April 9, 2008
Men, Women, and Legal Education
Last year, I was conducting a jury selection simulation with a group of our third-year students. One of our better students was conducting the voir dire, and he generally asked the right questions. However, I noticed that he was talking only to the male members of the panel (composed of fellow students), which was split evenly between men and women. After that, I kept track carefully, and noted that he did not converse with any of the women over the last 20 minutes of his exercise. This not only would alienate the women on the panel, but resulted in his having inadequate information on those members of the venire.
During the critique, I remarked on this disparity, and it opened the floodgates from the female students on the panel, who noted that in both college and law school they had consistently been called on less than the males in the same classrooms. I trust that these students were telling the truth, especially given their unanimity on the issue. I explored further, and found that it was not that male volunteers were called on more often, necessarily, but that men were more likely called on when no one volunteered an answer, and that this tendency was exhibited by both male and female professors.
This is a topic I haven't heard discussed, at least within my own faculty. (I have always kept track of who I call on, which enforces a rough equivalence among all students. Admittedly, my purpose was not to offer equal opportunities, but to track class participation). Do other schools pay some attention to this issue?
-- Mark Osler