A recent study says grades help explain the gap. To ensure diversity among new associates, the study found, elite law firms hire minority lawyers with, on average, much lower grades than white ones. That may, the study says, set them up to fail.
The study, which was prepared by Richard H. Sander, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and was published in The North Carolina Law Review in July, has given rise to fierce and growing criticism in law review articles and in the legal press. In an opinion article in The National Law Journal this month, for instance, R. Bruce McClean, the chairman of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a major law firm, took issue with the study’s “sweeping conclusions” but not its “detailed data analysis.”
James E. Coleman Jr., the first black lawyer to make partner at Wilmer Cutler & Pickering, a prestigious Washington law firm now known as WilmerHale, said Professor Sander was overemphasizing grades at the expense of other qualities like writing skills, temperament and the ability to analyze complex problems.