Survey Shows Impact of Recent Events on Law Students’ Plans

By Andrew Cohen

Findings from the newly-released Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) indicate that law students are reshaping their professional plans in response to recent economic and political changes. The number of law students expecting to work in private firms dropped from 58 percent in 2008 to 50 percent last year, while the number of those who anticipate seeking public interest jobs rose from 29 to 33 percent.

Berkeley Law professor Rachel Moran—who just finished her term as president of the Association of American Law Schools—acknowledges that this may be nothing more than a pragmatic response to changing conditions in the legal marketplace. But with a massive influx of young people joining the political process in the 2008 Presidential campaign, Moran says the findings also “could reflect a renewed sense of responsibility at a time when our nation faces a number of daunting challenges.”

The LSSSE found, for example, that law schools substantially strengthened a commitment to serving the public good. Moran, who wrote the Foreword to the report, says young adults “had a sense that their future was at stake” during the election, and that “law students in all likelihood have shared this sense of urgency. Their training gives them a particularly useful set of tools to deal with the pressing issues that we face as a nation.”

The annual survey—which gathered information from more than 26,000 law students at 82 law schools—helps law schools analyze their approach to student learning, evaluate their performance compared to other schools, and target ways to improve their legal training.

Other notable LSSSE findings: the proportion of students expecting to graduate with over $120,000 in law-school loans has increased from 18 percent to 29 percent over the past three years; male students are more likely than female students to receive verbal feedback from instructors; and students involved in co-curricular activities are more likely to prepare for class—and derive more satisfaction from law school—than those not involved in such endeavors.

“Despite concerns that co-curricular activities compete with academics for students’ attention, there does not seem to be a tradeoff but instead a synergy between experiences inside and outside of the classroom,” Moran says. “Students who get involved with journals and organizations appear to be engaged by their law school experience and committed to getting the most out of it.”