Seeking success in Alabama
by India Williams
Special to The Star
Oct 25, 2012 | 1554 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I am an African-American woman who was reared in the Deep South. Some might be shocked to hear that I believe the Supreme Court’s decision in Fischer v. Texas is largely irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that affirmative action is still relevant and even necessary, but the handwriting has been on the wall since Grutter v. Bollinger that affirmative action would be deemed illegal and unnecessary in 25 years.

Granted, Grutter came down less than 12 years ago, so conceivably, we should have another 13 years on the clock. The truth, however, is that the clock may have run out.

Irrespective of how Fischer v. Texas comes down, the ultimate success or failure of racial minorities will not necessarily be affected by the Court’s decision. What’s the point of crafting racially diverse classrooms when only one or perhaps none of the minority students in any particular class is excelling based on objective benchmarks? The answer is, at best, unclear. My Southern hospitality reminds me that it’s impolite to invite someone to a party and then not ask them to dance. Don’t admit us into the classroom, only to have us marginally succeed or even fail.

The truth of the matter is that success does not happen by chance or even because of the color of one’s skin. Success happens based on a very distinct blueprint, as I like to call it. Being from Tuscaloosa, I love college football. And while I’m undoubtedly biased, one of my favorite coaches of all time is Nick Saban. I think that he would agree there is a blueprint for success in football. He constantly reminds his players to “do your job” and “to play 60 minutes of football.” I think his record, in terms of success, speaks for itself. Like football, I believe there is a blueprint to success in law school.

It is in a sense of full disclosure and great humility that I confess that I recently graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law, a tier-one law school, in the top 10 percent of my class. I was nominated for membership in the Order of Coif, the highest student honor in legal education. In a time of fiscal restraint, I have several job offers throughout the country with national and international law firms. None of these successes kept me from a state of constant dismay that I was one of the relatively few African-Americans in this country to have achieved similar success in law school. The number of African-Americans making top grades, or even average grades in many law schools, is dismal. I’d like to think I’m uniquely talented, but my success shouldn’t be an anomaly. There was a blueprint, and I followed it. So many minorities, however, lack access to that blueprint.

Most law students know that you must prepare for class, take notes and outline, but many do not understand exactly how to master the law and not just learn concepts. This is especially true of minority students. Law school is a beast, and in order to slay the giant and win, you cannot go into the battle unprepared. First, it is important to know exactly what you seek to accomplish, long-term and short-term, before you start law school or any professional program. Before you enter the “schoolhouse door,” you need mentors who are successful and equipped to help you achieve your goals. Moreover, you must bring something to the table before you sit down to eat or you will not be able to digest the meal that is prepared before you. As such, you need to develop strong writing and analytic skills before you begin law school. Also, you have to decide what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals.

With the economic downturn, there is a growing criticism of law schools for admitting more students than the legal profession can employ. There is, moreover, a growing criticism that admitting mass numbers of racial minorities to law school is no longer the answer to achieving racial diversity in the classroom and the legal profession. In some respects, I agree. Many minorities, particularly African-Americans, will obtain a Juris Doctor but find that they are simply not employable. If colleges and universities, law schools in particular, earnestly desire racial diversity in the classroom, then they will look to successful persons of color to help develop a blueprint for future minority students to excel. Law schools should create or collaborate with pipeline programs to ensure that minority students obtain the necessary skills that they need to succeed prior to matriculation. Productive racial diversity in the classroom occurs when persons of color confidently compete against their generational counterparts on a level playing field.

India Williams is a 2012 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law.
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Special to The Star

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