Managing Elites: Professional Socialization in Law and Business Schools

By Granfield, Robert | Law & Society Review, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Managing Elites: Professional Socialization in Law and Business Schools


Granfield, Robert, Law & Society Review


Managing Elites: Professional Socialization in Law and Business Schools. By Debra Schleef. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006. Pp. vii+243. $75.00 cloth; $26.95 paper.

Reviewed by Robert Granfield, State University of New York, Buffalo

Much of the scholarship on legal education has sought to articulate how professional training in law school reproduces dominant ideas about existing social relations. Several researchers have been occupied with the power of the capitalist marketplace and the expansion of large law firms in relation to the idealism of law students. Not surprisingly, much of this research tends to focus on the fate of public interest idealism in law school. Missing from much of this work is a systematic analysis of how social class privilege, not just professional dominance, is reproduced within professional socialization. While the reproduction of social class privilege is implicit in much of the work on professional socialization, including my own, the bulk of this work has not been as attentive to the subject of social class reproduction as it perhaps could have. Herein lie the contributions of Debra Schleef's new book on professional socialization in law school and business school. In this book, Schleef presents an analysis of the formation of elites in which she investigates how these "elites-in-training contest, rationalize, and ultimately enthusiastically embrace their dominant positions in society" (p. 4).

Data for Schleef's study are drawn from randomly selected law and business students entering "Graham University" (a large elite and highly selective private university) in 1992. Interviews were conducted with 37 law students and 42 business students during their first year. Eighty-five percent of these respondents were reinterviewed in their second year of training. She also interviewed each of the deans and engaged in participant-observation of the "formal and informal educational processes" over the course of four years. In addition, Schleef distributed a survey to her sample in 2000, receiving completed questionnaires from 82 percent of her total sample. This follow-up survey collected data on job history, current employment, occupational goals, and marital status. Using these data, Schleef seeks to illuminate how the habitus of elite professional education contributes to the reproduction of social class privilege.

As Schleef illustrates, student motivations for entering Graham reflect their elite social class background. A significant number of the students in Schleef's study indicate being from the uppermiddle or upper classes. She finds that students came to Graham primarily by default, not because they had a commitment to law or business but because of the cultural and social capital available through their entering an elite profession. As she notes, what appeared to students as a defaulted decision actually translates into class continuity.

This social class privilege is also articulated in the expression of collective eminence among students that they are able to surmount the challenges and rigors associated with this elite academic environment (Granfield & Koenig 1992a). While most of these law and business students experienced some degree of anticipatory socialization related to the "horrors" of attending the school, Schleef suggests that such experiences actually serve to solidify elite social class status by reinforcing an ideology of meritocracy. By constructing a "worst-case scenario" about the challenges of professional education at Graham and then overcoming them, students come to accept the legitimacy of their own elite status without necessarily seeing their educational and future occupational achievements as being largely a function of their class privilege.

However, part of elite training is to develop a consciousness that students have not really bought into the goals and values communicated through their elite educational experience. …

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