An Empirical Study of Race and Law School Hiring

Posted: 5 Aug 2009 Last revised: 16 Aug 2010

See all articles by Ming M. Zhu

Ming M. Zhu

Harvard Law School; Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights

Date Written: March 8, 2010


Does race matter in the law school hiring process? Do minority candidates benefit from affirmative action or are they hurt by racial discrimination? Is the lack of minority law professors the result of a lack of qualified minority candidates? And more broadly, what do law schools look for when making hiring decisions? These questions have been asked for decades; now, in this ground-breaking empirical analysis of law school hiring, some answers are finally offered. This paper takes an in-depth look at the candidates applying for law teaching jobs in the 2004-2005 academic year to measure how much a candidate’s race affected his or her chances of being hired as a law professor. Two findings emerge, both surprising and thought-provoking. First, being a minority had a statistically significant positive effect on a candidate’s chances of being hired, suggesting that affirmative action has a place in law school hiring. However, being a minority also had a statistically significant negative effect on where the candidate was hired, suggesting that discrimination is also present. In the realm of law school hiring, race appears to cut both ways. The article closes by reviewing potential explanations for these seemingly contradictory findings. Regardless of the why and how, it is clear that traditional qualifications and academic pedigree alone cannot explain law school hiring decisions.

Keywords: Law Schools, Affirmative Action, Discrimination, Race, Empirical

Suggested Citation

Zhu, Ming M., An Empirical Study of Race and Law School Hiring (March 8, 2010). Michigan Journal of Race & Law, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2010, CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN:

Ming M. Zhu (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights ( email )

294 Washington St.
Suite 443
Boston, MA 02108
United States
617-988-0602 (Phone)


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