Friday, March 30, 2018

The Racialization of US Law Schools (Professor Riaz Tejani)


Professional Apartheid: The Racialization of US Law Schools after the Global Economic Crisis published in the American Ethnologist (August 2017)

Riaz Tejani, Assistant Professor of Legal Studies, University of Illinois at Sprinfield

Below is an excerpt of Professor Tejani's article:

"The 2008 global financial collapse was a watershed for US law schools. The sudden loss of capital, triggered by overspeculation and the repackaging of debt among multinational banks, caused global corporations to cancel transactions, settle litigation, and demand greater effi- ciency in remaining legal-services agreements.

Large global law firms laid off thousands of attorneys, canceled new recruitments, and began outsourcing work to legal temp agencies, which in turn benefited from a professional labor oversupply and the new “gig” economy. In the preceding years, US law schools had expanded their operations and planned their budgets based on tuition priced against once-widespread lucrative corporate law incomes. Now they faced austerity.

And because it was already in doubt whether law school job outcome reports were accurate, the moral hazard that they generated seemed to multiply after the economic crash. Prospective students took heed. Whereas legal education had seen increased demand in prior economic downturns, this time would be different: enrollment in US law schools plunged 30 percent from 2011 to 2015. 

Indexing public fascination with this, failures in legal education made headlines in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Huffington Post. In an age of new cultural insurrections like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, people grew fascinated by the discomfort of this once-elite knowledge community. Beneath those news stories lay serious lessons about difference and knowledge capitalism in the contemporary global system. The so-called crisis of legal education and the legal profession, along with the overwhelmingly market-based reaction to it, suggests something deeper about the state of social justice under neoliberal political economy.

This is in part because, in the United States, formal legal education is virtually the only pathway to legal expertise, and law school—namely the three-year course of study in pursuit of the JurisDoctor, or JD degree—is a graduate-level, professional program only. Falling law school enrollment in the United States would shrink the legal profession, but the country already has one of the largest lawyer-to-population ratios in the world.

Prominent legal academics have nevertheless argued that the demand for legal education should remain high because the profession still lacks ethnic and racial diversity and because existing attorneys have not equitably served minority communities. In this context, the “crisis” of US law schools is as much about political economy as it is about the character of the legal profession.

Inequalities in legal education have long been present. For instance, the ethnographically salient division of US law schools into “top tier,” “second tier,” “third tier,” and “fourth tier” already long signified a preoccupation with hierarchy. The economic crisis would only exacerbate these inequalities. Facing declining enrollments, so-called fourth-tier law schools saw a market-based solution: to increase their marketing to ethnic and racial-minority communities and to style this as a mission to diversify legal services (Taylor 2015; Tejani 2017).

The suggestion appeared to be that US ethnic and racial minorities—long limited in their ability to access the justice system (Herrera 2014; Rhode 2004, 2015b)—can benefit merely from greater representation in the legal profession, if largely at a lower level of prestige and opportunity. This new approach to political-economic redemption in the legal-education community captures the marketization of race as a new feature of neoliberalism and has been critically labeled by at least one former law dean an “apartheid model.”"

To read the full article, click here.

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