Inequality in Law School – Let’s Keep Talking!

by Angela N. Johnson

Take off that duct tape! Let's keep talking!

Judith Resnik, in “A Continious Body: Ongoing Conversations about Women and Legal Education” argues:

  1. In spite of many advancements in legal academy, equality has not yet come into being and the subject of achieving equality should not yet be ignored as having been conquered. In other words, let’s keep talking!
  2. To achieve equality, there must be more women faculty.
  3. Equality in the legal academy is important because it is the academy that addresses how assumptions about gender, ace, and ethnicity shape the law, and in turn, about what role law plays, has played, and should play in making those concepts meaningful  (Resnik 2003, 568).

Progress is being made toward achieving equality in law schools.  There has been an increase in women law students, in gender courses being offered, textbooks on gender and the law, and more research is being done on the impact gender has on legal education and there are now two dozen journals dedicated to this research.  However, the number of women faculty has actually decreased.  According to Resnik, “The number of women hired as new teachers in 1998, at 40 percent, represented a decline from 1992, when women were half of the new-entry hires.  Further, as the status of a job within a law faculty goes down, the percentage of women holding that position goes up; women disproportionately fill non-tenure track positions” (Resnik 2003, 568).  Resnik points to Deborah Merritt’s work, Are Women Stuck on the Academic Ladder? An Empirical Perspective, which reports that legal writing is comprised of more than 500 teachers, about 70 percent are women, but men have almost half of the tenured positions.  The injustice within this disparity is the fact that these jobs are inferior to other legal academia jobs in security of tenure, pay, and authority within law faculties (Resnik 2003, 569).  In looking at university teaching more generally, one can guess that women also lack quality of life, too.  “A recent study of Ph.D.s found that twelve to fourteen years after receiving a Ph.D. tenured women are less likely to have children or to be married than tenured men” (Resnik 2003, 569, quoting Mary Ann Mason & Marc Goulden, Do Babies Matter? The Effect of Family Formation on the Lifelong Careers of Academic Men and Women). 

Looking to past studies that indicate women are called-on less frequently than men and taken less seriously than their male classmates (Weiss & Melling, 1980’s – Yale); despite entering law school with equal credentials, men were almost three times more likely than women to be in the top 10 percent of their law school class (Guinier, 1994 – University of Pennsylvania); and that women perceive law school classrooms to be “alienating and hostile” (Banks, late 1980’s – various law schools) (Resnik 2003, 570). Resnik believes that many of these reported disparities can be resolved by increasing the proportion of women faculty in law schools. However, women faculty also face discrimination. When 2,270 course evaluations were examined in 1996 at a top-ten law school, both women and men’s evaluations were for the most part positive.  However, men were reported four times more often than women to have a good sense of humor but women gained praise for being approachable, accessible, congenial, while men were appreciated for their knowledge as “masters of their subject matter” (Resnik 2003, 571, citing Christine Haight Farley, Confronting Expectations: Women in the Legal Academy). 

If legal scholarship works as a basis to influence the legal profession and law itself, then according to Resnik, women are being impacted even more than just within the confines of law school.  Take for example, the jurisdiction between state and federal authority.  According to Resnik, “determining the divide between jurisdictions requires making certain kinds of questions national decisions while relegating others to local authority.  One such example is the Supreme Court decision of United States v. Morrison, invalidating a provision – the “civil rights remedy” – of the Violence Against Women Act, which had authorized victims of violence motivated by and “due, at least in part, to an animus based on the victim’s gender” to bring federal damage actions against assailants” (Resnik 2003, 573). Yet, law school textbooks do not focus on the gender-discrimination as it pertains to jurisdictional issues and little scholarship (read by practicioiners and judges) is written in this area.

In defense of the continued need for improvement of women’s equality, Resnik refers to the Supreme Court’s Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) decision which upheld University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action standards for admission to its law school (Resnik 2003, 574).  Additionally, Resnik believes that concern over gender equality has become a collective multigenerational project.  This eludes to the fact that as one generation has continiously been impacted by gender inequality, another generation is facing similar inequalities (Resnik 2003, 576-577).

Source Citation: Resnik, Judith. “A Continuous Body: Ongoing Conversations About Women and Legal Education.” Faculty Scholarship Series Paper 763, 2003: 564-577.

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2 Comments to “Inequality in Law School – Let’s Keep Talking!”

  1. Resnik’s message is important and I appreciate you sharing it. Though this may be 2011and women have made great strides – its important to realize we still have a long way to go! Your information is much appreciated. Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you for your comment! I agree; “common myth” tends to lead us to believe that women have achieved equality. But yet a disparity remains. For women attorneys, the disparity begins in law school. I’m not convinced that when I enter law school in the fall nor by the time I graduate and work as a professional attorney will I realize 100% equality. Perhaps not even during my working career. Thank you again and I hope you continue to visit!

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