How Racial Preferences Backfire

Stuart Taylor Jr., writing in the Monday, June 19, 2006 National Review, reports on what affirmative action for lawyers results in:

Most — if not all — of the nation’s leading law firms seek to become more diverse by using “very large hiring preferences” for African-Americans and smaller preferences for Hispanics. So most of their newly hired minority lawyers have relatively weak academic records that would have brought rejection had they been white.

But these preferences are at best a mixed blessing — and are often a curse — for their recipients. After a year or two on the job, most minority associates at big firms get less desirable assignments and less training than their white counterparts. Many become discouraged and embittered. Young black lawyers leave big firms “at two or three times the rate of whites.”

These problems plague minority lawyers precisely because of the racial preferences that got most of them hired. By lowering the big firms’ usual hiring standards, large preferences bring “disparities in expectations and performance that ultimately hurt the intended beneficiaries.”
These are among the conclusions copiously documented by Richard Sander, a UCLA law professor, in a 66-page article soon to be published in the North Carolina Law Review. It is laden with meticulous statistical analyses of six publicly available data sets, including surveys of thousands of law students and lawyers at various stages in their lives and careers.

Sander’s blockbuster article, “The Racial Paradox of the Corporate Law Firm,” rejects the conventional wisdom that racism explains why most young black lawyers in large firms do not fare well, and why barely 1 percent of big-firm partners — compared with 8 percent of new hires — are black.

The paradox, Sander says, is that “aggressive racial preferences at the law-school and law-firm level tend to undermine in some ways the careers of young attorneys and … contribute to … the failure of the underlying goal of this whole process — the integration of elite firms at the partnership level.”

Sander’s analysis is a natural sequel to his stunning 115-page Stanford Law Review article [PDF] in 2004 showing how the enormous racial preferences used by all selective law schools backfire against black students.

By producing huge black-white gaps in entering academic credentials, these preferences ensure that black students are clustered near the bottom of their classes, with only 8 percent ranking in the top half. This in turn explains why more than 43 percent of entering black law students never become lawyers. (See my Dec. 6, 2004, column, “Do Racial Preferences Reduce the Number of Black Lawyers?“)

Many a professor has attacked Sander’s controversial 2004 analysis, but none has convincingly refuted it. And although the North Carolina Law Review twins Sander’s latest article with a skillfully argued, 17-page, pro-preference rebuttal by Duke law professors James Coleman and Mitu Galati, its ultimate unpersuasiveness reinforces my confidence in Sander’s analysis.

Common sense tells those of us whose eyes are open that the pattern documented by Sander in the limited contexts of law schools and large firms also exists in college and other walks of life (although the scholarly Sander makes no such claim). Many capable African-Americans experience frustration and failure because racial preferences thrust them into elite settings where they compete against whites with far better qualifications. The root of the problem, of course, is that stunningly small percentages of blacks emerge from high school with strong academic skills.

· Preferential hiring of minorities with low grades. Large law firms feel enormous pressure — from corporate clients, the media and others — to become more diverse. So for decades they have aggressively recruited black and Hispanic law students. Since very few have grades that meet the firms’ usual standards, the firms hire many minorities with grades “far below those of the white students hired at the same firms.”

Even though blacks make up only 1 or 2 percent of law students with high grades, they make up 8 percent of large law firm hires. One survey shows that at least 46 percent of black lawyers at large firms (compared with 14 percent of whites) had law school GPAs below 3.25. Fifty-six percent of these black lawyers admitted thinking that their race or ethnicity had been relatively important in winning them job offers.

· How grades predict law firm success. It is “quite likely that the grade gap between whites and blacks in law school is duplicated in performance once inside the firm,” Sander asserts. In this, he challenges the popular myth that — in law and other vocations — grades do not predict future job performance.

Sander shows that large law firms pay very high salaries to attract the people with the highest law school grades. And available data bear out the firms’ belief that these grades measure important skills.

