Constitutional Law as Computer Science

Within universities there is a lot of talk about gender distribution in various academic specialties. It is well known, for example, that there are many more men in the field of computer science than there are women. Indeed, the gender gap appears to be widening. I wonder about legal specialties? Which fields have the largest gender gaps? It would be interesting to know the figures in legal practice as well as among law professors. It would also be interesting to know the numbers with respect to the most prominent people in particular fields.

In my own field, Constitutional Law, my impression, is that among the most prominent scholars there are far more men than women. (Here is an exercise: write down the ten best-known Constitutional Law professors: how many are women? And another exercise: how many prominent Constitutional Law professors who are women can you name?) There seem to be more men than women on panels at high-level conferences. Men seem to be quoted more often in national newspapers. More men seem to publish books with prestigious university presses than do women. And so on.

Some will say that women are not invited to appear on panels (and excluded from other opportunities as well) and that’s why the men are prominent. My impression, though, is that conference organizers at least try very hard to invite women as panelists. Women who have achieved a measure of prominence in the field are in high demand at events and often have to say no to many opportunities. Others will say that women do not get hired to teach in Constitutional Law in the same numbers as men. Again, though, my impression is that many schools aggressively try to find promising women candidates. If my impression about the gender distribution is right, the causes of the distribution would require research.

How about other fields of legal academia? Where are the largest gender gaps likely to be found? And what are some hypotheses about their causes? One might also look at sub-specialties within fields. (Do women work more on Equal Protection issues than on federalism questions?) It seems to me that somebody with some good statistical skills could generate a a study gender distribution in law and seek to test some hypotheses about its causes. Such a study would contribute to the existing literature done in other academic disciplines.

Finally, I should say that whether gender clustering in law (or other fields) is bad, good, or neither is a separate issue. People will formulate different views on that issue once the evidence is in.

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12 Responses

  1. Liz Glazer says:

    Hi Jason!

    Hope you’re doing well. I saw Ann McGinley at UNLV deliver a really interesting presentation at this year’s Employment & Labor Law Colloquium in San Diego about the gendering of subject matters in law schools. She offered examples (based on empirical research) of “boy” courses (e.g., tax, constitutional law) and “girl” courses (e.g., employment discrimination, trusts & estates). Seems like a helpful contribution to this conversation.


  2. Sarah L. says:

    The question of whether there is a gender gap in law school staffing is analyzed in Marjorie E. Kornhauser, Rooms of Their Own: An Empirical Study of Occupational Segregation by Gender Among Law Professors, 73 UMKC L. Rev. 293 (2004). The article empirically examines the staffing of law school courses over thirteen years and concludes that gender disparities (e.g., more men teaching con law) are “widespread and growing.” (The question of the relative prominence of scholars in a given field is of course a separate question.) Kornhauser builds on earlier work, in particular Deborah Jones Merritt and Barbara F. Reskin, Sex, Race and Credentials: The Truth About Affirmative Action in Law Faculty Hiring, 97 Colum. L. Rev. 199 (1997).

  3. Alfred says:

    Thanks, Sarah L., for the citations to Kornhauser and Merritt and Reskin. Both are really interesting papers.

    I’d add legal history to the areas that are suffering gender disparity. And in addition to the issues of gender-equity that may partially motivate Kornhauser and Merritt and Reskin, I’d add that the gender imbalance likely distorts the subjects that are studied by legal historians.

  4. anon says:

    All the tax professors at my law school are girls.

  5. anon says:

    Legal writing is blatantly gendered.

  6. Jacqui L. says:

    It’s not exactly on point, but Minna Kotkin at Brooklyn Law School has an interesting draft paper on gender disparities in publishing in top law journals. See My recollection is that she also touches on fields of law that women and men may write in, but it’s been a while since I read it.

  7. John Steele says:

    Here’s some data on point. Some questions raised by the data are whether the disproportionate teaching results in disproportionate enrollment and whether any disproportionate enrollment affects career placement. As you’ll see, it appears that the topics where women and professors of color are more highly represented are by and large not the topics that dominate large firm practice.

  8. Sean M. says:

    This is off topic, but I wanted to mention I enjoyed your presentation at the W&M IP symposium this weekend. You took a drubbing in Q & A with grace and style, and your idea is provocative to say the least.

  9. Ricey says:

    In my current advanced con law class taught by a very prominent professor, there are about 40 men and 15 women. I am the only colored person and one of the 15 women. All those men look like they are future Supreme court law clerks. I’m not really surprised why con law is such a male-dominated field, but it is a challenge for many female law students like me.

  10. Rachel says:

    I’m a Computer Engineering graduate and I can say that the population between boys and girls in our University having this kind of course is just equal.

  11. pat says:

    Patent law is predominantly male.

  12. pat says:

    Patent law is predominantly male.