The Mirror Excercise

The Spring 2012 issue of the Law Teachercame out and features an article from Professor Laurie Shanks, Albany Law School.  The article is “The Mirror Mirror Exercise: A Quick and Easy Method to Begin Discussing Race, Gender, Ethnicity, Age and Other Differences with Your Students” (page 25).

The article is also available on SSRN here.

Here is the abstract:

Becoming a competent attorney is a journey that requires law students to face numerous challenges. For a legal skills professor, a major step in the process is helping students become conscious of who they are and how others perceive them. There is a widespread tendency in law schools around the country to avoid frank discussions about race, gender, age, class and ethnicity, even though in reality people habitually use those characteristics to make judgments about others. The fear of being considered racist or classist forces educators into a “conspiracy of silence” about these topics. It is imperative that students in skills courses learn to acknowledge and discuss issues of diversity openly and honestly in order to be prepared to deal with juries, clients, judges, witnesses and adversaries once they are in practice.

This article is provides an exercise, called the Mirror Exercise, which can be used by clinical and legal skills professors to penetrate the silence and help their students acknowledge and discuss their differences and similarities and how they will affect their practice of law.

One Response

  1. Kudos to Professor Shanks for pointing out the conspiracy of silence, as she calls it, or as another might put it: “The emperor has no clothes!” I intentionally deal with racial and gender issues in my upper level procedure courses. For instance, I will ask students what they would do if they had a client who told them, “I don’t care who you pick on my jury as long as you don’t include any blacks.” We get into a discussion of the unconstitutionality of such a discussion under Batson v. Kentucky, but I then give them quotes from notable trial lawyers who admit that they offer “legitimate, non-discriminatory” reasons to strike jurors based on race even though their true motivation is race. Some times the class becomes quite enought to hear a pin drop. But never has that lasted too long. Some student will dare to speak up. I’ve had students say that,” if they had a white client, they would not hesitate to use such tactics to strike African Americans and “even the playing field.” Such responses are all I need to relate my experience as a trial lawyer in which I saw racial and gender stereotypes proved wrong over and over.

    So Professor Shanks, I’m glad to hear there are otherw willing to raise these issues with students. They need to deal with the issues. Otherwise, the conspiracy of silence will continue.

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