To be sure, many outstanding lawyers did not have high grades. And many failures did. And skills such as jury appeal have little to do with grades. But very few big-firm lawyers appear before juries. And on average, Sander shows, law school grades measure “skills or qualities that continue to be relevant to effective performance throughout a legal career.”

Surveys of University of Michigan Law School alumni, for example, find that those “with higher GPAs are more likely to survive the large-firm competition for partnerships” and earn more money.

· Racial disparities in training and assignments. Numerous surveys of young black lawyers in large firms show that “within a couple of years of starting associate jobs, many blacks and Hispanics have been largely relegated to routine, unchallenging work and deprived of most benefits of training, mentorship, and partner contact,” Sander reports. Most minority lawyers do more “grunt work” than whites, have less contact with partners, report “frustration and a sense of failure,” and leave within the first few years.

Why? Surveys belie the views of some analysts that minority law students are less interested in corporate law firms than whites, Sander reports. Rather, the most plausible explanation is that although firms make collective decisions to use hiring preferences, the individual partners who dole out plum assignments have “an overwhelming incentive” to choose those perceived to be most able and “to shun those whom the attorney thinks for any reason may not be up to the job.”

· It’s not about racism. Surveys show that a significant minority of young black and Hispanic lawyers in large firms perceive themselves to be victims of old-fashioned racial hostility on the job, Sander explains. But does this reflect reality? It’s worth noting that 20 percent of entering black law students in one large survey thought they had been victims of discrimination in the admissions process — and that this was quite obviously the opposite of the truth.

Why would the same firms that use aggressive racial preferences to bring in minorities then turn around and discriminate against them? And why, if the firms are racist, are there virtually no complaints of discrimination in pay, hours of work or overt treatment?
It’s also telling that young blacks at firms with fewer than 50 lawyers — firms that do not use large racial preferences, the data show — report far, far fewer problems. There is no reason to suppose that these firms are more enlightened. The most plausible explanation, Sander shows, is that they hire minority lawyers who are well qualified for their jobs and whose work shows it.

To be sure, some big-firm partners may well be twisted by racial animus, Sander says. But probably not very many. And it would not be hard for minority associates to find out who those partners are and avoid them.

On the other hand, Sander admits, it is “extraordinarily difficult” to sort out how much of the unhappy experience of black associates at large firms is due to individual skill deficiencies and how much is due to what scholars call “stereotype discrimination.”

Some individual black associates “are entirely able to perform as well or better than white associates,” Sander says. But even these associates may get inferior training and assignments if — as seems likely — the “merit gap [is] reinforced and unfairly extended through stereotyping generalizations” about racial groups. (Sander himself, by the way, has a half-black son and is no conservative.)

Such racial stereotyping is deplorable. But the main reason for its persistence is not white racism. It is the conspicuous use of large racial preferences. They advertise the assumption that minority lawyers (and others) cannot compete on their own merits, and they thrust them into high-level competitions that most are doomed to lose.

This tragedy will continue until we do a far better job of educating minority children. In the meantime, unless our large law firms, law schools and other elite institutions moderate their racial double standards, they will continue to hurt many of the people they claim to be helping.

For the sake of minorities – end race based affirmative action as soon as possible!

66 Responses to “How Racial Preferences Backfire”


  • HP, you really need to cut out the marathon posts. The article could have made the point with 1-2 well chosen quotes + a longer section w/ your take + a link to the whole read. This is the blogosphere of sound bites & summaries. You know that. 😉

    P.S. Well-made point about how racial preference alone will backfire when made as a cover for lower expectations. It is sad that racial preferences have become synonomous with lower expectations, since they are not inherently the same.

    Race is still a factor in our society – which is why this is HISPANICpundit.com, not gradstudentpundit.com or straightoufofcomptonpundit.com – but lowering expectations in the search for racial equality doesn’t level the playing field, it just shifts the potholes around.

  • Yep, great comment SG.

    As for this specific post, I posted it in full precisely because you can no longer find it online via the link I provided.

