Kudos and great thanks to Southwestern Law School for fabulously hosting the ClassCrits conference this past weekend. Besides providing superb logistical support from first rate staff, Southwestern set the right tone for our discussions by providing an environment shining with diversity, innovative scholarship, and engaged students (and we could not have had a more beautiful law school setting than Southwestern’s historic art deco building). A highly professional team of Southwestern Law Review student editors, who will publish selected papers in a symposium issue of their journal, contributed with exemplary professionalism throughout the conference – showing up at 7am with enthusiasm at the conference hotel to guide visiting participants, directing us and staffing registration throughout the day and best of all joining us in exploring the challenging theoretical and practical questions of panel discussions. Southwestern faculty also contributed a wealth of expertise and energy with their active participation in many panels, and lead organizer, Southwestern Law Professor Danielle Kie Hart combined intellectual vision with outstanding administrative skill to take us in important new directions – not only producing the law review publication but also including community advocates, for example.
Thanks also to SUNY Buffalo’s Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy and to the University of California Davis School of Law for their financial support of this event, representing institutional leadership in cutting edge scholarship in pursuit of justice.
This institutional leadership, and the brilliance, community spirit and commitment to justice of so many participants, was particularly inspiring in this time when vocal critics of legal education are pushing for an increased hierarchy in the profession, insisting that only well-pedigreed elites are worthy of tackling big questions about law and society. A panel on “Unequal Education” confronted that criticism head on, with Julie Nice (San Francisco Law) analyzing the celebrity faultfinding as a movement with the effect, if not the self-serving purpose, of limiting working class access to the legal profession, in reaction to the substantial evidence of great success and leadership over recent decades from less privileged law graduates and law schools. Nice, along with audience commentators, emphasized that countering this effort to re-stratify the profession must involve working together across institutional rankings to emphasize that the value of law is less about earning high salaries and more about advancing justice to benefit society. Lucy Jewel (University of Tennessee Law) astutely developed this theme in her paper, Tales of a Fourth Tier Nothing, a Response to Brian Tamanaha’s Failing Law Schools, tying current criticism to earlier, overt efforts to construct a gender, class and race-based two-tier profession and illuminating the cultural benefits of broad access to law school. Jewel’s paper also notes that defending working class access to the profession requires resisting efforts to casualize legal skills teaching and to divide teaching from scholarship. The panel also included crucial contributions from Victoria Haneman (University of Nevada Las Vegas Law) on the importance of analyzing the student debt forgiveness schemes and Terry Smith and Sumi Cho (DePaul University Law) on the role of faculty governance in defending faculty diversity. The panel also emphasized that concern for student debt should be directed toward increasing support for education access rather than for exclusion. That topic was the main focus of a panel organized by Martha Mahoney (Miami Law), with analysis of federal loan policy by Isaac Bowers of Equal Justice Works, and featuring groundbreaking research by Miami law students about innovative ways of assisting indebted students in reducing their costs and resisting arguably deceptive practices by the burgeoning loan servicing industry that profits from student debt.