When they enter law school, the odds are against them. Almost always persons of color and often from disadvantaged backgrounds, their LSAT scores are substantially lower than those of their classmates. As a result, these students, law students admitted through alternative admissions programs, have a by far less chance of success than their regularly admitted classmates. Some of these students do, however, beat the odds. While most students who are admitted to law school under an alternative admissions program perform as their LSAT scores predict-in the bottom quartile of their class-a small number perform substantially better. Every year, some alternatively admitted students end their first year in the upper twenty-five percent, upper ten percent, and, at least occasionally, upper five percent of their class. Historically, these successes have been attributed to the students' personal characteristics. The students who succeed simply work harder than those who do not. Although this explanation is appealing in that it places responsibility for success on the student, it does not seem to be true. Instead, what those of us who work with students admitted through alternative admissions programs are beginning to recognize are differences in the way these alternatively admitted students approach what is the primary task in law school: reading judicial opinions. Even when the students have gone through the same orientation and tutoring sessions, the more successful students seem to read the assigned opinions differently than those students who are less successful. The study reported in this article explores these perceived differences. In particular, it looks at the way in which four students read judicial opinions assigned for class. Part I examines previous studies and essays on the way in which individuals read judicial opinions and law review articles. Part II describes this study, including the participants, the tasks that they were asked to perform, and the methods that were used to collect and analyze the data. The final two parts, Parts III and IV, set out the data and propose some conclusions that might be drawn from it.
Beating the Odds: Reading Strategies of Law Students Admitted Through Alternative Admissions Programs, 83 IOWA L. REV. 139