December 7, 2004

Diversity on the Law Reviews: An Even Bigger Joke than the Pac-10

by Wings&Vodka

Amid his thinly-veiled Texas bashing, Armenaut notes that the California Law Review uses a write-on-only system to determine membership. This, combined with the impossible amount of reading I just did for a ConLaw II class on affirmative action, prompted me to think about the absurdly white state of the Texas Law Review, and to wonder if the problem is the same elsewhere.

A glance across the photo board in the law review office at Texas reveals a TLR class of 53 new members that contains one Hispanic student, one Asian student, and one student of Middle Eastern descent. That�s three out of fifty-three, only one of which would qualify as an underrepresented minority. No African-American students in sight. And the class ahead of us isn�t any better. And to this I say�.WHAT IN THE EFFING EFF IS GOING ON???

The justification that I�ve been given for Texas�s write-on process (50 or so slots, 10 determined solely by the write-on, the others based on a mysterious combination of write-on, grades, and birth sign) is that it was intended to increase minority membership. This is apparently based on the ridiculous idea that, though minority students (allegedly, I have no data) perform worse on law school exams, they should perform better on a write-on essay and equalize their chances at law review. But this logic completely escapes me, because I am A) a frequent abuser of prescription drugs that contribute to cognitive impairment, and B) of the opinion that roughly the same skills being evaluated on exams (many of which are take-home affairs anyway) would be assessed on a write-on. So already, this seems like a dumb fix, and clearly doesn�t work, as it has only succeeded in allowing sexier-than-average bloggers with lamer-than-expected GPA�s to crash the law review party.

But, aside from that, based on my interactions with students in the school, I�m disinclined to think that poor minority grades or poor minority write-on performances are really the reason that our board meetings look like the Kenny G Concert From Hell. From what I can tell, only a handful of minority students even bother with the write-on in the first place. And, again, I am driven to yelling--Whence This Shit?

Now, I�m not claiming that these students couldn�t have come to the conclusion that law review is a massive waste of time, and that they�d rather work or do mock trial or play Scattergories than spend their weekends tracking down musty journals to check em-dashes. But their absence is a huge detriment to the journal, and, more importantly, I want them to suffer right along with me on those weekends. If I don�t get to play Scattergories, nobody does.

But seriously. If we�re going to believe in the argument that diversity in education is a good thing, and I think we should, then I want to know how to fix this. I know that Chris just dealt with this process in the spring, and hopefully he has some input. And hopefully everyone else on every law review in the country can tell me that this is only a problem at Texas and that it�s just one more reason we shouldn�t be in the Rose Bowl. But I'm aiming to have some input in the process next semester (I�m buying puppies for everyone on the current editorial board in hopes of upping my chances at a good position), and I�d like to know how to do a better job.

December 7, 2004 4:36 PM | TrackBack

Put Mack Brown to the task.

Posted by: Armen at December 7, 2004 5:19 PM

While that would do wonders for our recruiting efforts, it would also mean that we'd lose articles to the Oklahoma Law Review every year, and that's no good.

Posted by: wingsandvodka at December 7, 2004 5:22 PM

I think your problem is nationwide. I know we suffer the same fate here at Harvard. Our (crude) solution is simple affirmative action; applicants identify themselves as racial or ethnic minorities in the essay competition, and we give spots on the journal to about 10 of them every year, for better or for worse. We therefore avoid looking like Kenny G devotees, but I think the fact that we resort to such a policy indicates that we don't really understand what's going on, and that we don't really have any effective solutions. (And as I said, I don't think we're alone). So if you come up with any real solutions (in contrast to artificial solutions like affirmative action), please do share.

Posted by: bigfatty at December 7, 2004 6:27 PM

Merit-based selection is a bitch for bleeding-heart liberals. You give people a boost to get into your school, and then you get upset when they don't perform at the same level as people who didn't need the boost to get in.

Without affirmative action, the minority students who were just as qualified as their peers would be going to Texas instead of Harvard and Yale. And they'd be competitive on the writing competition.

Posted by: T-Money at December 8, 2004 11:33 AM

No kidding! It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. Kinda like the BCS selection process.

Posted by: Armen at December 8, 2004 12:48 PM

I got the solution.

Save the trees. Eliminate law reviews.

Do it for the poor saps who waste their time on those reviews for the miniscule possibility that it might potentially affect their hiring chances.

