Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Legal Profession Stratification (Again)

Quick answers to one of the discussion questions sent out a few hours ago for tomorrow's class:

According to the readings, what are the sources of stratification within the legal profession? Are they structural? Cultural? Institutional? All three?

All three.

Okay, to not be a brat about this, I will elaborate: Structural barriers to advancement are real, not imagined. The 40+ hour work week, the rewards for "face-time" as opposed to actual projects accomplished or hours actually productively worked, biased decision-making processes, insufficient family and medical leave policies, funneling women and minorities into positions with limited prospects for advancement--they are real. They suck.

Of course there are institutional factors too: social closure from career enhancing social networks, ineffective/purely symbolic diversity/grievance procedures, etc.

Cultural factors abound, but I can never get into discussing them without veering towards the dangers of essentialism and re-instantiating stereotypes. I'll return to this later.

Generally, if you control for human capital (and for the most part you can), you just can't explain the incredible disparity in the wage/promotion gap on "lack of interest" or other such individual self-selection preferences. Social capital (as defined by Lim and Granovetter), or social network ties (weak = contacts, strong = mentors, say) within the organization, matter a lot. But none of the capital theory can really get around actual structural, institutional barriers to advancement. This is why the law matters. You can try to suggest better diversity programs or "best practices," but ultimately, it's a lot of policy work. Of course, the question is how much law and policy can affect culture, and gendered expectations of work and work/life balance. Whether a change in leave policies must predate the change in cultural expectations are vice-versa--well, that I just don't know. Attitudes regarding the wrongness of racism have helped a lot, but they don't help enough, even today, after all. It took the law to change the attitudes, and the laws are still insufficient to alter behavior sufficiently--or the Black/White wage-gap wouldn't be so great.

These are off-the-cuff thoughts. Do not cite me.


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