June 2017 Bar Bulletin
By Andrew Prazuch
Since the completion of our Future of the Law Institute for high school students in the fall of 2015, KCBA’s Diversity Committee has spent time discussing with local law school officials what new areas of support from the bar could further assist in our shared vision of diversifying the profession.
After discussion over several meetings, the Committee agreed that a focus on the undergraduate-to-law-school pipeline is an area currently receiving little attention by the legal community. Specifically, the law schools tell us that diverse applicants would benefit from opportunities to improve their LSAT scores and receive mentoring by lawyers during the students’ undergraduate experience.
We know from the Law School Admissions Council that “average LSAT scores were highest for Caucasian and Asian/Pacific Islander test takers. African American test takers and Puerto Rican test takers had the lowest mean LSAT scores.” Access to a commercial test preparation course could improve this situation for diverse students.
In addition, the cost of the main, in-person LSAT preparation course offered in Seattle (Kaplan) begins at $1,400; online-only versions start at $800. The test itself today costs $180 and is usually coupled with a $175 credential assembly service, which allows reports to an unlimited number of law schools.
Financial hardship waivers are offered for the test itself, but no discounts are promoted for the preparation courses. We expect that diverse undergraduates are more likely than other students to find both the preparation and test fees, if not waived, to be exceptionally difficult to afford.
The Committee’s plan is to conduct a pilot scholarship program for LSAT preparation and test taking for King County-connected, diverse undergraduate students (regardless of where they attend undergraduate school), who are interested in applying to law school, preferably in Washington. This scholarship program would prioritize grants on a needs-based application, with a focus on keeping talented, diverse law school graduates in the King County area. Ideal applicants would demonstrate a commitment to practice in King County. The Diversity Committee would establish criteria, evaluate applications and approve awards of bar funds.
Metrics that could be tracked might include (confidential) scores of KCBA-sponsored students, the number of applicants who apply to the UW or SU law schools, and the ethnic make-up of students awarded funding.
KCBA will invest $10,000 this fall to launch this pilot program. We anticipate offering at least seven scholarships for the preparation course and actual test fees.
After a year or two of success in the pilot, the bar would be in a strong position to seek additional or replacement funding from the Law School Admissions Council, which awards grants annually for “projects designed to encourage underrepresented groups to pursue legal education.” LSAC previously made occasional grants to assist with our FLI program.
The bar’s Diversity Committee is working with the admissions staff at the SU and UW law schools to develop award criteria and promotional materials for a launch later this summer. KCBA members interested in working on this pilot program are invited to join the Diversity Committee; feel free to contact me for more information.
Andrew Prazuch is executive director of the King County Bar Association. He can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (206-267-7061).