Harvard Law Review, Law Reviews, Law Schools, Minority Issues, Racism, Women's Issues

Minorities and Women and Law Reviews, Oh My!

Earlier this month, roughly around the time that newly minted law review editors were hearing the good news, we raised the issue of how many minorities and women are being selected for law review.

It’s not a new debate; whether underrepresented minorities (URMs) and women are adequately represented on the nation’s leading law journals has long been a subject of controversy. But in light of the tough legal job market, in which credentials like law review membership are more valuable than ever, it’s certainly a subject worth revisiting.

We kicked off the discussion with this tip:

You may want to investigate proportions of URMs [underrepresented minorities] and women at some top 5 law reviews. I hear that [one school] took 29 1Ls, but only 7 women and no African-Americans. [Another school] took 45 first-year editors, about even male/female, but only 2 URMs in the bunch.

Which law journals are being referred to here? And how are URMs and women doing at other law reviews — perhaps yours is mentioned — around the country?

UPDATE: Please note that a few updates and corrections have been added since this post was originally published. Check them out after the jump.

We discuss several law reviews below. Please note: if you see an error, just email us (subject line: “Correction”), and we will fix it. Race is not always obvious, and so some minority editors might have been overlooked (or, perhaps less likely, some non-minority individuals with nice tans might have been counted as minorities).

The first law review mentioned in the tip — the one that admitted 29 1Ls, but only 7 women and no African-Americans — is the University of Chicago Law Review. This was confirmed by multiple sources, several of whom sent links to the mastheads (see Volume 78, “Members”). One source provided this breakdown:

29 1L’s (August, Austin, Brady, Bronshtein, Davis, DeTurck, Dykstra, Flowers, Foreman, Geiger, Kenny, Kraehenbuehl, MacDonald, MacLeod, Mason, McSweeney, Mooneyham, O’Leary, Ogles, Parker, Press, Rowland, Rozen, Saxton, Shi, Tarasen, Wallace, Walsh, Wang)

3 non-whites (Ms. Shi, Ms. Wang, Mr. Tarasen)

7 women (Ms. August, Ms. Austin, Ms. Foreman, Ms. MacDonald, Ms. Saxton, Ms. Shi, Ms. Wang)

UPDATE: One missing minority: Mr. Geiger is half-Hispanic.

In defense of the Chicago Law Review, larger forces may be at work, according to one source: “UofC has a hard time recruiting URMs in the first place, so we’re drawing from a very small percentage of the class to begin with.” A different tipster estimates the number of African-Americans in Chicago’s most recent 1L class (now the rising 2Ls) at around 7 out of 189.

So perhaps the lack of minorities is somewhat understandable. What about women?

We’re close to 50/50, so I don’t know what’s going on there. Women tend to not speak much in class, either. I’m not sure why the gender disparity is there — I don’t think there’s any overt sexism going on, and the writing competition is totally blind — but it’s a little disturbing.

Is it the fault of the selection process? It sounds fair and reasonable, as described by another U of C student:

[T]he process is completely blind. Ten of the spots are write-on. The writing competition entries are blindly graded on a numerical scale. Therefore, not much chance of bias there.

The other 19 are grade-on — usually the top 19 of the class, unless they decline to participate in the writing competition. This is also blindly communicated to the law review editors from the administration.

Ah, but this begs the question: Is grading affected by bias? The same source responds:

As far as women are concerned, I would wager this is not a law review problem. There are valid concerns that men are sometimes favored by professors because they tend to be more assertive and more likely to speak in class or approach professors outside of class and form bonds, perhaps leading to better grades. That being said, our finals are blindly graded, and most professors award no points for class participation. If there is a male/female grading disparity in the school, I’m not aware of it. One year’s law review results are hardly statistically significant

This issue has been raised before, according to a U of C Law Review alum:

I was on the board there and we had no discretionary spots — it was merit or nothing (some grades, some writing). Someone even did a study of the last 5 years or so and the minority numbers were small. There was much discussion about this but the board ultimately decided to keep the status quo, and for good reason.

So that’s what’s going on at Chicago. What about the second law review mentioned, which took 45 first-year editors, about even male/female, but only 2 URMs? We understand that it’s the Yale Law Journal.

