The Language of Law School: Learning to "Think like a Lawyer"

By Elizabeth Mertz | Go to book overview

8
Student Participation and
Social Difference: Race, Gender, Status,
and Context in Law School Classes

Having examined professors' discourse profiles, we turn now to analyze students' participation in the classes of this study. Over the past decade, there has emerged a growing debate over the way students of different races, genders, and backgrounds respond to law school pedagogy. In a study that received much attention, Professor Lani Guinier and her coauthors at the University of Pennsylvania indicted traditional law school teaching for creating a chilling climate that is differentially discouraging to women.1 Other studies have found a negative response to law schools among students with public interest ambitions, and, because more women and students of color fit this profile, have found that this phenomenon has a differentially negative impact on their experience of law school.2 In addition, several high-profile legal challenges to affirmative action in law school admissions have brought the question of race in law school to the forefront.3 In a sense, these cases have highlighted a shocking dearth of empirical research on issues of racial inclusion in law school, despite the arguable centrality of this issue to questions of discrimination and representation in the legal profession. Although there has been a growing literature on the question of gender in law school, the number of empirical studies examining racial dynamics—for example, the effects of legal pedagogy on racial inclusion, and the importance of faculty or student cohort diversity to successful integration—remains much smaller. Indeed, with a few notable exceptions, there has been little systematic empirical attention to the effects of race, class, or school status on students' experiences, although there have been numerous first-person accounts documenting a sense of exclusion among many students of color, as well as among working-class students.4

This study tracked both race and gender in law school classrooms, and it is the first to provide systematic observational data on race in these settings. In addi-

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