  • are you sure you’re latino?!?!? damn boy if hadn’t met you in person…anywho, i agree with spanglish gringo. i had to prove myself for the 1st year i worked at my current job!!! and i think alot of it had to with the fact that i’m a latina. as for ending affirmative action i totally don’t agree with that!!!! many great, intelligent individuals wouldn’t have gotten a chance to “prove” themselves had it not been for affirmative action.

  • …and on the other hand, many great intelligent individuals wouldn’t have dropped out of college had it not been for affirmative action.

    I think the latter group is larger.

    Ya ves, it is the anti-affirmation action group that is looking out for the real interests of latinos, making us the ‘true’ latinos. 😉

  • For those interested in reading Sander’s article and the Coleman & Gulati response, they are available online at http://nclrev.unc.edu/cocoon/nclrev/symposia/

    Vicki Shabo
    Editor in Chief, Volume 84
    North Carolina Law Review

  • I find it troubling that many (including Blacks and Browns) conclude that many “minorities” would not have the opportunities they currently have, or be where they are in life, but for race-based preferences policies (i.e. Affirmative Action programs).

    I far as I know, the advocates of Affirmative Action programs are rarely (if ever) asked to back up their assertions that Affirmative Action is responsible for the social progress of minorities. Thomas Sowell asked in Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?, that we consider trends in Black employment prior to the implementation of race based discrimination policies in favor of Blacks. He noted that the number of Blacks in “professional, technical, and similar high-level positions more than doubled” in the 10 years from 1954 to 1964. That’s before the Civil Rights Act and without Affirmative Actions programs. He noted that an immediate boon for Blacks did not result as a consequence of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. In fact:

    “The rise in the number of blacks in professional and technical occupations in the two years from 1964 to 1966 (after the Civil Rights Act) was in fact less than in the in the one year from 1961 to 1962 (before the Civil Rights Act). If one takes into account the growing black population by looking at percentages instead of absolute numbers, it becomes even clearer that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 represented no acceleration in trends that had been going on for many years. The percentage of employed blacks who were professional and technical workers rose less in the five years following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than in the five years preceding it.”

    This implores us to ask ourselves: How can we minorities unquestionably credit, in whole or in part, our success in certain endeavors to the practice of Affirmative Action? How can we know with any certainty that we wouldn’t be where we are now without Affirmative Action?

    sonrisa morena, I ask that you ponder the possibility (in my opinion, probability) that you would have been just as successful without the “assistance” of a “benevolent” people and their policies. Do you really believe that, but for Affirmative Action programs, you and the many intelligent individuals, to whom you’ve referred, would have careers in a lower paying or “less fulfilling” occupations? I’ve heard people say, to my amazement, that “minorities would still be in unskilled and low-paying jobs if it weren’t for Affirmative Action.”

    I’m sick and tired of seeing many fine people of color claiming (and being told) that they owe their success to those supposedly helpful policies (and by extension to those politicians and “kind outsiders” that pushed for them), not to mention my loathing of the stigma that surrounds race-preference policies and the minority “beneficiary.”

  • When someone writes an piece of writing he/she keeps the image of a user in his/her brain that how a user can be aware of it.
    So that’s why this paragraph is great. Thanks!

  • I’m not sure why but this website is loading extremely slow for me.
    Is anyone else having this issue or is it a problem on my end?
    I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

  • Hi, after reading this remarkable piece of writing i am too happy to share my know-how here with mates.

  • Good day! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.
    I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new
    posts.

  • Hi there to all, as I am genuinely keen of reading this web site’s post to be updated on a regular basis.

    It contains fastidious information.

  • WOW just what I was looking for. Came here
    by searching for passport for honeymoon

  • Spot on with this write-up, I honestly believe that
    this website needs a great deal more attention. I’ll probably be returning to see more, thanks for the info!

  • Excellent pieces. Keep writing such kind of info on your page.
    Im really impressed by your blog.[X-N-E-W-L-I-N-S-P-I-N-X]Hello there, You’ve done a fantastic
    job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends.
    I’m sure they will be benefited from this web site.

