Getting a Lawyer While Black: A Field Experiment

Lewis and Clark Law Review 24.1 (2019)

53 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2019

Date Written: May 16, 2019


In this Article, I present new evidence that African-Americans face unique impediments in obtaining access to counsel. Using a randomized audit design, I show that those with black-sounding names receive only half the responses of those with white-sounding names regarding requests for legal representation. I design a larger, follow-up experiment to evaluate variations on the theory of “statistical discrimination,” that lawyers are merely responding to economically-relevant signals correlated with race. I find no evidence supporting the expectations of the statistical discrimination theory, but some evidence that racial preferences matter. I conclude by presenting a more nuanced theory of racialized service rationing that is consistent with the body of experimental evidence presented and is supported by observational data. I discuss the implications of these theories for potential policy responses, including debates about affirmative action and the size of the legal profession.

Keywords: discrimination, access to justice, race, law and society, law and economics, law and politics

JEL Classification: K4, J71

Suggested Citation

Libgober, Brian, Getting a Lawyer While Black: A Field Experiment (May 16, 2019). Lewis and Clark Law Review 24.1 (2019), Available at SSRN: or

Brian Libgober (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

Box 208269
New Haven, DC 06520-8269
United States


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