By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
A Gary politician joked during a fundraiser, “What do you call 5,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?” An attorney himself, the self-effacing official paused for a contemplative moment then quipped, “A good start.”
It’s an old joke – a cruel one, perhaps, to some in the legal profession – but one that captures the disdain with which attorneys are frequently view-ed. In every survey of the most hated professions, lawyers rank between first and fourth. It hasn’t been helpful that an inordinate number of attorneys comprise perhaps the least popular entity in the country – Congress.
While numbers are dwindling, make no mistake. The dominant profession of those in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives remains lawyers – at just under 40 percent.
Any hope of lawmakers in Washington becoming more “people friendly” any time soon is a pipe dream. In a particularly antagonistic move, Congress last week advanced legislation designed to make citizen participation in class action suits incredibly more difficult; a move applauded only by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and big business.
The politically charged firings and forced resignations of 46 U.S. attorney generals convey the clear intention of the new administration to stack the deck with lawyers willing to ‘drink the Kool Aid’ of the incumbent.
Even the Bible takes serious swipes at the profession in Luke 11:46: “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”
Sounds like Congress, judges that could care less, ambitious prosecution and play-for-pay defense attorneys with no souls. Still, like it or not, America is a country of laws. At the other end of the spectrum are lawyers who fight fearlessly and tirelessly for those least capable of defending themselves. There are the heroes of the legal profession, relentlessly challenging the system.
We just need more of those gladiators for human dignity – the resistance against the ruthless. There are lawyers who champion the oppressed and fight for the downtrodden, who otherwise would be left to their own devices in a brutal judiciary. We need more good lawyers. That is why I find a recent decision of Harvard Law School heartening.
Arguably, the nation’s most prominent law school recently announced a move that could open doors for a more diverse pool of attorneys pleading cases across the nation. Harvard Law School is eliminating the LSAT requirement – opening access to those who cannot afford to prepare for or take the exam multiple times. The GRE will provide an alternative.
Most education pundits and prospective students of color subscribe to the theory that standardized tests are racially biased. Statistics confirm that African American test scores are significantly lower. But the question is, how does it factor into the capacity of a young man or woman to excel in the legal profession if he or she passes the bar. William Henderson, a law professor at Indiana University’s Mauer School of Law who studied LSAT performance says:
“There’s no number that’s more slavishly followed in admissions than the LSAT. There is not a strong correlation between interesting people who are going to make a contribution to this world and an LSAT score in the 170s or higher. There is probably going to be a fair number of diverse candidates, but probably white candidates as well, who think they have a great compelling story to go to Harvard. It will allow Harvard to admit the very best people independent of LSAT scores.”
Harvard Law says it’s about “expanding access to legal education for students in the United States and internationally.” The GRE, the school noted, is more widely available around the world than the LSAT. Accepting the GRE in place of the LSAT means more students will be eligible to apply, including those applying to other types of graduate programs in addition to Harvard Law School — among other things, it’ll save those applicants money. The GRE, the announcement noted, has been shown to reliably predict first-year law school grades.
This move is part of a wider strategy to “eliminate barriers as we search for the most talented candidates for law and leadership,” HLS Dean Martha Minow said in the statement. Jeff Thomas of Kaplan Test Prep, in a statement to Above the Law, says this change might spread throughout the legal academy:
“Harvard Law School’s decision to allow applicants to submit GRE scores instead of LSAT scores has the potential to create a domino effect among other law schools. When Harvard changes their admissions strategy, other law schools take notice.”
No one knows the immediate or long-term impact. What is certain is progress under the existing system was painfully slow. In reality, to create a true two-test admissions landscape, the vast majority of law schools would have to make this decision. The Harvard decision may be a mere first step. But isn’t that the prerequisite for any life-changing journey?
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].