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Friday, October 07, 2011

Symposium on Class in American Legal Education

Thanks to Rick Garnett & TaxProfBlog, I see that the Denver University Law Review has published a symposium called Class in American Legal Education.  It is built around an article of that title by Richard Sander, who's written a good deal in this area and on race-based affirmative action in law schools.  It includes ten responses, mostly by folks whose prior writing is on race and race-based affirmative action, but also by some whose interest has been more directly in issue of class, such as Richard Kahlenberg.  

I am particularly eager to read the article by Denver's Eli Wald, who has written so well on issues of class and ethnicity within law firms, both historically and at present, and whose response to Sander quarrels with what it describes as Sander's argument that socioeconomic status is invisible, and thus that socioeconomic preferences in law school admissions will remain invisible, so that students who benefit from them can't be singled out.  Wald argues, in contrast, that "socioeconomic status and, in particular, social and cultural capital, play a significant role and have a considerable impact on the experience of law students while at law school and on their legal careers after graduation.  Importantly, socioeconomic status, the possession of social and cultural capital and lack thereof[,] is highly visible, and students of lower socioeconomic status are unlikely to be able to pass for affluent students or cover their status effectively even if they tried."

I should note a strong personal interest in this issue.  My next big project--hopefully another book--will involve class and the American legal academy, an issue that has gotten some attention from a few scholars (Jeff Harrison obviously being an especially salient example here) but, in my view, hardly enough.  It certainly has received far less interest and attention than is given in legal academic circles to many other identity traits: race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and so on.  (See my brief observations about that in this book review.)  The Sander article and symposium seem, on a brief review, to be almost entirely focused on students and not professors, but a variety of interesting issues arise with regard to the latter category, and the ways in which professors' class and social status, as well as general American views about class, influences what they write about and how they write about it.  There has been some sociological study of class in the academy as a whole, but much less work devoted to how it plays out in the legal academy in particular, and I am very excited about this project.  (And I mention it here by way of avoiding preemption somewha, but mostly to encourage those who are interested in the issue, or have cites to useful material, to feel free to get in touch with me.)  My goal in thinking about these issues will be largely descriptive, not prescriptive.  I'm not urging law professors to take a particular view about class and the law, let alone a particular political or policy view.  (There is some such material out there, and I think its political orientation is what makes it less likely to receive serious attention.)  I am interested in discovering what I can about law professors' social class/status (if you get a survey, please fill it out!), and in encouraging greater self-knowledge about these issues.  I can't imagine a more fun project, and I look forward to reading this symposium as I try to educate myself on the issues.

You can find the TaxProfBlog post, linking to all of the articles in the Symposium (as far as I know), here.  Enjoy.     

Posted by Paul Horwitz on October 7, 2011 at 01:21 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink

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