A Legal Challenge

Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School, and Institutional Change, by Lani Guinier, Michelle Fine and Jane BalinBeacon, 1997, 175 pages; $22.In 1993 Lani Guinier was nominated by President Bill Clinton to be assistant attorney general for civil rights. Guinier would have brought a powerful intellect and profound vision for our society to the position. Instead, her proposals for redressing the very serious problems of racial inequality in our country were silenced. The campaign to discredit Guinier successfully played race and gender cards that had become part of the political arsenal of reaction. Her nomination was withdrawn, and the nation was denied one of the significant voices in our country.It is a voice that infuses Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School, and Institutional Change. Lani Guinier provides two essays as well as a personal afterward to the book. The other essay in the book is co-authored by Lani Guinier, Michelle Fine and Jane Balint and provides a rich and thought-provoking analysis of their research on women's experiences at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The text is supplemented with extensive detailed endnotes.Becoming Gentlemen is about women and law school. But it is also about the social and institutional changes necessary to ensure a genuinely more inclusive society. "With this book, we hope to begin a conversation about women and legal education in which the experience of those who have previously been excluded becomes a window on a much larger set of questions about merit, fairness and the kind of society in which we want to raise our children."In her introduction, Guinier talks about the preference of many women for "group-based learning teams and participatory, student-initiated learning projects." And she notes that "the preference of some women students for cooperative styles of learning parallel findings about members of other under-represented or marginalized groups." Guinier proposes that "by reconsidering a one-size-fits-all education, institutions can transform themselves to benefit women, others who have historically been outsiders, and, most importantly, all consumers of their services."Guinier argues, "If we are committed to becoming a society that values inclusive decision making and genuine opportunity, we must learn that bringing in new perspectives, especially from those who have been under-represented, is not only fair, it is functional." Becoming Gentlemen critiques the Socratic method that dominates law school education for ignoring that "not all problems can be solved through quick thinking or aggressive questioning. Not all problems belong in court. Not all problems lend themselves to litigation."The authors "use the term gentlemen' to evoke the traditional values of legal education to train detached, dispassionate advocates." They find that "women who do not become gentlemen are less valued members of the law school community." It is an educational approach that "limits the range of skills students are encouraged to bring to the profession."Becoming Gentlemen proposes the need to embrace the benefits and challenges of diversity. The authors argue that, "If the first generation of women was challenged to demonstrate the need for access to existing previously all-male institutions, the current (second) generation is challenged to demonstrate that mere access is inadequate." That is, "Formerly all-male educational institutions cannot incorporate and take advantage of difference without changing from within. Second-generation diversity requires some institutional transformation as a precondition for genuine inclusion."Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School, and Institutional Change calls "for a profound rethinking of equal access.'" As the authors note, "it is not enough just to add women and sir." Their data on women's experience of law school "plead instead for a reinvention of law school itself -- for fundamental changes in teaching practices, institutional policies, and social organization." It is an important call to deepen our commitment to a just society that is able to meet human needs.

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