Friday, September 29, 2006

Class Bias: Part 3

BangersThen I got Mary pregnant
and man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
and the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress

The River, Springsteen

Parts one and two of my discussion of class bias in law school hiring addressed the different perspective that economically disadvantaged people (e.d.p.'s) bring to the job and the ways more of this perspective would improve the service, teaching and research of the institution. This last installment is about finding those people. In a sense Jim Chen has made all of this easier. I am tempted simply to say: do everything he outlined in his latest piece, but first screen out all candidates who attended private schools or high-tuition state schools.

There is also another short cut way to describe it. Most law professors know how to find good e.d.p.'s – all it takes is acting counter-intuitively. It’s along the lines of "if it tastes good or feels good, it is probably not good for your health." In hiring, if you feel comfortable with and connected to the candidate, it’s probably bad for the School. That is what it is about, right? The School? Or is it about hanging out with similarly privileged buds?

There is some profiling to be done here, but it is okay here since the only groups affected are those who are economically advantaged or disadvantaged. I concede that screening out all private school and high tuition schools can mean losing some good candidates but, if you take a look at the numbers published in the latest issue of the Economist (September 23, 2006, p. 38), you are mainly passing up on beneficiaries of affirmative action for the privileged. Moreover, what we know is that the only things positively correlated with expensive credentials is the probability of landing a law school teaching job and the level at which one’s articles are placed. There appears to be no correlation between expensive credentials and the ability to carry on an interesting conversation about art, music, history or not to be hopelessly boring.

So narrow the universe to candidates who excelled at inexpensive (some State) law schools. Then narrow your scope to the top ten – not top 10% -- in the class. Now it gets tougher because some e.d.p.'s will try pass for privileged (pfp). With hard work you can “out” most of them. You want to eliminate anyone who traveled widely in the summer, spent any semesters abroad, and did not work at some menial job for, at least, some summers. The keepers are ones with crooked teeth and pock marks. For a woman, look for a skirt that is a bit too short, heels too high, or too much make up. (For men the make up is OK only on Elvis impersonators -- in fact, maybe a per se hire.) Gold jewelry on a man or a woman is a good sign. Any inkling of a mullet is a definite yes for a man as is a jacket with a double vented back or a tie that is too wide or too narrow.

You have narrowed the universe to e.d.p.'s. Some of those who have figured out how to pfp will also be eliminated. Not a big loss because they may also pfp in their service, teaching, and research.

Now proceed to the Chen questions and you’ve got it.

Finally, a word on race. Race is not per se indicative of economic disadvantage. That’s not to say there are not arguments for considering race for other reasons but in recent years, at least in my hiring experience, there is a tendency for law faculty to feel most comfortable with minorities from private or high priced schools who have professional level parents. These folks are indistinguishable from whites in terms of their sense of entitlement. Thus, even with minorities it is important to look beyond the surface.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


10/02/2006 12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post has got to be a joke. Right?

10/02/2006 11:55 PM  
Blogger big red said...

Wait just a minute. It is laudable and bold to suggest that in the relentless quest for greater diversity, law schools should strive for socio-economic diversity. But, you might need to take a minute and think about who exactly you are calling economically disadvantaged. I've been a law prof for awhile and I've declined to embrace membership in any of the minority groups which have claimed me. The one group to which I am proud to be a member is the middle class. That's right. Middle class.

You call us economically disadvantaged. We think of ourselves as overwhelmingly advantaged. We got to college when our parents didn't. We are happy to be working inside and not on a roof or a road construction site. We consider the people you describe as "privileged" as the Kennedys. Most of us spend our whole lives without actually eating a meal with a privileged person. Those of us who make it to law school, the rarified elite among the middle class, usually have that first hideous meal with privileged people at our interview lunch for our first law job.

Jeff, I hate to break it to you, but too much makeup, too high heels, or too short of a skirt, does not reliably signal a deficiency in economic privilege. But that's a topic for another day.

I do think that economic status profiling is possible and useful. But the criteria you suggest correlate with tackiness (which appears within all social classes), not economic disadvantage.

If you know what you are looking for,you can spot middle class applicants from their FAR forms. Our parents made us major in sensible things so we could have "fallback skills." We didn't major in "Women's Studies" or Comparative Lit. but instead got degrees in Nursing, Elementary Education, Management or Accounting. We worked after college and before law school in middle class jobs that have unimpressive titles like "service representative," or "shift manager." We volunteered to tutor public school kids, or in the local soup kitchen, and passed up the international human rights projects. We don't have clerkships because we don't apply for them. What's the point? Even if we get one, we won't be able to defer our student loan payments and the salary just won't service the debt. Same for those "fellowships" that are ubiquitous these days among the class of itinerant law prof wannabes -- what the heck are those things and how can anybody afford to do that given the opportunity cost? And here's the controversial part, we don't write articles while we are employed full time as lawyers. We work, we take care of our families, we volunteer for the pta. If I'm reading the middle class psyche right, the Chen test may end up screening out most if not all of the edp's you'd screen in.

And that would be too bad. Middle class people who accomplish extraordinary things make great law school colleagues. We openly acknowledge that we have jobs, with descriptions, which we are contractually obliged to meet. We write articles because it's our job and our fallback skill involves pouring coffee and wearing a hairnet. We understand that to whom much is given, much is expected. And we don't have a big problem with that.

Thanks for the interesting idea. You might want to listen to Tom Petty a bit. He knows what I'm talking about.

10/04/2006 7:06 PM  

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