  • Just want to say your article is as surprising.
    The clearness to your submit is simply nice and that i can assume you’re a professional
    in this subject. Fine with your permission allow me to clutch your
    feed to keep up to date with drawing close post. Thanks
    a million and please carry on the rewarding work.

  • Hi all, here every one is sharing these kinds of know-how, therefore it’s nice to read this webpage, and I used to pay a quick visit this website daily.

  • This design is steller! You obviously know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well,
    almost…HaHa!) Great job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that,
    how you presented it. Too cool!

  • Useful information. Lucky me I discovered your site by
    accident, and I’m surprised why this twist of fate
    didn’t came about earlier! I bookmarked it.

  • Everything is very open with a precise explanation of
    the challenges. It was truly informative. Your site
    is very helpful. Many thanks for sharing!

  • I have been exploring for a little bit for any high
    quality articles or blog posts in this sort of house .

    Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this website.
    Reading this info So i am glad to exhibit that I’ve an incredibly
    just right uncanny feeling I discovered just what I needed.

    I such a lot unquestionably will make certain to don?t fail to remember this web site and
    provides it a glance regularly.

  • Right here is the right web site for anybody who really wants to understand this topic.
    You know so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I really will need to…HaHa).
    You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject which has been discussed for a long time.
    Great stuff, just excellent!

  • This post will help the internet visitors for building up new weblog
    or even a blog from start to end.

  • I do not know if it’s just me or if perhaps everyone else experiencing problems with your website.
    It looks like some of the written text within your posts are running off the screen. Can someone
    else please comment and let me know if this is
    happening to them too? This may be a problem with my internet browser because I’ve had this happen previously.
    Appreciate it

  • It’s remarkable to pay a quick visit this website and
    reading the views of all colleagues about this post, while I am also keen of
    getting familiarity.

  • Greetings! This is my first visit to your blog!

    We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

  • I do consider all the ideas you have introduced for
    your post. They are really convincing and can certainly
    work. Nonetheless, the posts are too brief for novices.
    Could you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time?

    Thank you for the post.

  • Hi i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i
    read this piece of writing i thought i could also create comment due to this brilliant post.

  • Hey there I am so delighted I found your weblog, I really
    found you by error, while I was searching on Aol for something else, Anyways I am here now and would just like to say thanks for a remarkable post and a all round
    entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t
    have time to read through it all at the moment but I have saved it and also added in your
    RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read much more, Please do keep up the excellent work.

  • I have been exploring for a little for any high-quality articles or blog posts in this sort of house .
    Exploring in Yahoo I finally stumbled upon this site.
    Studying this info So i’m happy to exhibit that I
    have a very excellent uncanny feeling I came upon exactly what I
    needed. I such a lot for sure will make sure
    to don’t disregard this site and provides it a glance on a constant basis.

  • Everyone loves what you guys are usually up too.
    This sort of clever work and exposure! Keep up the awesome works guys I’ve
    included you guys to my own blogroll.

  • Everything is very open with a really clear description of the challenges.
    It was truly informative. Your site is very helpful.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • I every time used to study paragraph in news papers but now as
    I am a user of net so from now I am using net for articles,
    thanks to web.

  • Hello to all, how is everything, I think every one is getting more from this website, and your views are good in support of new users.

  • Hello are using WordPress for your blog platform?

    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you need any html
    coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would
    be really appreciated!

  • Hello very cool web site!! Guy .. Excellent .. Wonderful ..
    I’ll bookmark your website and take the feeds additionally?

    I am glad to find so many useful information here within the put up, we
    want develop extra techniques in this regard, thank you for sharing.

    . . . . .

  • It is perfect time to make a few plans for the long
    run and it’s time to be happy. I’ve learn this post and if I may just I wish to recommend you some attention-grabbing
    issues or advice. Maybe you can write subsequent articles referring to this article.
    I desire to read even more issues approximately it!

  • Howdy I am so glad I found your webpage, I really found you by mistake, while I was researching on Digg
    for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say kudos for a remarkable
    post and a all round exciting blog (I also love the
    theme/design), I don’t have time to browse it all at
    the moment but I have bookmarked it and also added in your RSS feeds,
    so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more,
    Please do keep up the superb work.

