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Sondock Jurist-in-Resident Liu says more women than men are entering law school today

University of Houston Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes, left, welcomes Justice Goodwin Liu, right, as the keynote speaker at the virtual Sondock Jurist-in-Residence program last week.

University of Houston Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes, left, welcomes Justice Goodwin Liu, right, as the keynote speaker at the virtual Sondock Jurist-in-Residence program last week.

Feb. 1, 2021 — Associate Justice Goodwin H. Liu of the California Supreme Court delivered the Justice Ruby Kless Sondock Jurist-in-Residence Lectureship in Legal on Tuesday, discussing shifts in law school population, and how the profession could look much different in years to come.

Liu’s talk, “Who’s Going to Law School? Trends in Law School Enrollment Since the Great Recession,” depicted variants in enrollment data as well as the demographics of law school ranking, pinpointing evolutionary trends in law and the legal profession.

“In 2016, for the first time in history, women caught up to men in law school enrollment,” Liu said. “What is even more interesting is that women have continued to outpace men and will out into the foreseeable future.”

Liu noted that the increase of women in law school is primarily due to the substantial predominance of women among Asian, African American and Hispanic female students, but they are disproportionately enrolled in lower-ranked schools with lower rates of bar passage and post-graduation employment. In such, although there is a greater diversity of law students, there may not be a greater diversity of gender in the legal profession.

As of the recession, Hispanics are the only ethnic group that has continued to increase in law school enrollment. Asian American enrollment has declined at a differentially higher rate than any other group, and it is estimated that the number of Asian American lawyers, after rising for four decades, will begin to stagnate around 2030.

Liu’s study stemmed from the research and information found when compiling “A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law,” a study completed in 2017 and published by Yale Law School and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. It was the first comprehensive effort to chart the progress of Asian Americans in the study of the law, noting variables and incentives to pursue the legal profession.

“Any institution that is collecting data at this point that relegates multi-racial people to a residual category is going to increasingly miss out on a very textured, large group of people,” Liu said. “This poses a great challenge for data collection going forward.”

The multi-racial category in law is growing due to the changes in data collection, but Liu said it would prove profitable to further break down categories in demographic questioning, extending racial identification to include not only race but personal identification as well, strengthening the truth behind the numbers.

“How people are perceived is an important barometer towards implicit bias, or perhaps explicit bias,” Liu said. “How one perceives oneself may go towards how one wishes to be counted and expressed in data and their lived experiences.”

The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Liu graduated from Yale Law School, becoming the first in his family to earn a law degree. He then lectured and taught at UC Berkeley School of Law as a professor and associate dean. He clerked for Judge David Tatel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, worked as special assistant to the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court.

The Jurist-in-Residence program is named in honor of Sondock, a pioneer in the law who graduated as valedictorian and one of only five women in the UH law school class of 1962. After practicing law for 12 years, Sondock was appointed a judge on the Harris County Domestic Relations Court in 1973 becoming the first woman district court judge in Harris County. Appointed to the 234th District Court in 1977, she was the first female state district judge in Harris County. In 1982 she was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court, the first woman to serve in a regular session of the court. In 2015, the litigation section of the State Bar of Texas named her a “Texas Legal Legend.”

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