Author diversity in legal scholarship

I spent much of Friday at the University of Maryland Law School’s roundtable on Increasing Author Diversity in Legal Scholarship: Individual and Institutional Strategies organized by Prof. Paula Monopoli and the Maryland Law Review.  As might be expected, the roundtable included a diversity of diverse voices, including students as well as faculty.  Participants focused on how faculty members and law journal boards can help increase the chance that an article written by women or people of color will be accepted and how journal leadership can adopt an agenda that results in a more diverse set of authors in its publication.  There were lots of concrete suggestions throughout the day.

One impetus for the conference was Minna Kotkin’s article, Of Authorship and Audacity: An Empirical Study of Gender Disparity and Privilege in the “Top Ten” Law Reviews, 31 Women’s Rts. L. Rep. 385 (2010).   Kotkin published the results of a study examining the percentage of female authors in elite journals, finding  that just over 20% of articles in those law reviews were written by women even though women make up 31% of the tenured/tenure-track faculty nationally. When she first began discussing the results of the study, she faced lots of criticism and support in the blogosphere.  Nancy Leong  has usefully pointed out that these disparities certainly exist outside of the law review context as well.   On the other hand, a later study mentioned at the conference concerning gender disparity in citation rates found that  “women publishing in the field of legal studies do not experience significant gender bias in citation rates to their articles. If anything, the opposite appears to be true.”   (p. 20).  While the authors are not certain as to why this is, they offer numerous speculations as to why this is so, such as  “legal scholars [may be]  less likely than other scholars to bias citation by gender of author”.  One possibility they don’t mention is that women’s articles are simply better than men’s; as the famed quote (from Charlotte Whitton) goes:  “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”  If this is true, then the gender disparity in law review authors is even more shocking.

Moving forward, we discussed  a variety of potential changes.  For example, when it comes to law review selection, we discussed the pipeline process:  who is mentored to write on and join the law review, the topic selection for the write on process; the guidance given to law review staff on how to become senior editorial board members.  While some participants advocated author-blind review of submissions by law reviews, others suggested affirmative action might be more appropriate (an issue discussed in this prior thread.  

On the faculty side, we discussed the importance of both formal and informal mentoring, of finding colleagues from both within and outside of one’s own faculty who can engage in an informal peer review process.  We discussed how schools can support diversity in faculty scholarship, including a shout-out to Martha Minow’s field guide to legal scholarship.    One school actually has developed postings of sample (and successful) cover letters for articles.    

But we went beyond law reviews to discuss collegiality within faculties and among faculty at different institutions who teach in the same areas.  We told many war stories, discussed implicit bias, referred to Shari Motro’s new paper – Scholarship Against Desire— in which she reflects on writing articles which  showed off her ability to think like a lawyer:   “I quickly learned that I would stand a better chance of being taken seriously if I talked law-and-economics rather than law-and-literature, if I asked questions I could solve rather than ones that merely invited a conversation, if I wrote about tax law rather than feminist theory.”

Ultimately, our exploration of challenges surrounding author diversity in legal scholarship raised even more questions about the meaning of diversity, the relationship of our scholarship to our values,  the role of culture in even structuring our conversation, and the need to keep talking.

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2 Responses

  1. Liz Rinehart says:

    Thank you, Professor Cahn!

    One thing I feel I may not have adequately expressed at the roundtable is how crucial faculty support is when attempting to address implicit bias in manuscript selection. Law review editors are conditioned to look for the “big names” and the “big topics.” Too often this will reinforce existing biases. But editors attempting to find new voices will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of submissions and lack of criteria for identifying those who are truly contributing innovative ideas. This is where faculty can make a huge difference. A law review with exceptional faculty support for diverse scholarship (like we are lucky to have at UM Carey Law) can more successfully climb “Mount ExpressO.”