WG Hart, day 2, session 3

by Paul Maharg on 24/06/2014

Andrew Francis, on Legal education, social mobility and employability: possible selves, curriculum intervention and the role of legal work experience.  What is legal employability?  He drew on his empirical research into the habitus of graduate employment and employability, and how this influences social mobility.  He observed that students viewed informal work experience positively, but learnt little that could deb meaningfully translated.  Formal vacation schemes — employers were looking for transformation, in terms of responding to feedback about work, and in terms of their ability to successfully enact the role of a lawyer. ‘ A few people already sort of knew each other and they were all strutting and joking about the squash ladder and all the rest of it.  Very much moulding themselves into the City boy attitude already’ (male, pre-92, large corporate).  Some law schools have embedded professionalism and values into the curriculum, which could transform; but the value of transformation depends on the work undertaken, the value of the work.  Work experience signals commitment, rather than an opportunity to learn.  Andrew’s work on possible selves is interesting — these possible selves are not uniformly available to all, he points out.  They are part of the problem as well as a solution.  From his abstract: ‘the structuring properties of the fields which students inhabit do not simply constrain their choices and futures by virtue of their past but their sense of choices and options are also constrained by their possible futures’.  Rich, suggestive and troubling analyses.

Next up, Diane Atherton, PhD student, ”This was entirely my own choice…”  Professional structures, personal agency and Muslim female solicitors.  In empirical research Diane looks at how marginal actors such as Muslim females are able to exert agency when moving into and through the legal profession.  Marriage was a critical factor, but Diane argues that socio-economic class still plays a critical factor in structuring the actors’ movement and their choices in the profession.  Marriage was also seen by employers to be a bar; and the personal issues (pressure from husbands to conform to the model of Muslim wifely virtues) also played a part.  What struck me was the real dilemmas for the women: not just the personal double bind, but the cultural bind as well.  Linden West, in his studies of adult learners in the Medway towns (here and here), drew the same picture.  Good research project, well presented.

Dita Gill next, on Self-reflection, self-confidence and the non-traditional student — particularly in second and third year students on a work placement module at a new university in London.  Self-reflection, she noted, is linked to self-confidence, and is less evident in students in this group; and lack of the skills o f self-reflection may hold students back from finding employment and progressing in their career.  In her research, students linked lack of confidence with facing new tasks and situations, and their developing competence in the new tasks gave them more confidence.  Feedback from supervisors gave confidence, and support from other colleagues in the workplace.  Modelling on supervisor’s conduct was another method.  The findings gave Dita pause for thought on how she fosters self-reflection.  It would be interesting to get Andrew and Dita together for a conversation on a wider discourse analysis of self-reflection.

Finally Hilary Sommerlad on The professions, race and ethnicity, and the defence of social hierarchies: the challenge for legal education.  Legal education maintains stratification and the status quo.  Closure was real.  The rules of the game included credentials, apprenticeship, the practical knowledge of how to enact professionalism, cultural practices or homo-social activities, and the inauthenticity of ethnic outsiders.  How is all this managed?  Who manages it, particularly in the profession?  There is a paradox: over-representation of ‘ethnic minority’ groups in law schools for over 10 years, but segmentation and segregation in the legal profession.  She quoted Frederic Barth — the interface between ethnic groups gives rise to ethnic identities: systematic inclusion of nonwhite professionals in subordinate positions makes professional workplace a primary site for the reproduction of ethnic hierarchies.  And Essed – (1991) naturalisation of the ethnic dominance/subordination nexus through everyday racist micro aggressions.  The result is invisibility or hyper visibility: non white professional is simultaneously neither seen or heard (of no account).  She drew parallels between marxist theories of de-professionlisation and Foucaultian inspired interpretations of professionalism as a discursive field.  Implications for legal education?  Washington and du Bois debates Tuskegee Institute: trade schools for lower status students to prepare them for sub-professional reality?  Or aim to optimise capacity to enact convincing working identity?  Lots of interesting ideas, at top-speed…

At questions Rick Abel pointed to the situation in the US.  Age difference plays a significant part.  UK now is very different from the US.  The role that character plays who you are, who you enact doesn’t play out in the same way in the US.  Optimistically, he noted that in the US, and a generation after the first generation immigrants, the forms of difference (Italian American, Polish American etc) were largely gone.  Class doesn’t play the role in the US that it does in the UK.  Optimistic note to (as Pat Leighton pointed out) four papers that were high quality, and had unsettling implications for the future of legal education.

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