- At Play in the Field of Law: Symbolic Capital and Foreign Attorneys in LL.M. Programs
The article under consideration in this symposium issue, “Foreign Attorneys in U.S. LL.M. Programs: Who’s In, Who’s Out, and Who They Are,” by Mindie Lazarus-Black and Julie Globokar, comes at a critical moment for law schools, especially those below the top tier. Many schools are reducing class size, offering unprecedented financial aid and scholarship packages, and entering a general retrenchment mode. This most recent crisis in law school applications and enrollment (applications are down at some schools by over 30 percent)1 has led to an increase in the popularity of Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs for foreign attorneys. The steep rise in the number and variety of law schools with LL.M. programs2 may be seen, at least in part, as a reaction to the power of the law school ranking system adopted in 1990 by U.S. News and World Report (USN). Even before this crisis, law schools were under pressure to “optimize their ranking by, for example, basing admissions decisions on LSAT scores” and by “spending more money on merit-based scholarships in order to ‘buy’ students whose LSAT scores [would] raise the school’s median.”3 Crucial to [End Page 95] understanding the recent rise in LL.M. programs is the exclusion of LL.M. programs from the USN ranking process. In other words, one way to bolster necessary finances and keep a law school’s USN rank as high as possible is to establish or expand an LL.M. program that attracts lawyers from around the world who have the capacity to pay.
Since the very top-ranked law schools remain able to place their students in high-paying jobs,4 it is particularly important to consider, as Lazarus-Black and Globokar do, the effects of the LL.M. expansion trend on second-tier (and below) national and regional law schools. For those schools, the USN ranking loophole provides a welcome opportunity for raising funds that, it is hoped, will keep those law schools from falling even lower in the rankings. A fall in rank augurs a downward spiral in “quality” (as defined by ranking factors)5 and attractiveness to potential students and faculty, as well as a concomitant fall in applications, admissions, and income. Lazarus-Black and Globokar are interested in showing, through their research at two non-elite (most likely second-tier) law schools,6 that the LL.M. expansion trend is not solely the result of a financial strategy. The authors explain that the increase in foreign-lawyer students in LL.M. programs should also be understood as a positive development—one that adds important elements to law school life and practice.7
In this Comment, I would like to pick up a thread of the authors’ analysis and, in so doing, shift the emphasis a bit. That thread relates to their use of Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical conceptualizations of “field” and “forms of capital.” In their analysis of admissions essays submitted by foreign-lawyer applicants, Lazarus-Black and Globokar consider how [End Page 96] the discursive genre of the admissions essay orients itself to the power-laden structures that constitute the particular field within which the essay is playing, or to which it is addressed.8 They also use the Bourdieusian concepts of “cultural and linguistic capital” in relation to global citizenship and English language acquisition.9 The variety of tactics that applicants pursue in their essays as they navigate the contradictory goals required by the admissions process is fascinating to watch. The authors’ focus is on the nature of the cultural and linguistic capital that foreign-lawyer applicants perceive they must demonstrate to gain admission to each of the LL.M. programs under consideration. At the same time, the authors are interested in what the essays might reveal about the statuses, life histories, and aspirations of foreign applicants.
I would like to pull the focus out a notch to place the matter at hand within a slightly expanded Bourdieusian theoretical framework. To that end, I will focus on Bourdieu’s treatment of the...