applicants.

In addition, women students are clustering in the “least regarded” law schools, McEntee said. The study examined 11 schools with strong placement rates which had at least 85 percent of their graduates getting full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage. But those schools averaged just 46.6 percent female enrollment.

Conversely, law schools that placed less than 40 percent of their graduates in full-time, long-term, J.D.-required positions had an average female enrollment of 55.9 percent.

This disparity is seen in Indiana.

Notre Dame Law School, ranked in the Top 25 by U.S. News and World Report, admitted a class in 2015 that comprised 59 percent men and 42 percent women. Comparatively, Valparaiso University Law School, which is unranked by the magazine and was recently censured by the ABA, admitted a class the same year that was 49 percent men and 51 percent women.

Of the Notre Dame Law School students who graduated in 2015, a total of 130 graduates obtained full-time, long-term, J.D. required jobs. Four of these jobs where listed as funded by the law school or university. Valparaiso had 55 graduates in the Class of 2015 land this kind of employment. None of these jobs were funded by the law school or university.

Merritt and McEntee speculated a cause of the gender inequality might be the U.S. News rankings. As law schools vie for the top spots on the Best Law Schools list, they might be less inclined to accept applicants with lower LSAT scores. According to McEntee, women, on the whole, score two points lower on the law school entrance exam than men, which could be putting the female applicants at a disadvantage.

However by the time women take the bar exam, they outperform expectations based on their LSAT scores. Looking at data from National Association for Law Placement, Merritt and McEntee noted of the Class of 2015, 66.4 percent of the women and 67.0 percent of the men secured jobs that required bar passage.

Indiana Board of Law Examiners does not collect data on the number of men versus women passing the state’s bar exam.

Merritt believes that law schools have put the priority on improving their U.S. News ranking at the cost of gender equity. She is hoping law school faculty and deans will look at this study and consider ways to attract more women.


Recent Articles by Marilyn Odendahl