Features Australia

Lawyers and law schools

29 June 2019

9:00 AM

29 June 2019

9:00 AM

Among a certain, shall we say more mature, segment of the population there is a lingering sense that lawyers as a class or caste lean to the right. The notion is that lawyers tend, as a generalisation, to be on the conservative side of things – certainly the unspoken view is that lawyers tend to be more conservative than voters at large, meaning than the median view of voters.

Now leave to one side a few niche topics like criminal justice and this view of lawyers as leaning to the right was plainly correct in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then it was a conservative profession. That probably remained the case even into the 1980s and possibly the 1990s as well, at least if you focused solely on the senior ranks of the profession. Today, however, it is a patently wrong supposition. Lawyers as a caste lean to the political left and, in my view, by a lot.

Of course there are individual exceptions today, just as there were in the 1960s with someone like, say, John Mortimer the lawyer/author. But in general terms lawyers today in Australia, and for that matter in Canada, in the US, in Britain, and in New Zealand, are lefties. Their median view is more politically left, and on some issues almost massively more left, than that of your median voter.

So why the big change? I think that there are a variety of factors at play but the biggest of these has been the law schools.  At the risk of overstating matters, law schools across the Anglosphere have become lefty PC factories, one of whose  aims (implicit if not explicit) is to turn out social justice warriors – though Lord knows no one is able even to define what the phrase ‘social justice’ connotes other than some vague yearning for equality of outcome, mass immigration and a quiet commitment to affirmative action.

For instance, wander into many of Australia’s leading law schools (it’s probably worse as you go down the hierarchy) and you’ll soon be overwhelmed by posters and notices for all of the great causes of the political Left. There’ll be the wall dedicated to the plight of refugees. (In fact in my entire law school academic career I have never once seen advertised or attended a law school seminar or lecture suggesting that some supposed refugees are fakes, or that the Convention is massively outdated and needs to be narrowed down, or that NGOs systematically try to game the system to help those claiming to be refugees, or that think the nation state is better than the international law order, or anything else remotely evincing anything other than wholehearted support for any and all claims made on behalf of what might unkindly be described as the refugee lobby.)

Move your eyes somewhere else at this Australian law school and you’ll see (along with the LGBT stuff, the environmental ‘world is ending stuff’, the judges and bills of rights are better than democratic decision-making stuff, and the like) the ‘women are massively hard done by’ wall.

Bias, unconscious bias, the need for ‘targets’ to help women, and all sorts of barely disguised similar claims travelling under the rubric of ‘diversity’ are there for you to absorb. Now personally I am an adamant opponent of all forms of quotas, affirmative action, loose ‘targets’ and any other forms of hiring and choosing not based on merit (though yes, I do realise merit is a moveable feast and one that has multiple components, but that in no way takes away from it being the sole goal of admissions and hiring). But what really irks me are these middle-aged white guys who on their own world view (not mine by the way, but theirs) must think that their own position as top law school and university administrators has come about because of all sorts of (fill in your own preferred Marxism-based account here) male advantages.

And what do these virtue-signallers do about that? Do they quit and insist that a woman take their own jobs? (I’d respect that, by the way.) No. They impose hurdles on today’s young men so they, not the virtue-signallers themselves, pay the costs.

And this is in a world where some two-thirds of law school classes are filled by girls. Boys are barely more than a third. In a couple of decades males are not going to dominate law firms. Moreover, take two equally accomplished candidates today, one male and one female, and you’re deluding yourself if you don’t think that in today’s legal world the latter has an advantage vis-à-vis getting a first job or getting into some academic program. Law schools want to promote female success; law firms do; government departments do. I have a son and a daughter working in London and both of them know this is true.

At any rate, after you’re done observing all the lefty shibboleths on display at most every law school you might also notice that the faculty are overwhelmingly of the left too. Political contributions are public information in the US and Democrat law professors outnumber Republicans by over 7:1 – and that was before Trump was elected because a secondary phenomenon of university professors is that where there are ‘Righties’ they tend to be moderate Righties but ‘Lefties’ are much less likely to be of the moderate variety so that if you can find a Republican at a law school it’s disproportionately likely to be of the ‘Never Trump’ variety.

This skew to the left is at least as bad in Britain. I’ve been at a top UK law school now for half a year. I have yet to meet anyone (okay, there was one quietly, after he knew my views) who voted ‘Leave’ in the Brexit referendum. No one publicly identifies as a Tory; people you’ve never met will just assume you’re a Lefty within the confines of the law school. It’s worse again in Canadian law schools. And after over 15 years in Australia I think Australian legal academics are every bit as ‘biased’ or ‘imbalanced’ to the left as they are in the US, Canada and Britain.

Take the sort of legal education such law schools will provide and multiply it by a decade or two and what do you think will be the predominant attitude of the students it produces? Robert French may say that there’s no crisis of free speech in Australian universities but partly that’s because a chunk of the problem is self-censorship – by law school students who know what’s best for their marks and by more than a few conservatively-inclined law professors who want promotion and an easy life.

I’ll write more about this, and about law firms next time.

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