Swethaa Ballakrishnen and Carole Silver, Language, Culture, and the Culture of Language International JD students in U.S. Law Schools, in Power, Legal Education, and Law School Cultures (Meera E. Deo, Mindie Lazarus-Black & Elizabeth Mertz eds., 2020).
Although international students have been routinely admitted to U.S. law schools over the last few decades, there is little known about this demographic outside of specific programs aimed to admit these students like the LLM or the SJD. This Chapter extends this literature to focus on a rising trend of students within more the “mainstream” law school program, the JD. Our past research shows that the proportion of JDs who are international students has increased over the last decade, with the increase being most notable at elite law schools. Still, little is known about the experience of these students. In this Chapter, drawing from interview data with approximately 50 international students, as well as supplemental data from law school faculty and administrators, we suggest, in line with other research, that language is crucial to framing these students’ experiences. However, we do not limit our analysis to direct language proficiency. Instead, we argue that beyond technical language markers like vocabulary and syntax, it is the culture of language that determines the quality of students’ interactions and their institutional choices. International students, like all students, are constantly engaging in interactions that determine their perceived “fit” within sites in which they are embedded (e.g. classrooms, student groups, study groups, etc.) and across these contexts, expectations and presumptions of their abilities and identities shape the ways in which they are treated and allowed to assimilate. In concentrating on language and its interaction with students’ lived experience, these data give us important insights into understanding the creation and experience of law school cultures and their systemic reproduction of hierarchy.