Monday, March 12, 2007

Controversy

[Caution: the following post is a departure from the usual light tones of my posts, and is sort of serious. I actually have a brain and I'm not just another pretty face, you know?]

Factual background: Law review here is determined largely through a writeon process [with a limited gradeon]. The writeon consists of writing a 10 page comment and doing a citechecking exercise. The process occurs during spring break, and in a month, the results are published. Last year, and in previous years, the composition of the law review mirrored that of the school...largely people with pale skin.

This year is going to be different, with the traditional elements of the writeon still intact, but also with an additional essay. I went to the law review meeting today where the new process was introduced to us. While I am not doing the law review competition because I will not be suckered into doing something solely for prestige, I am a sucker for free food. Except there was NO FREE FOOD today. What I got instead was a very interesting discussion regarding law review.

Before the meeting today, an email was sent out to the entire 1L class. The relevant part:
"In order to publish legal scholarship that leaves a lasting impact on the community and shapes legal discourse, we also need to ensure that our staff reflects a wide range of perspectives. This is critical to sustaining a vibrant intellectual community. The Additional Essay will provide you with the opportunity to give the Law Review a sense of what other skills, talents, interests, and experiences you believe will shape your contribution to the UCLA Law Review. "

So, the law review people basically announced today that diversity will be an additional component of the law review selection process, though it will be weighed less than the production test. Specifically what they are looking for in terms of diversity they would not say, and they would only say that the additional essay will be a prompt where one's "skills, talents, interests, and experiences" will come out. And of course, quite a few people at the meeting were upset for reasons I will not mention but I assume we all know, especially given the ramifications of law review to a person's r****é (guess the four missing letters).

I am against the new process for two reasons, and I will address each in turn. The two common justifications of law review are a) it helps supposedly when vying for a clerkship or a job at places like OMM, WLRK, etc. and b) law reviews, especially those at the top 20 schools, shape the direction of legal scholarship. For each part of my two-part response, I am working on the assumption that the diversity law review is looking for is the kind of diversity that is visible to people's eyes.

On (a): This is an easy one. I don't think that anyone, regardless of any factors, is automatically entitled to a job at WLRK or a clerkship with Kozinski. You have to work for it, and if law review is going to give advantage to certain people so that membership reflects "a wide range of perspectives," law review is giving preferential treatment to a group of students who do not deserve it.

On (b): I'm pretty sure that everyone will agree that anyone who claims that people with pale skin all think alike is extremely misguided. Likewise, to assume that admitting people with
diverse "skills, talents, interests, and experiences," (as they put it) will automatically make law review more intellectually diverse is plain wrong. I agree that exposure diverse intellectual opinions is necessary for significant contributions to legal scholarship; wouldn't it make sense then that the kind of diversity you should look for among law review members is intellectual and political diversity? UCLAW is pretty liberal, and diversity could be better accomplished by looking for members across the political and intellectual spectrum, so as to "publish legal scholarship that leaves a lasting impact on the community and shapes legal discourse."

(And an aside, law review writeon is completely anonymous, and wouldn't revealing one's "skills, talents, interests, and experiences" potentially jeopardize the process?)

As you all know, I'm actually in favor of affirmative action in regards to admissions. Aren't my opinions then contradictory? Here's the nuance (or "distinguishable" in lawyer speak): I'm in favor of a school that represents the U.S. and I'm in favor of access, and what people do with their education is up to them. I view grades and LSAT as simply one proposed indicator of how successful a law student one might be, and I am not in favor of shutting out people who don't possess that one attribute.
You obviously can't be a lawyer if you can't get into law school, and I am all for granting access so that the 150s can prove admissions wrong. There are many definitions as to what makes a "good" law student and a "good" lawyer, but with regards to law review, you are a good law review member if you can citecheck and edit well, and the proposed diversity component does not a good law review make.

Anyway, that's my take on the buzz that occured today at school. Comments?

3 Comments:

Blogger Strange Bird said...

I agree; the diversity factor should be playing into the front end (admissions), not the back. And visible diversity? Aren't Ralph Nader and George Bush both white? So I hope you're misinterpreting the new process, but it doesn't sound like it.

9:30 AM  
Blogger The Fox said...

I'm only interpreting the process as it was presented to us, via email and a vague information session. If law review claims I am misrepresenting anything, increased transparency about the process will only benefit everyone who is doing it.

12:42 PM  
Blogger divine angst said...

It is entirely possible (and I speak as one on a law review, though I am not involved in membership decisions of any kind) that the additional statement is simply an opportunity for those "pale skin" people who do think differently to express that.

Also, with respect to the mention of "skills, talents, interests, and experiences" I imagine a fair number of people who have worked as professional editors would like to have the opportunity to share that information. Theoretically it comes across in the competition, but maybe it doesn't. I worked as an editor before law school, and if I had had the opportunity to express that clearly and with some explanation of my duties during our writing competition, I'd've jumped on it.

So, while I think it's not an unfair assumption that the interest in increasing diversity is an interest in increasing ethnic diversity, I think there are many ways the announcement can reasonably be read to indicate an interest in increasing intellectual/political/age/work experience diversity.

1:50 PM  

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