Socializing Both Sexes in the Classroom

by Angela N. Johnson


By implementing a feminist critique (defined as promoting a caring, results-oriented approach to the law, based on preserving relationships, nurturing, and expressing an ethic of care and compassion) in addition to the current teaching methods (logos/masculine), both men and women will realize greater success in law school. Methods beyond the current archaic arbitrator/adversarial model of teaching must be utilized. Moreover, instilling empathy and teaching dispute resolution skills in law school will promote the most effective lawyering and will benefit the students as future lawyers and the clients they serve (Proctor 2004, 585-589). Proctor argues “introducing the values traditionally associated with women, and traditionally undervalued, because an emphasis on collaboration, context, emotions, ethics and empathy will effectuate a much needed socialization of both sexes” (Proctor 2004, 578).

Proctor’s article strengthens the widespread argument in favor of promoting gender equality in law school by showing that both sexes would benefit in applying feminism to legal education. Further more, Proctor’s article is unique because she argues in favor of utilizing a feminist model of teaching not only to help bridge the gender disparity (which most articles on this topic argue in favor for) but primarily as a way to save the legal profession from its current decline. Despite working as a legal secretary and then later as a professional paralegal for six years, I was largely unaware until reading this article that there is a seemingly moral decline in the legal profession. Perhaps working in a small town where attorneys resemble the traditional “statesman” model of lawyering has largely insulated me. I was shocked to learn that “thirty-three percent of all lawyers say they are “very satisfied” with their work, down from forty-one percent in 1984” that “three-quarters would not want their children to become lawyers” and that “one quarter of young attorneys are dissatisfied with their current position, and a slightly greater number are dissatisfied with the practice of law in general” (Proctor 2004, 579). Proctor cites the fact “billable hour requirements for lawyers in law firms have almost doubled in the last fifteen years, now averaging 2000-2500 hours per year” for causing widespread dissatisfaction (and even remorse) among lawyers (Proctor 2004, 579). Tragically, “symptoms consequent of this crisis include severe depression and increased drug abuse and suicide rates. For example, lawyers are almost four times more likely to be depressed than the general population; one third either suffer from clinical depression or substance abuse, which are both at twice the general prevalence rates for those disorders. In a survey of 105 occupations, lawyers ranked first in experiencing depression . . . one in four lawyers experiences feelings of inadequacy and inferiority in interpersonal relationships. Forty-four percent of lawyers feel that they do not have enough time to give their families and fifty-four percent say they do not have enough time for themselves . . . More than half of all lawyers believe incivility is a significant problem within the legal profession. Some states report that substance abuse is a factor in up to seventy-five percent of all disciplinary complaints involving lawyers” (Proctor 2004, 579). Needless to say, though I was unaware of such a crisis prior to reading Proctor’s article, my eyes are certainly open now.

According to Proctor, at the heart of the crisis is the fact that lawyering is now treated akin to corporate business practices with too much emphasis on the billable hour and not enough empathy for clients or service to community. Moreover, hostility and incivility is instilled in future-lawyers in law school – which according to Proctor, could be solved by implementing the feminist critique of legal education. Stated differently, it is the traditional teaching styles and substantive curriculum which predominantly imposes a masculine-centered training that inhibits and impairs lawyers in effective problem solving and service to clients that fosters such discontentment. Introducing a feminine model into modes of reasoning would “instill a healthy, balanced psyche and skill set that will empower lawyers to provide a more holistic service to clients. Not coincidentally, problems characteristic of the demise of the profession can be traced and attributed to the very shortcomings in legal education that the feminist critique identifies” (Proctor 2004, 583-584). Why apply feminist critique to legal education? According to Proctor, “feminists approach a legal issue by examining the facts of a dispute, identifying the essential features of those facts and determining what legal principles should guide resolution of the dispute” and when applied to legal education, “feminists argue that the feminine approach to decision-making is different than the male approach, especially in their problem solving” because it is “based on preserving relationships, nurturing, and an express ethic of care and compassion that is more concerned with the results of a particular factual situation than with enforcing universal rules” (Proctor 2004, 587-588). According to Proctor, the Socratic method, issue-spotting exams, large classrooms, unapproachable professors, rankings, etc. creates an environment that is not only intimidating but does not engage problem-solving skills. This fails to promote the most effective lawyering for both sexes. However, Proctor does not denounce traditional teaching models altogether; rather, she argues that by promoting both types of reasoning and by teaching all students how to evaluate the problem and use their discretion according to the situation, students will be able to utilize the best of both teaching methods to become effective advocates. Moreover, Proctor states that “different problems will be best addressed by different intelligences” and therefore each individual should be allowed to take into account one’s own “cultural experiences” or “personal inclination” to deal with given situations and that this is responds to differing legal problems – not just a difference in gender (Proctor 2004, 589-590)