This doesn’t come as a shock. When I was on the YLJ editorial board (PDF), I think we also had just two “URMs” — one African-American, who was one of our executive editors, and one Latino. There were many women on the board, though, and our editor-in-chief was a woman (of part-Asian ancestry).

We’ve listed below information submitted by readers about other law reviews (in alphabetical order). If you see an error, just email us (subject line: “Correction”). Thanks!

P.S. Next week, Ms. JD will publish a report on the proportion of law review editorial posts filled by women in the top 50 law schools. We’ll let you know when it’s out.

Cornell Law Review

“Each class, as you know, only has 200. Last year Cornell Law Rev. took 42. No black students. This year Law Rev. took 38. Two black students. That’s 2/80 for upcoming school year.”

Duke Law Journal

“Duke Law Journal (our Law Review) has zero incoming African American editors. Last year only three African Americans got on Law Review, and they were the only three on the entire journal (comprised of about 80 students). This is because no African Americans made it on the Law Review the prior year.”

“Along the same vein, zero African American students made it on the Moot Court Board for the past three years through the traditional 1L oral advocacy competition.”

“And along another sad sad vein, only 10 African Americans are expected to join the class of 2013 at Duke Law this year. This certainly does help African American students’ law review and moot court chances for the future.”

Fordham Law Review

“If my counting is correct, 25 out of 58 new law review staff are women.”

Harvard Law Review

“HLR only took 2 African American students, and at least one was through the write-on or discretionary basis (not grade-on). ”

Stanford Law Review

Editors only informed last week (Wednesday, July 28), mostly by phone. Breakdown is exactly half and half, men and women — 40 total editors join the staff this year. 20 men, 20 women. All membership is determined by a blind-graded essay/editing exercise.

UCLA Law Review

“The UCLA law review write-on includes a short-essay prompt which is essentially a diversity essay. Here is the text of this year’s prompt: ‘A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the Law Review. Please write a one-page double-spaced essay that illustrates what you would contribute to the Law Review community.'”

“At the Law Review write-on information panel, we were informed that there was no guarantee that the short-essay would even be read and that it would only be used when picking candidates from a borderline group that had comparable scores. However, they also let it slip that we should not ignore the short essay prompt since half of last year’s law review members were picked based on the contents of this essay! The Law Review did not release any statistics on the size or score range of the students chosen based on the short-essay prompt.”

“Although I am not the author, there is an extensive insider write-up of how the Law Review decided to add this short-essay prompt in 2007 to confront a lack of diversity on Law Review. Here is an excerpt:”

Late-spring 2006: Results of the writeon are announced. 41 students are selected. 39 students are white. Only 2 are minorities (both are East Asian). Law Review is dismayed at the composition, and decides to take steps to counter the impact on racial minorities, particularly on underrepresented students of color.

Summer/early fall: One of the tasks the editorial board does to create a diversity committee to examine ways to increase diversity on Law Review, with increased racial diversity being the main objective of the committee. Knowing framing the issue in terms of increasing racial diversity will be problematic, the issue is framed in terms of “minimizing the disparate impact on students of color.”

University of Illinois Law Review

“University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana College of Law Law Review: 42 new students were selected this year, 20 of which are female. Our Editor-in-Chief is a woman as well. I cannot comment on how many minority races are represented.”

Virginia Law Review

“I’ve heard that the last time a black person was on the VLR was in the early 1990s. There have been very few URMs over the years as well. I don’t think the law review likes to share this information, but I would appreciate any public pressure you can place on them to at least be open about things.”


“While the Virginia Law Review was hardly a haven for underrepresented minorities, it is a little hyperbolic to say the last time a black person was on VLR was in the early 1990s. That was true while I was on its managing board, alas, but the year ahead of me, class of 2006, an African American was an Executive Editor, a member of the managing board.”

“URMs were certainly underrepresented on VLR during my time, but it’s still not true to say that they were absent entirely (let alone for decades).”

Earlier: Congratulations, New Law Review Editors! (And a question about minorities on law review.)

(hidden for your protection)

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