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Assimilation of new entrants into the legal profession has been a signature strain of Carrie Menkel-Meadow’s research. Even if the empirical particularities have since evolved, her pathbreaking research on women lawyers and gendered lawyering processes remain prime examples of socio-legal work on lawyers with important theoretical extensions. For example, in Portia in a Different Voice, her now classic piece from 1985, Menkel-Meadow analyzes how numbers alone are insufficient indicia of feminization within the legal profession. Beyond the description of the state of the legal profession at the time of writing, her argument that we should pay attention to what lawyers do rather than how many of them there are changed a line of scholarship about lawyer demography and demanded that it pay more attention to experience and nuance in what could seem like a critical mass. Similarly, in 1987, while analyzing the assimilation of minority groups, she asks, in productive provocation, “Is assimilation a desirable goal?” to suggest that excluded voices might—even when seemingly included— suffer from everyday exclusion because they do not have access to the kinds of social and economic capital necessary for true inclusion. In another line of research focused on legal institutions and decision-making metrics rather than systems and experiences of lawyers, Menkel-Meadow discusses her now-eminent theory of “process pluralism”: the idea that a range of embedded processes need to merge in client-forward ways to offer meaningful justice. Although Menkel-Meadow’s work on the empirical legal profession has been what has most directly influenced my own scholarly inquiry, this theoretical kernel from her dispute resolution research inspires extending the analyses to new kinds of diversity in the legal profession.

Following the spirit of her research focused on bespoke hybridization, this Article merges these two lines of significant theory across interrelated fields to consider “pluralistic professionalisms”—pluralism in professional values and identity—by focusing on the experience of Muslim actors in contemporary legal landscapes. Although scholarship has reinforced the myriad ways in which identity capital within the legal profession is built and valorized, religion complicates the analysis because it involves the performance of not just an individual’s identity, but also its additional interaction with law’s neutrality and its presumptions—despite enough evidence to the contrary—of secularity. Islam further exposes cleavages in these intersectionalities because of the way this particular religious identity is gendered, racialized, and read, especially in the Global North, often under the violent pretense of “liberal” progress.

In contending with this complicated juxtaposition, this Article argues for paying attention to a particular kind of process pluralism in the creation of professional identity. Part II outlines the ways in which Menkel-Meadow’s scholarship on diversity and identity in the legal profession creates what I refer to as a “toolkit for the periphery” that allows us to consider new kinds of professional entrants and navigations. Part III unpacks the ways in which religious identity and performance complicates the analysis of identity alterity and uses Menkel-Meadow’s process pluralism as a way to consider these conjunctions. Part IV uses data from an ongoing Navigating Identities in Legal Education (“NILE”) project, as well as case law on Islamophobic workplace discrimination, to reveal the ways in which “ideal” or “good” identities of the Muslim lawyer are constructed in post-September 11, 2001 (“9/11”) America. The concluding Part V employs the concept of pluralistic professionalisms to make sense of the data in the previous section and to extend these two seemingly under-connected strains in Menkel-Meadow’s research centering on process pluralism and professional identity. Although the Islamic identity and the experiences of Muslim lawyers are the focal points of this Essay, the argument for professional pluralism—much like Menkel-Meadow’s research—extends beyond the particularities of this specific case.



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