The author proposes two avenues of reform for law schools:

1. “Law schools must conscientiously and systematically teach skills that expand the traditional concept of lawyering to permit expression of a more altruistic and holistic approach, broadening the context within which a legal problem is evaluated” (Proctor 2004, 578).

a. This requires re-examining the Socratic Method, which hinders creativity and collaboration – skills which Proctor argues are essential in serving clients. More specifically, “the Socratic method cultivates the ‘litigious mind,’ which simply wants to know the rules in order to gauge how they can be used against the other side and how far they can be stretched to gain an advantage” (Proctor 2004, 592).

b. Incorporating training in teamwork, communication and awareness of group dynamics, “holistic lawyering skills including fact-investigation, planning, drafting, research, trial strategy and tactics, interviewing, counseling, and negotiating, ethical and social responsibility, and understanding law as a social institution” will better prepare lawyers for the work of a lawyer which may in the long-run lift the overall perception of lawyers as service-driven advocates (Proctor 2004, 591-592).

c. Courses in alternative dispute resolution which teach information-sharing skills where parties can reveal their true goals and desires can be used to most effectively resolve a dispute. Again, these sorts of skills stem from the ability to be creative or think “outside of the box,” which Proctor argues, are not fostered via the case-method system or the Socratic method (Proctor 2004, 596-597).

d. “Beyond creativity, other problem solving skills which can be addressed by law school curricula might include question framing, investigative skills, quantitative skills for valuation of cases and issues, listening skills, emotional awareness, empathy, the ability to synthesize, and coordinate” should be emphasized as a supplement to traditional curricula (Proctor 2004, 597).

2. “Law faculty, in their roles as professor and mentor, must foster an awareness of the profession’s powerful mythology, propounding ideals above all else of justice and service, those ideals tragically silenced and lost by the sharp, objective rhetoric of the case method system” (Proctor 2004, 578).

a. Proctor believes that supplementing (and not doing away with) the case-method system and Socratic Method with lecture problems, role plays, and less structured discussions would promote countering of unnecessary competition and alienation all the while demystifying the learning process (Proctor 2004, 593).

b. Additionally, schools should turn their attention to an altruistic professional goal of being service providers. Professional responsibility courses are inadequate in promoting thoughts of moral integrity and service to the community. In other words, bring the heart and moral obligations back into legal education.

Borrowing from Bennett’s The Lawyer’s Myth, Proctor believes one way of connecting law students and lawyers to a sense of professional identity is to examine three traditional narratives or myths of lawyers which can be used to “impart a sense of ethical duty and prepare law students for service” (Proctor 2004, 599).

The dominant narrative myth is the “Lawyer-Statesman” – the lawyer who serves a society and embraces public virtue; striking a balance between private interests and the public duty that protects the common good (Proctor 2004, 599).

2. A slightly less formal version but more localized is the “Pillar of the Community;” who is typically known in local government, serves on civic board and in church and pursues fairness and public good (Proctor 2004, 599).

3. Finally, the “Champion of People and Causes” is less powerful but brings a compelling presence to the courtroom to fight against overwhelming odds (Proctor 2004, 600).

In sum, Proctor believes that “implementing the suggestions of a feminist critique of legal education would effectuate a socialization of both sexes that would help repair the profession’s reputation and reorient lawyers with a clear vision of professional identity that will strengthen and stabilize the professional community” (Proctor 2004, 601). Implementing this requires law schools and professors to expose students to nontraditional skills that will connect students to their own consciousness of achieving service to others all the while sharpening a sense of professional identity.

Source Citation: Proctor, PollyBeth. “Toward Mythos and Mythology: Applying a Feminist Critique to Legal Education to Effectuate a Socialization of Both Sexes in Law School Classrooms.” Cardozo Women’s Law Journal, Summer 2004: 577-602.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: