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College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct. - Dec. 2011 > New Book Examines Pipeline to Legal Profession for African Americans

New Book Examines Pipeline to Legal Profession for African Americans

Only 4 percent of practicing attorneys are African Americans, according to a new book by Dorie Evensen and Carla Pratt.

End-of-the-Pipeline-Cover.jpg(November 2011)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 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. Within this relatively small group, what factors contributed to the success of African Americans who achieved the status of lawyer in their journey through the pipeline?

Two Penn State professorsDorothy Evensen, an educational researcher in the College of Education, and Carla Pratt, associate dean of academic affairs at Penn State Law who writes extensively on issues of equity and diversityteamed 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).

Evensen, the first author, commented, “Our study describes a slice of the reality of becoming an African American lawyer in the new millennium, and we hope that our analyses point the legal profession to actions that can be taken to allow aspirations to transform into achievement.”

Pratt added, “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.

The authors collected data from more than 50 informants and invited researchers and scholars who study the intersection of law, race, education, and social equality to comment on their findings.

"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.


Evensen's research interests include 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.

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.”