IEMI Fellow James Binnall and co-author Nick Petersen published an article in the journal Law & Policy exploring and criticizing the widescale use of criminal history inquiries in law school and state bar admission processes.
Read the Abstract
While all but one U.S. law school and every state bar ask about criminal history on their admissions application, such inquiries vary considerably in the depth of information sought. One potential explanation for variations in the depth of criminal history inquiries among law schools and state bars relates to minority threat dynamics. Drawing on data quantifying the depth of criminal history inquiries for 190 ABA-approved law schools and all state bars, as well as school and state demographics, this study explores the issue for the first time. Negative binomial regressions reveal that law schools and state bars located in states with larger Black and Latino populations employ more probing criminal history inquiries. We also find that this relationship is parabolic—where the minority threat effect is negative in states with a critical mass of Black/Latino residents. Finally, minority threat effects for law school criminal history inquiries are moderated by state bar criminal history inquiries, suggesting that law schools are cued by state bar policies. These results provide some support for minority threat theory, informing debates about the continued use of criminal history inquiries to screen prospective law students and lawyers, and the inclusiveness of the legal profession generally.