Preaching to the Choir? A Request for Inclusion in the Call for Equity among Law School Faculty

On Tuesday I received an event email from a bar association I was once a member of. The event was to serve as a forum for the deans from six local law schools. The next day, on International Women’s Day, I received an email from SALT seeking support for the ‘Full Citizenship Project for Law Faculty’ launched by the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) and the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD). Both emails caught my attention, for similar reasons. The first pictured a set of six male law school deans, and I was keenly aware, on many different levels, of the differences between me and them. The second email was a call to action directed at a group that I am a part of. As a woman, I didn’t see myself reflected in the bar association dean email. As a visiting clinical professor, I also do not belong to the predominantly male group of tenure track faculty.

Although the Full Citizenship Statement that is seeking signatures does not exclusively affect women, it could bridge one of the many disparities that exist among primarily tenured doctrinal faculty and legal writing, clinical and academic support faculty. The statement states that full citizenship is “…necessary to ensure that law students and the legal profession benefit from the myriad perspectives and expertise that all faculty bring to the mission of legal education.

How law students benefit from different perspectives may seem obvious to some and debatable to others. When a law school does distinguish between faculty, it communicates to students who, and what, the law school values as important. Titles, voting rights and salaries (which public institutions often make public information) make the hierarchy even more obvious. First and foremost, as a full time teacher at a law school, our mission is (or should be) to teach students how to be the people and lawyers we want to see out in the world post-graduation. Whether that mission is accomplished through legal writing, clinical experience or doctrinal classes, shouldn’t make a difference.

But I wonder if, because I am a woman and in a visiting position, does my opinion count as much as those the petition is seeking parity with? How much should we be actively seeking out those already in tenured positions versus preaching to, and seeking support from, the choir?

My own imposter syndrome voice sneaking up on me tells me I have no place writing this blog, and I try to silence her. I have been teaching for less than two years and I admittedly know less than many of my colleagues about this issue. But I believe my voice, as well as others who are new to the field, and those who have been in the trenches and already received tenure, are all important voices in the conversation.

I hope that conversations surrounding this Full Citizenship Statement take place in law school faculty meetings around the country where the very people this petition impacts, may very well be absent. I wonder if the conversations that may take place will reflect an instinctual resistance to adopt a structure that seemingly threatens to decrease one’s own power, pay or voice, or if there will be support. Just as it is vital for men and boys to be an active part of the conversation on gender and gender disparities, so too must those who are already in the privileged position of tenured faculty be an active part of the conversation around this petition.

We may struggle as teachers in how to address privilege in the clinical classroom. It is not an easy topic, notably when we have to take it out of the context of the classroom and apply it to our own lives and careers. It forces us to accept that we may have benefited from the advantage that race, sexual orientation, academic pedigree or economic upbringing may have offered. But privilege also offers the advantage of a platform and a voice, and in a movement like this, that is important. The call for equity can lessen the gap by knocking down boundaries created by arbitrary distinctions between those that meet the current qualifications for tenure track positions and those that do not. Talking about hierarchy, politics, power and pay can be incredibly uncomfortable when dissecting it within the institutional hierarchies we exist in. But now, it is necessary.

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation. It takes courage to speak up and your perspective is much appreciated.

  2. I echo Professor Moylan in thanking you, Professor Tarloski. Because of the perspective and expertise you bring to your teaching, your opinion is very important. One of the benefits of this project is to name that nagging “imposter syndrome voice” in all of us as the result of an unfair status hierarchy, not a deficiency.

  3. Thank you for writing about this. Sadly, we have already seen comments on other law school blogs by tenure-stream professors, claiming that it is fine to treat clinical and legal writing faculty this way because the market allows it. That type of thinking is what lead to the enactment of anti-discrimination statutory and regulatory schemes, most relevantly Title VII and Title IX. At There are also claims that these people are not hired through national searches (demonstrably false); that they do not have the same analytical chops (also demonstrably false–surveys have been administered for just this type of argument); that they do not engage in scholarship (also demonstrably false). The critics do not research their positions, but offer opinions or anecdotes as facts. That is precisely what legal writing and clinical professors teach our future lawyers to deconstruct and to avoid doing themselves.

    The several bibliographies of clinical and legal writing scholarship show more that each sub-discipline has a body of meaningful scholarship that spans two or three decades. Clinical programs have a head start over professionalized legal writing programs, but people who teach legal writing courses typically like to write, so there ends up being a hefty amount of work no matter which course set these professors teach. Scholarship by these professors and in these fields have been reprinted in other journals, have been positively reviewed by member of the judicial and executive branches at state and federal levels, and in some cases have prompted legislatures to act. Legal writing scholarship by one such professor was invited to appear on a Circuit Court website, where it remained for many years. Conferences organized by CLEA and LWI have included presentations by judges and practitioners, some of whom were willing to travel considerable distances just to attend. I know because, as an editor of one of the peer-reviewed journals, and as a sometimes conference-organizer, it is my job to pay attention to these types of milestones. The work of professors who teach and write in these areas thus is demonstrated as having impact. These professors bring glory to their law school institutions.

    The ABA has recognized the importance of the classes to future lawyers by requiring all law schools to provide 1) 1L legal research and legal writing courses; 2) advanced writing opportunities that are intensive, meaning there must be individualized feedback and an opportunity for rewrite–obviously this model is based on the signature pedagogy of 1L legal writing; 3) Six credits of experiential learning delivered in a course where the acquisition of skills is the major learning outcome, and where professor feedback is individualized and frequent; 4) a course in professional responsibility; 5) access to pro bono opportunities. The ABA sets no other specific curricular requirements, thus demonstrating its commitment to the legal writing/clinical education model. It is oxymoronic that the lowest status in the law school building is accorded–and defended–to those teaching the very courses that the ABA details. Moreover, as Professor Tarloski explains, this disparate impact on status very likely is seen by the students and can easily be felt as a slap in the face of anyone who values educating students towards the practice of law.

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