The hyper-intellectual, logic-focused law school environment denigrates feelings. Even when the issues were deeply personal, we were supposed to regard classroom and extracurricular discourse as purely academic. This mentality goes beyond the confines of the university. I am reminded of the ridicule heaped upon Obama when he suggested a Supreme Court justice should have empathy, rhetoric he’s backed away from the second time around.
But empathy has a place in the law, and it needs a more prominent home in law schools.The legal system is built to try to address unfairness and injustice, to make sure everyone gets their due process and fair share. If we didn’t care about the well-being of our fellow citizens, we wouldn’t need justice at all.
It matters how people feel. It matters whether racist arguments are tolerated, and whether other voices rise to their aid. When lawyers go on to serve as judges, senators, policy-makers, prosecutors, and presidents, an e-mail isn’t just an e-mail. The e-mail and the ambivalent response to the odious attitudes expressed in it exemplify the serious empathy deficit in our law schools.
When I look at the product of these law schools — a legal system where if you are poor, black, or both, you simply cannot get a fair shake — I think, is it any wonder? An academic structure that glorifies logic and consistency, and denigrates empathy, will never produce justice.