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New book examines pipeline to legal profession for African Americans


The path from birth to the bar can be precarious for African Americans, who despite being approximately 13 percent of the population are only about 4 percent of the practicing bar. What factors aided African Americans who achieved the status of lawyer in their journey through the pipeline? Two Penn State professors teamed up to explore that question in The End of the Pipeline: A Journey of Recognition for African Americans Entering the Legal Profession (Carolina Academic Press 2011).  

“We conducted a qualitative study collecting narratives of African American lawyers who were recently admitted to the bar. We examined these narratives to learn where the obstacles are in the pipeline to the legal profession and how African Americans successfully overcame those obstacles,” said Carla Pratt, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Penn State Law who co-authored the book with Dr. Dorothy Evensen, professor of education at Penn State. They collected data from more than fifty informants and invited researchers and scholars who study the intersection of law, race, education, and social equality to comment on their findings. (Watch a video of Dean Pratt's interview on End of the Pipeline.)

"While some lawyers and legal educators might assert that this generation of lawyers emerged from a post racial society, our participants perceived race as an obstacle to entering the legal profession because race negatively influenced how educators, peers and potential employers viewed their intellectual and academic ability to become successful lawyers,” said Pratt.

The authors conclude that “working recognition” is a key concept to success in reaching the end of the legal pipeline. “Working recognition” is the idea that Black lawyers were recognized by someone early in their lives as being capable of academic success and they recognized that they had to work and be strategic to overcome the challenges they faced on the path to the legal profession. And once they were on their way to becoming lawyers, they worked to recognize others in the pipeline behind them.

End of the Pipeline is "a must read for anyone interested in understanding the very different experiences faced by African-American law students when compared with their white peers," writes Dorothy Brown, professor of law at Emory University School of Law.  

Professor Pratt researches the role of race in the legal profession and has also studied the legal construction of racial identity in the Native and African American contexts. She is motivated to teach by her passion for the law and “the power that it has to change people’s lives for the better.”

Professor Evensen of the Penn State College of Education researches literacy development and its relation to teaching and learning in professional contexts, particularly law and medicine. She is authoring a book on the development of case reading and reasoning through formative assessment that will be a handbook for law school teachers. 

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