Imposter Syndrome & The Law School Caste System

45 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2021 Last revised: 17 Aug 2022

See all articles by Sara L. Ochs

Sara L. Ochs

Elon University School of Law

Date Written: August 17, 2021

Abstract

For decades, legal academia has been structured around a hierarchical caste system, with tenured and tenure-track doctrinal law professors—many of whom are men—occupying the highest caste, and professors of legal skills courses—who more often identify as women—relegated to the lower castes. The status of these “lower caste” professors is routinely reinforced through weaker job security, less respect, and lower pay than received by their doctrinal, “upper caste” colleagues. Given this inequality, imposter syndrome plays a pervasive role in the lives and careers of professors of legal skills courses. Relying on qualitative data obtained from teaching faculty and staff at ABA accredited and approved law schools nationwide, this article analyzes how the law school hierarchy manifests as imposter syndrome in professors of legal skills courses, which impacts their relationships with colleagues; teaching; relationships with students; publication and promotion of scholarship; and personal health and wellbeing. Based on these findings, the article argues that the impacts of imposter syndrome on skills professors—many of which have gendered implications—promote a recurring cycle of classism and discrimination within legal academia. The article further identifies imposter syndrome as an institutionalized, rather than an individualized, problem within legal academia. The responsibility and capacity to address this problem therefore lies in the institution—in this case, law schools—rather than the skills professors themselves. Thus, this article concludes that the only way to reduce the insidious presence of imposter syndrome in legal academia is to dismantle the law school caste system and level the hierarchy.

Keywords: Imposter Syndrome, Legal Academia, Legal Writing, Legal Skills, Psychology, Interdisclipinary

Suggested Citation

Ochs, Sara, Imposter Syndrome & The Law School Caste System (August 17, 2021). 42 Pace Law Review 373, University of Louisville School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2021-10, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3903660 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3903660

Sara Ochs (Contact Author)

Elon University School of Law ( email )

201 North Greene Street
Greensboro, NC 27401
United States

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