By Meghan Riding
Across the nation women are projected to be the majority of students entering law schools in the fall. But BYU lags behind this national prediction by more than 15 percent.
According to the American Bar Association, 10 percent of first year law students were women in 1970. New figures soon to be released by the ABA say 49.4 percent of the 43,518 new students last fall were women. The trend is continuing upward. As of March 9, more women than men applied nationally to enter law school this year.
BYU”s J. Reuben Clark Law School does not match the national average.
Scott Cameron, associate dean of the law school, said 34 percent of BYU”s last year”s first year law students are women. This year 36 percent of admitted students are women, but only 34 percent of applicants were women. The rising trend of women at the law school is expected to continue.
“We are very happy with the strength of the women in the pool and we encourage more woman to apply,” Cameron said.
The reason for the lower average is as perplexing as the many court cases the students study.
“There are obviously as many capable women students from undergraduate programs but a lesser number of women that apply for graduate work,” Cameron said. “It might be a cultural reason for BYU”s numbers but each individual makes their own decisions.”
Jeremy Huish, 25, a second year law student from Mesa, Ariz., said there is a clash of ideals in the culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that inhibits women from becoming professionals.
“The Church”s culture and focus doesn”t promote women to be professionals as much as men. It”s not the Church but the culture of the Church that pushes women to family and away from professions,” Huish said.
The new culture of the law profession is to have a mixed group of men and women, he said.
“BYU is trying to solicit more women because we know the average is low but standards are not lowered,” Huish said.
Many of the top students in the law school are women, he said.
David Thomas, professor of law who is on the admissions committee, said the law school is aware of the lower percentage of women and is actively trying to improve it.
“Since the early days of the law school we have wanted to improve the proportion of women,” Thomas said. “The numbers are going up and will continue to. But there is a delay factor and we must give it time.”
The law school is committed to the notion that legal training is flexible and does not violate counsel from the prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ, Thomas said.
All faculty and students alert the law school about potential candidates and a number of actions are used to recruit women specifically, Thomas said. These actions include a lunch-in during the fall semester that features a presentation encouraging women to apply to law school.
Hannah Clayson Smith, 27, a third year law student from Sacramento, Calif., is president of Women”s Law Forum, a student organization that provides support for women and men.
The administration of the law school is admitting more women into the law school without lowering standards, Smith said.
“The last thing we want is to admit unqualified women and the administration has done things to help increase the number of women,” she said.
Members of the Women”s Law Forum call women in the spring that are admitted into the school to encourage attendance at BYU, Smith said.
Accommodations are made to help women that wish to attend law school but are worried about parental obligations, she said.
Every class is taped so that parents and other students can view lectures from family support rooms while watching children or doing other things, Smith said.
“There shouldn”t be any concerns for women because the administration has bent over backwards to help students,” she said.
Smith said more women will enter the law school as interest increases in law and women realize a balance between work and family can be made.
Overall, Smith”s experience at BYU”s law school has been the same as a man”s experience.
“Being a woman has had no affect on my experience here, which is a good thing,” she said. “I haven”t been considered any different.”