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A NEW MINORITY? International JD Students in US Law Schools

  • Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen and Carole Silver


This Article reveals the significance of a new and growing minority group within US law schools—international students in the Juris Doctor (JD) program. While international students have received some attention in legal education scholarship, it mostly has been focused on their participation in the context of programs specially designed for this demographic (e.g. postgraduate programs like the LLM and SJD). Drawing from interview data with fifty-eight international JD students across seventeen graduating US law schools, our research reveals the rising importance of international students as actors within a more mainstream institutional context. In examining the ways these students navigate their law school environments, we find that although international status often impacts identity and participation, not all students encounter its impact similarly. Particularly, while some students use the identity to their advantage, others cannot escape negative implications, even with effort. This is consistent with other scholarship on minority students, and adds to a growing literature that uses their socialization experiences to better understand professional stratification. To unpack these different ways of “being international,” we borrow from Goffman’s theorization of stigma to suggest illustrative variations in the ways international students experience their environments. In doing so, we offer an introductory landscape to better understand this growing population and hope this enables new insights to theorize about other kinds of minority experience.



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This research was supported by the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Faculty Research Program (Silver) and the AccessLex Visiting Scholarship in Legal and Higher Education at the American Bar Foundation (Ballakrishnen).

For invaluable research assistance, we thank Northwestern Law graduates Shinong Wang and Injune Park. We also acknowledge the data contributions by Neil G. Ruiz, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request while he was Senior Policy Analyst and Associate Fellow of The Brookings Institution. We are indebted to the law schools that supported our work by facilitating access to their students, and to unnamed key informants at those and other law schools; in addition, we are especially grateful to the students and graduate alumni who shared their experiences so generously with us. For comments on earlier versions of this work, we thank Steven Boutcher, Bryant Garth, Sida Liu, Beth Mertz, Gregory Shaffer, and the participants at Law & Society Annual Meetings (June 2017, 2018), The Globalization of Legal Education: A Critical Study (Sept. 2017), Legal Education in Crisis? (March 2017), After the JD and Future Research (Nov. 2016), Metrics, Diversity and Law (May 2016), International Legal Ethics Conference (July 2016), University of Wisconsin East Asian Legal Studies Center (Feb. 2016), and the Global Legal Skills Conference (May 2015).



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