How to Apply to Law School as a Minority Applicant

Shoubert Polynice

While the legal profession remains predominantly white, efforts to diversify are ongoing as law schools accept students who classify as racial minorities, experts say.

Applicants often have assumptions about who can attend law school, says Gabriel Kuris, a law school consultant and founder of Top Law Coach.

“They have a vision in their heads about what a typical law school student looks like,” says Kuris, a graduate of Harvard Law School in Massachusetts. “But it’s important to remember that law schools are changing rapidly, and while they are by no means a fair representation of society they may be more diverse than you’d expect.”

Here’s some advice from Kuris and other experts about how to apply to law school as a minority candidate.

Identify as a Minority

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2023 that bans using race as a factor in college admissions, law schools are no longer allowed to consider race when making admissions decisions.

“However, schools are looking for diversity for building a balanced class in many ways, and that includes ethnic and visual diversity, national diversity, gender and sexual expression,” Kuris says. “It could include veterans. It’s also important to understand that it could get complicated. For example, Native Americans are an ethnic minority in America but also considered a political minority. If you are a member of a Native American tribe, there may be special scholarships and programs available.”

While many prospective law students may be under the impression that they can’t talk about their race or ethnicity, “that’s not necessarily the case,” says Catherine Casiano, assistant dean for admissions at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas. “Schools are being more careful about the ethnicity questions they ask, and many are masking that information on applications in order to avoid any accusations that race and ethnicity were sole reasons for admitting students.”

De’Jonique Carter, an attorney and prelaw adviser at Dillard University in New Orleans, says diversity should never be automatically associated with race.

“You cannot check a box and say, ‘Hey Harvard, hey Yale, I’m black!’” Carter says. “Instead, you have to talk about how your blackness has impacted your life’s outcome and how it influenced you to make the decision to become a lawyer. Or how being a member of the LGBTQ community has shaped and influenced your life. It might be helpful in persuading the committee to accept you into law school.”

Write a Diversity Statement

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, which was based on lawsuits against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard University, many law schools have changed their prompts for writing diversity statements that applicants may submit, or eliminated diversity statements altogether.

Where such essays can be submitted, the prompts now tend to be “very broad,” Kuris notes.

Depending on the law school, the diversity statement may be called a background statement, supplemental statement or optional statement “because law schools don’t want to make it sound like they are only for people who come from racial minorities,” Kuris says. “Law schools are giving you extra space to tell a more complex story. Don’t be afraid to identify yourself however it makes sense to you.”

Some students say they don’t want to “trauma dump” in their statements, Carter says.

“You are not trauma dumping, you are explaining to the admissions committee how your minority status has impacted your life and as a result you have wanted to do XYZ in the field of law to make a difference,” she says. “You can’t look at an application or applicant and tell their military status or their socio-economic status. If students use that personal statement to tell their story, it gives them an opportunity to be reviewed holistically.”

Many students at St. Mary’s are immigrants or are children or grandchildren of immigrants, Casiano says, “and those stories may be very pertinent to a decision to go to law school, so we wouldn’t want an applicant to feel like they couldn’t share that just because they identify their ethnicity as part of that story.”

Kuris advises minority law school applicants to consider writing a diversity statement “grounded in your identity and your heritage. It should ultimately be more about your experience and your personal story and how it has formed your path in life and your future as a law student and as a lawyer. There are many ways to talk about it – your goals, how you relate to others and how you can contribute to a diverse class.”

Lead a Student Group

Becoming involved as an undergrad can be good not only for a law school resume, but for networking and relationship-building with faculty, legal professionals and other students, Casiano says.

“This can be so helpful because the admissions process may seem scary or overwhelming, especially to an applicant who will be the first in their family to attend law school, and having a group to go through the process with can help,” she says. “Additionally, many of these groups invite admissions representatives from law schools to speak to them, so hearing from schools about what makes an application stand out can be invaluable. The more information a student has about what law school looks like, and what being an attorney is like, will just better prepare them.”

Carter says it’s important to join student groups and to be active in them.

“It’s better if you join one or two groups and stay involved and show a progression of different leadership skills,” she advises. “It’s not just important to lead a student group, but have substantive involvement in them. Going from a member to secretary, to vice president to president – those are important steps in understanding dynamics and building soft skills that are needed for success as an attorney and in law school.”

Visit Law Schools

Visiting a school gives a sense of what a community looks and feels like, Casiano says. “Applicants often tell us that a visit helped them decide where they want to spend the next three to four years in law school. For some applicants, it has to do with the city where the school is located – are they comfortable living there and maybe building a network there?”

For other applicants, it might be the actual campus. She says applicants should ask themselves: “Is the interaction between faculty and students, or between students themselves, what they are looking for? Are people nice? Does the school have the type of diversity they are looking for?”

Casiano encourages visitors to bring family members, and to tour schools virtually if travel costs make in-person visits impractical. She notes that the Law School Admission Council hosts virtual law forums to give prospective students one date, time and location where they can talk to multiple schools.

Kuris says applicants can also learn about a law school through information sessions, visiting their websites, attending conferences and other events, and reaching out to current students and alumni via social media.

“Especially as a minority applicant, it’s helpful to speak to current or former students who share your background,” he says. “I think you’ll find that students are very happy to speak with you candidly about what it’s like to go there.”

Talk to an Adviser

It’s helpful to speak to a knowledgeable and trusted adviser, experts say.

Many colleges “don’t have the budget to have an adviser,” Carter says. “Instead, what you have is a professor who does prelaw advising on the side. It’s combined.”

The adviser may suggest that the applicant review their personal statements and can be helpful with advice about strategy, including letters of recommendation, tutoring and gap years between college and law school, Carter says.

Examine the Curriculum

“It’s important that a student assess the diversity and what resources are available before walking into a particular program or law school,” Carter advises. “When it comes to the curriculum, there is an academic component. What classes are going to help you become the best attorney and what skills will you need to be successful?”

It’s also important to note the demographic makeup of all the professors and staff at a law school.

Additionally, Carter says, applicants should see if law clinics and seminars are available, especially those that focus on minorities in the law profession.

Focus on the LSAT

Minority students with good LSAT scores stand out, experts say.

“Quantitative factors like grade point averages and LSAT tell two stories about a person: How well did they perform over a period of time and how did you perform in a short period of time under intense pressure,” Carter says, adding that a lack of resources may have put some minority students at a disadvantage.

There are several programs geared toward increasing diversity in law schools by helping minority students in areas such as LSAT support, Carter points out, as well as many programs that give minority students early exposure to the legal profession.

Kuris started as an LSAT instructor 20 years ago and went on to start helping with law school applications. In a post for the weekly Law Admissions Lowdown blog that he writes for U.S. News & World Report, he advises test-takers: “If you are studying part time, on top of work or classes, it’s best to set aside at least three or four months to prepare for the LSAT. To make the best use of this limited time, set a study plan with weekly goals.”

This article by Sammy Allen was first published on US News. Read the original article here.