Gender and Student Note Publication

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For the past year or so, I’ve been engaged in a large-scale data collection project relating to gender and student note publication.  Over winter break, I came to think that the time had come when the project could benefit from the thoughts of this blog’s readership and the academic community more generally, so I’ll be discussing the project in a series of posts over the next few weeks with the hope of receiving thoughts and reactions.

The current project expands on a short article I authored in 2009 presenting data showing that, over a three-year time period, women at the U.S. News top-fifteen-ranked law schools authored 36% of the student notes published in their schools’ general interest law reviews.

I was surprised by how much interest that article received, and so I decided to look further.  The current project presents a significantly larger set of data.  With the help of several very dedicated research assistants, I created a database of every student note published during the past ten years (academic years 1999-2000 through 2008-2009) in the “general-interest” law review at a school that U.S. News listed in the “top fifty” in either 2009 or 2010 (a total of fifty-two schools).  The database currently includes just under six thousand student notes, coded by the gender of the author and the general subject area of the note.

I’m still in the process of auditing the data, so I’ll save the exact numbers for a later post.  For the present purpose of fostering discussion and input into the project, I can say that the larger data set does document a disparity in the number of notes published by men and women law students that tracks the disparity I described in my previous article.  The disparity is consistent from year to year over the ten-year time period.  As in my previous project, however, I found considerable variation between schools, with large disparities at some and no disparity at others.

I also obtained data about the gender breakdown of each school’s “general interest” law review during the same time period by examining and coding its mastheads, and am in the process of gathering data on the gender breakdown in each school’s overall enrollment during the same time period.  This information will allow a comparison of the note publication rate and the gender breakdown of both the school and the law review.  I’m also considering whether the make-up of the editorial board may bear a relationship to any disparity in student note publication: for example, Ms. JD recently published a report, based on two years of data reported by the “top fifty” law reviews, revealing that women are particularly underrepresented as editors-in-chief.

My current project also incorporates a number of other data sources that I’ll blog about later, including original quantitative and qualitative surveys of both student note editors and student note authors.  The latter, in particular, had very interesting things to say about how publishing a note affected their law school experience and their career trajectory.

Perhaps my primary ongoing frustration with the project is the unavailability of data regarding note submission rates.  It’s impossible to complete the causal story without this information, but most law reviews don’t seem to have it.  For my previous article, I was able to gather a small amount of data regarding submission rates.  And in the relatively recent article Why Legal Education is Failing Women, 18 Yale J.L. & Feminism 389, 425 (2006), Sari Bashi and Maryana Iskander found that during one academic year at Yale only 8% of student notes submitted by women students were published, compared with 35% of notes submitted by men; however, they traced the disparity to the greater likelihood that men would resubmit their notes after an initial rejection rather than to an overall inequality in acceptance rates.  Based on the information I have at this point, I’m uncomfortable drawing generalizations about the role of submission rates.  With that said, I do think it’s an important piece of the explanation that’s missing, and if readers can point me in the direction of data I would welcome the opportunity to add, even incrementally, to the causal story.

In future posts, I’ll provide more information about my data, as well as discuss both the possible causes and consequences of the gender disparity.

On a final and more personal note:  Most of my current research doesn’t focus on gender, or, for that matter, on legal education.  I’ve written quite a bit about constitutional litigation under section 1983; my current work-in-progress looks at constitutional rights articulation generally, with a focus on Fourth Amendment rights-making; and I’m also interested in race discrimination and problems of racial categorization.

All of that is simply to say that the current project isn’t part of my “research agenda.”  I’m writing about this simply because I think it’s interesting and important.  I hope others will agree, and I welcome input.

To spare our moderators, I suggest that you contact me by email at nleong [ at ] wm.edu.

– Nancy Leong

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