Archive for January, 2011

January 5, 2011

Women Law Students Equal in Number, Not in Experience

by Angela N. Johnson

Sari Bashi and Maryana Iskander say that legal education is failing women (according to their 2006 study).  This, by far, is the best work I’ve read to date. 

“Law school professors treat women differently from men, and as institutions, law schools cultivate and reward patterns of behavior that are more likely to be found among men than among women, even though these behaviors do not necessarily reflect the skills students need to be good lawyers, judges, and legal academics” (Bashi and Iskander 389). More specifically, the study revealed that male faculty members are less likely to push or challenge women’s ideas and integrate female students into class discussions.  This disengagement creates a disparate learning environment for women.  Not only does this translate to a disadvantage for women in the law school setting but this can hinder women’s success in the legal profession beyond graduation because “relationships with law school faculty members provide students with information, guidance, encouragement, mentoring, and professional credentials and contacts” (Bashi and Iskander 389). According to Bashi and Iskander, the inadvertent prejudiced against women can be lessened if “law schools reconsider what values they cultivate and reward” which will “provide a better education for women and men alike” (Bashi and Iskander 389). While it is true that women comprise close to half of incoming law school classes (and have since 2001), the authors argue that if women are to truly realize equality in the legal profession, they must become fully integrated into the law school experience.  At no point in their article do the authors make any accusation of intentional discrimination. Rather, there is an inherent occurrence of discrimination based on the way female students are treated (women are challenged less frequently in classroom settings). Further, the authors acknowledge that making changes to the law school experience is not the only barrier keeping women from fully integrating into the legal profession.  Rather, absent such transformation, full integration is unlikely to take place.

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January 2, 2011

Presentation Style and Attorney Gender Matters

by Angela N. Johnson

"Women who use aggressive behavior are viewed more 'able.'"

Peter Hahn and Susan Clayton’s “The Effects of Attorney Presentation Style, Attorney Gender, and Juror Gender on Juror Decisions” addresses extralegal characteristics of attorneys, which may play a significant role in the decision-making behavior of jurors.  Presentation style, for example, is one factor to which trial lawyers pay a great deal of attention; similar presentation style used by male and female attorneys, however, yield differing results.  According to Hahn and Clayton, “The results indicate that, overall, aggressive attorneys were more successful at obtaining an acquittal for their clients than passive attorneys, and that male attorneys were more successful than female attorneys; presentation style also interacted with gender of attorney and juror” (Hahn and Clayton 533).  I do have, however, several concerns with this study.  For one, the past studies referenced are approximately twenty years old (conducted in the 1980’s) at a time that women were still struggling for popular acceptance as lawyers. This is potentially problematic because the results of those studies were used in formulating the variables in Hahn and Clayton’s 1996 study.  Second, Hahn and Clayton conducted their studies utilizing undergraduate students with an average age of 19.5 (age range was 18-22). This age range would not adequately represent the most common juror and therefore the results would not give a realistic insight on what real life juries think about women advocates. Common sense would indicate that most jurors are much older, and it is likely that the younger participants are drawing on a different perspective, one which women lawyers are more commonly seen as the norm. Additionally, not all jurors (like the undergraduate student participants in this study) hold undergraduate degrees or have attended higher education. It is possible that higher education exposes us to a greater awareness, understanding, and realization about women’s equality.  The students were sought through sign-up sheets in an introductory psychology class and posted in the psychology department; these students are likely to be more aware than non-psychology students of irrational discrimination of women.  In other words, could they have studied and become aware of the fact that despite proven falsities in stereotypes women face, that women are actually as capable as men?  This awareness could potentially skew the results of the study.  Lastly, Hahn and Clayton’s study was undertaken in 1996; since that time women in the legal profession have increased which may lead to a greater acceptability of women’s role as an advocate and therefore may not represent current sentiment.

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