Posted by: FatTony at December 8, 2004 1:30 PM

Fat Tony: the "miniscule possibility that it might potentially affect their hiring chances"? I think you must not be familiar with the legal community. For -- absurd though it may sound -- the "possibility" that law review will affect your job opportunities is very far from "miniscule." Would I it were otherwise? Yes, of course. But students who tailor away on those damn journals do not do so in vain.

Posted by: Dummy at December 8, 2004 3:37 PM

In my experience, Law Review doesn't do much for jobs.

Posted by: J at December 8, 2004 4:17 PM

South Carolina Law Review has zero African Americans, zero Asian Americans, zero Hispanic Americans, and is about 65% male. That's with a 100% anonymous write-on application and (currently) a moderate-to-left, female EIC. It's a difficult situation, because the LR wants to have better minority representation (as, probably, most do), but, frankly, the Harvard way of reserving spots just doesn't seem very healthy (sorry bigfatty).

Posted by: socraticvictim at December 8, 2004 4:22 PM

socraticvictim: you may have misunderstood me. I think the Harvard way of reserving spots is extremely unhealthy. My only point was that I don't think anyone has yet devised ANYTHING else that works, despite all manner of effort. My advice to wingsandvodka was therefore purely practical: implement affirmative action, or accept the lack of color on your journal. Those options both suck (imho), but that's life.

Posted by: BigFatty at December 8, 2004 5:30 PM

NYU has a personal statement section they use in part to enact their affirmative action program. About 1/4 of the law review members are selected with grades, 1/4 with just write-on, and 1/2 a mix of grades, write-on, and personal statements. I'll report back with the ethnic and gender makeup after I'm asked to join.

Posted by: Tokyo at December 8, 2004 9:50 PM

BigFatty: I agree, and I followed what you were saying about Harvard. It's disappointing that, from the iconic Harvard to South Carolina, nobody has been able to figure this out. That's all I was saying. :)

Posted by: socraticvictim at December 9, 2004 9:48 AM

so, at carolina law, what the hell, exactly, is just to the left of moderate?

Posted by: assmonkey 4 law at December 9, 2004 10:58 PM

Why not question the assumption that diversity for its own sake somehow trumps, or incorporates the pursuit of excellence? This is aside from the point (someone already made) concerning the failure of AA-riding students to perform at the same level. If I went out for the Jets, on the grounds that they have no Russian Jews, and got killed on the field, would anyone be surprised?

Posted by: benny c at December 10, 2004 11:50 AM

Why not question the assumption that diversity for its own sake somehow trumps, or incorporates the pursuit of excellence? This is aside from the point (someone already made) concerning the failure of AA-riding students to perform at the same level. If I went out for the Jets, on the grounds that they have no Russian Jews, and got killed on the field, would anyone be surprised?

Like I said, dog-eat-dog world out there, survival of the fittest, social Darwinism at its best...what better place to bring it all together than law school?

In case the sarcasm was not self-evident, let me propose another assumption that should be questioned: Schools MUST only serve Top XX% based an arbitrary standard that spits out numbers that I'm fairly confident I can milk.

"That's just absurd Armen. The whole point of education is to try to figure out who will do well and then ensure that they do, in fact, do well."


Posted by: Armen at December 10, 2004 10:38 PM

The California Law Review, in addition to using a write on system, demands that prospective members complete a "diversity statement" that is used in assessing membership.

Ah, affirmative action- allowing underqualified people access to everything.

Posted by: The Angry Clam at December 11, 2004 4:16 PM

Speaking STRICTLY for myself, I know I wouldn't hire anyone who worked on CLR given they had to write a diversity statement.

Posted by: Armen at December 12, 2004 6:33 PM

I'm guessing it's mostly self-selection. That can be partly addressed by having someone from the law review give a talk to the (minority in question) student group. Some of it may be a sense that they will be plenty employable if they just graduate.
Some of it may be a sense that law review would hurt their gpa. A big part might be people thinking, let's see, i've got three kids, law school, choir practice, add law review? Hell no. My experience was that the minority students were somewhat more likely to have lives outside school. (Our first semester affirmative action class consisted of the black students, the hispanic students, and that weird kid who thinks he's an aardvark.)

Posted by: arbitraryaardvark at January 4, 2005 2:02 PM

California Law Review's diversity statement requirement wasn't nearly as embarrassing as one of the grader's secret practice of rejecting everyone who made a conservative argument.

Posted by: xyz at April 24, 2005 8:37 PM
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