*100 E. Does the Access Framework Have Application in the Legal Context?

      The health professions are the most effective contexts to put forth this access claim, because the evidence base is strongest. It is interesting to examine whether a similar case could be made in other professions. While the empirical basis is not as robust as in the health professions context, there is some evidence that lawyers of color are also more likely to provide service to underserved communities than their white counterparts.

      The findings of a 1997-98 survey examining the post-graduation performance and careers of minority alumni of the University of Michigan Law School found that minority alumni as a group provided much more service to minority clients than their white counterparts did. In addition, minority alumni who entered private practice tended to do more pro bono work, serve on more community boards, and exercise more community leadership through political activity than white graduates.

      This pattern of service has also been found among Asian and Pacific Islander American alumni from the UCLA School of Law. This school, which has been one of the leaders in promoting racial diversity in the legal field, implemented an affirmative action program in 1967 to give disadvantaged students of color a legal education subsidized by the state. A 1988 survey of Asian and Pacific Islander American law school alumni found that UCLA's Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP)/diversity alumni “contributed seven times more pro bono hours in the minority communities, and almost four times (3.7) the amount of time in minority civil or business organizations than their regular admit counterparts.” In addition, 46.7% of regular practice clients of the LEOP/diversity admittees were from ethnic or minority groups, compared to 25.2% of clients of regular Asian and Pacific Islander American admittees. LEOP/diversity admittees also served a much higher proportion (2.7 times) of low-income/working class clients in regular practice than regular admittees did. The findings suggest that excluding Asian and Pacific Islander Americans from affirmative action programs might have an adverse effect on the number of Asian and Pacific Islander American lawyers working with underserved communities.

       *101 Research conducted by the Task Force on Minorities in Legal Profession of the New Mexico State Bar combined with census data shows that minority graduates from the University of New Mexico School of Law tend to represent minority and underserved communities. The New Mexico Bar has even stated that the law school's race-sensitive admissions practices and racial diversity are “indispensable to a racially diverse state bar that can serve the legal needs of all citizens.”

      The results of these studies underscore the significant impact that law school diversity programs can have in improving access to justice for—and meeting the legal needs of—underserved communities. However, the findings are limited because they only examine several schools and certain groups of graduates. Additional research needs to be conducted to build a firm base of empirical knowledge that courts will recognize as being even more compelling. Therefore, law schools should invest in the research necessary to establish whether it is indeed accurate that lawyers of color are more likely to serve communities of color, and more likely to serve poor, underserved communities. It would be important to investigate the precise role that race and ethnicity—as compared with other race-neutral indicators—play in explaining the evidence.