Women’s Law Association calls for Law Review reforms
The underrepresentation of women on the Harvard Law Review is a persistent problem. This problem should be of central concern to those who are committed to achieving gender equality in our law school community. Although alternative routes to clerkships, the legal academy and other selective positions have increased in recent years, there is no doubt that being a member of the Harvard Law Review assists in opening career doors that have been much harder for women, people of color, gays and lesbians and other historically marginalized groups to pry open. A body of editors truly representative of the experiences and identities of all Harvard Law students would strengthen the Law Review by bringing a range of perspectives to bear on the Review’s work and by signaling that anyone, no matter what identity or background, can reach the highest levels of achievement in the legal profession.
Currently, no one can be sure what causes the gender discrepancy in Law Review admissions. In our attempt to further the development of a strong community of women at Harvard Law School and to facilitate the professional development of women during their time at law school and beyond, the Women’s Law Association encourages the entire community to engage in a meaningful dialogue about this ongoing problem. However, the factors contributing to the disparity are undoubtedly complex and will likely be difficult to conclusively ascertain. Thus, while we applaud the Law Review’s efforts to address the issue of gender disparity, its attempts to date are simply not sufficient. Action needs to be taken to ensure that the next class of Harvard Law women has an equal opportunity to participate in the Law Review. To that end, the WLA Board proposes a number of steps that could be taken to alleviate this problem.
The burden is on the Law Review to restore the law school community’s faith in its admissions process. The attitude that the problem of gender discrepancy on the Law Review is one that the Review “could very easily sweep under the rug and forget,” as stated by one editor, certainly is not helpful in achieving this aim. The Law Review should re-examine its admissions policies as well as the structure of the writing competition to determine how these policies can be revised to eliminate gender-based selection biases and reward women’s strengths. As discussed in The Record, other law reviews have used different means of selectivity, and some have achieved gender parity. There is no reason to remain wedded to the current system, which has proven to be flawed.
Moreover, the Law Review should be more open about its admissions process and the associated data to facilitate the community’s efforts to rectify the gender discrepancy problem. Secrecy confounds the problem not only by making it more difficult to ascertain its cause and to determine feasible solutions, but also by lending an atmosphere of distrust towards the Law Review surrounding this issue.
Finally, it is the responsibility of the Law Review to assure 1L women that their efforts of applying to the Review will not go unrewarded. Women need to feel equally capable and confident throughout the process of applying to the Law Review. Otherwise, the discussion surrounding this problem might become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The law school faculty, particularly former Law Review editors, also has a responsibility to address the Law Review’s gender discrepancy. It seems to us that many faculty members are not taking this problem seriously enough. These former editors, particularly former women editors, need to be leaders on this issue and be more responsive to the needs of women at Harvard Law. In addition, the faculty and administration should make it a priority to consider why women are receiving fewer of the top grades in 1L (and other) classes and what might be done to rectify this situation.
The WLA Board also encourages 1L women to participate in journals this year to gain experience for the Law Review’s writing competition. 1L women also should not feel intimidated to apply to the Law Review, and if they do apply, they should do so wholeheartedly and with confidence. 1L women should also provide input to the Law Review regarding this issue because they are the next ones to go through the process and deserve to be treated fairly.
While we call on others to act to remedy the problem of gender discrepancy on the Law Review, the WLA is determined to support, encourage and assist the women of the 1L class in applying for Law Review. In the spring, the Women’s Law Association will coordinate a “tips session” for our members where Law Review editors will present the most effective strategies for a successful application, including suggestions for writing and subciting techniques. We will provide ongoing support to all of our members who choose to compete. We will also organize a panel of Law Review members so that 1Ls can get accurate information about the time commitment that Law Review requires, whether being an editor precludes participation in other activities, and how working on the Review affects one’s law school experience. Through these efforts and others we hope to initiate an open discussion and gather information so that we can provide further concrete suggestions at the end of the year.
The WLA acknowledges that we have not taken the lead on this issue before, but the ongoing seriousness of this problem has led us to break this history of inaction. We urge the entire law school community to join us.
The Women’s Law Association Board