Swethaa Ballakrishnen on leading works in the legal profession

news August 10, 2023
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Swethaa Ballakrishnen, professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, wrote a chapter in Leading Works in the Legal Profession (Routledge, 2018; ed. Daniel Newman) titled, “Colouring, Highlights, and Pompadours: 25 Years From ‘Fragmenting Professionalism’ and Bleached-Out Lawyering,” focused on the impact of CLP faculty director David B. Wilkins’ scholarship, primarily his 1998 article, “Fragmenting Professionalism: Racial identity and the ideology of bleached out lawyering” in the International Journal of the Legal Profession. Ballakrishnen writes:

Although the term ‘bleach out’ was first coined by Sanford Levinson a few years earlier, it could be argued that it was Wilkins’s reconceptualizing of the concept that changed the possibilities for critically examining the professionalism project as an inherently flawed enterprise. The focus in his article is on Black lawyers specifically, but in making explicit the connection between ‘bleaching out’ and identity, Wilkins offered a core tool for diverse scholars interested in moving beyond the normative preconceptions of the accepted or ‘ideal’ (cis, male, White, ‘neutral’) lawyer. In affording racial identity primary – rather than additive – focus, Wilkins forced a reconsideration of our understandings of the role of the lawyer, and by diverting attention away from the way that identity influences lawyerly conduct, his conception of the bleached-out thesis held a mirror to the kinds of violence that were being performed in plain sight by asking for a certain kind of ‘competence’ in lawyering. Particularly, it buttressed the possibilities for readers invested incritiquing the pervasive implications such ideality produced within the legal profession. At the same time, it also afforded a narrative of rethinking our frameworks of professionalism and identity and the costs of such deviation.

Ballakrishnen was formerly a fellow with CLP and is currently affiliate faculty.