  • Precisely what I was searching for, regards for
    putting up.

  • Hi there to all, for the reason that I am actually eager of reading
    this blog’s post to be updated on a regular basis. It carries good information.

  • Good blog you have here.. It’s hard to find good quality writing like
    yours nowadays. I really appreciate individuals like you!
    Take care!!

  • wonderful issues altogether, you simply gained
    a logo new reader. What might you suggest in regards to your publish that you simply made a few days in the past?
    Any certain?

  • Hey just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your post
    seem to be running off the screen in Opera.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.
    The design and style look great though! Hope you get
    the issue solved soon. Cheers

  • I have been exploring for a bit for any high quality articles or weblog
    posts in this sort of house . Exploring in Yahoo I finally stumbled upon this website.
    Studying this information So i am happy to show that I’ve a very good
    uncanny feeling I found out just what I needed. I such a lot
    indisputably will make sure to do not disregard
    this web site and give it a glance on a constant basis.

  • It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the longer term
    and it’s time to be happy. I’ve learn this publish and if I may just I desire to
    counsel you some interesting things or suggestions. Perhaps you
    could write next articles referring to this article.
    I want to read more issues approximately it!

  • Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day.
    It’s always helpful to read through content from other authors
    and practice something from their websites.

  • These are truly wonderful ideas in on the topic of blogging.
    You have touched some fastidious points here. Any way keep up wrinting.

  • Hey would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re using?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different internet browsers and I must say this
    blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good internet hosting provider
    at a fair price? Many thanks, I appreciate it!

  • I’m no longer positive where you are getting your information, but good
    topic. I needs to spend a while finding out
    more or understanding more. Thank you for wonderful information I used to be searching for
    this information for my mission.

  • What’s up mates, its impressive post concerning tutoringand fully explained, keep
    it up all the time.

  • Great beat ! I wish to apprentice even as you amend your
    site, how can i subscribe for a weblog web site?
    The account helped me a acceptable deal. I had been tiny
    bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided brilliant clear idea

  • Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after checking through some of the post I realized it’s new to
    me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be bookmarking
    and checking back frequently!

  • When someone writes an post he/she keeps the idea of a
    user in his/her brain that how a user can be aware of it.
    So that’s why this article is great. Thanks!

  • Highly energetic blog, I enjoyed that a lot. Will there be a part 2?

  • whoah this weblog is fantastic i like reading your posts.
    Stay up the great work! You recognize, lots of people are hunting around for this information, you
    could aid them greatly.

  • Good day! I could have sworn I’ve visited this blog before but after going through many of the articles I
    realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m certainly pleased I discovered it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back often!

  • Excellent way of explaining, and fastidious piece
    of writing to take information regarding my presentation topic,
    which i am going to convey in college.

  • Heya are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you
    require any html coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was totally
    right. This post actually made my day. You can not imagine simply
    how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further post thank you
    once again.

  • If some one wishes to be updated with most recent technologies after that he must be pay
    a quick visit this site and be up to date daily.

  • What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious familiarity
    regarding unpredicted emotions.

  • I’ll immediately grasp your rss feed as I can not to find
    your e-mail subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.
    Do you have any? Please allow me recognize in order that I
    may subscribe. Thanks.

  • A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I think that you need to write more on this topic, it may not be a taboo subject but generally people do not discuss such topics.
    To the next! Kind regards!!

  • Hi there I am so happy I found your blog page, I really found you by mistake,
    while I was researching on Google for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot for a marvelous post and a all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have
    time to look over it all at the minute but I have saved it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read much more, Please do keep up the awesome job.

  • Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favorite justification appeared to be on the internet the simplest thing to
    be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get irked while
    people consider worries that they just do not know about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing
    without having side-effects , people can take a signal.

    Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  • This piece of writing is really a nice one it assists new net viewers, who are wishing
    in favor of blogging.

Leave a Reply