By Robert Granfield. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall. 1992. Pp. 248. $27.50.
"What is it like to be a bat?" Thomas Nagel once mused, trying to comprehend the nature of bat consciousness.(1) In Making Elite Lawyers Robert Granfield(2) ponders an only slightly less provocative question: What is it like to be a Harvard law student?
Bats emit an endless series of high-pitched shrieks to navigate their way around a vast, dark cave, flap their wings constantly as their bodies blindly glide past each other, chew up helpless insects, and strew guano across the cave floor. Harvard law students, according to Granfield, lose their moral vision as they grope through a demanding first-year curriculum in which they learn the art of legal argument, spend their second year flying across the country in search of suitable employment, and depart after their third year to serve the values and interests of the corporate marketplace. Not much different from being a bat.
Granfield explores the development of Harvard law students' legal consciousness in order to identify the links between their highly liberal legal education and their highly conservative employment decisions. According to Granfield, the central paradox of Harvard Law School is that
the law school contains perhaps the largest contingent of Critical Legal
Scholars in the country and has one of the only public interest placement
centers in the country . . . . In many ways, the atmosphere within
Harvard Law School suggests an orientation that would be consistent
with the promotion of social justice careers and values.
All of this is very confusing particularly when so many students from
Harvard accept legal positions in large corporate law firms. The environment
is liberal and to the left while the occupational decisions that
students make are corporate-oriented. [p. 43] By what strange turn of events does a faculty with such an allegedly strong "crit" influence produce such highly conformist and proestablishment graduates? In essence, Granfield concludes that, by and large, the Harvard law faculty successfully grinds students down,(3) to the point at which few have the moral and psychological strength to resist the siren song of corporate practice.
Granfield calls his work "ethnographic" (p. 11). The book derives from studies conducted between 1985 and 1988 at Harvard Law School. During this time Granfield engaged in "participant observation;" that is, he attended classes. He also conducted 103 in-depth interviews with students and obtained responses from several hundred questionnaires (p. 11). But Granfield was perhaps more observer than participant: although he attended classes, he apparently neither enrolled as a law student nor prepared for classes by reading the assigned material.(4)
Central to Granfield's arguments are Chapters Four and Five, in which he discusses the nature and effects of legal education (pp. 51-93), and Chapter Nine, in which he examines the means by which Harvard law students rationalize their corporate employment decisions (pp. 143-67). The present discussion focuses on the content of these chapters, although Chapters Six through Eight -- which address, respectively, the experiences of women, the experiences of working-class students, and the collective internalization of "elite" attitudes -- also contain much interesting material (pp. 94-142).