Guest Post: What LSSSE Data Can Teach Us About Developing Our Law Students for Influence and Impact as Leaders

Leah Teague
Chair, AALS Section for Leadership
Associate Dean and Professor, Baylor Law School

In legal education we brag about the leadership positions our graduates hold. We tell our current students they too will be leaders someday. We expect that of them. But what are law schools doing to prepare students for those roles? You might be surprised to know that we do very little in law school to intentionally develop students’ leadership acumen and skills.

One might argue that all of legal education is training for leadership. Lawyers routinely use skills developed in law schools (such as critical thinking, legal analysis and advocacy) to help others. Attorneys also serve others by strategizing, persuading, and ultimately commanding the room, whether it be the boardroom, courtroom, or public arena. These are all foundational leadership skills. So why aren’t we being more intentional about preparing our students for the leadership roles we know they will someday assume?

Perhaps more importantly, why aren’t we teaching our students about the critical leadership roles played by lawyers throughout history and the urgent need for us to continue to do so? With precious little time spent in law school on the role of lawyers in society and increasing emphasis on law as a business and lawyers as legal technicians and specialists, fewer students leave law school with an understanding of our role as protectors of the rule of law, seekers of justice, wise counselors to individuals and businesses, and effective community leaders. While understandable, considering the economic and other competing pressures on lawyers’ time today, but how ironic – and concerning – considering that the majority of law school applicants still state in their personal statements their desire to go to law school to do good – to right wrongs, stand up for those without voice or power, or to make a difference in society.

Lawyers are small in numbers. We are less than one-half of one percent of the population in America. Yet, we are still mighty in impact and influence. But that might not continue. Some are concerned that our influence is already waning. For example, in the mid-19th century, almost 80% of members of U.S. Congress were lawyers. By the 1960s this dropped to under 60%. Currently, it is about 40%. Does having fewer leaders trained and experienced in strategic planning, advocacy, negotiation and civil discourse make a difference?  Don’t we need more decision-makers at all levels who are trained in the law and who understand our obligation to society as guardians of democracy?

The question for us as legal educators is how do we better prepare our students for these important roles? To address this important issue, a new Section for Leadership was approved by the American Association of Law Schools. Our section reached out to Meera Deo and Chad Christensen at LSSSE to look at what we can learn from data already being collected by LSSSE. Chad shared his thoughts and findings during a webinar on November 5, 2019.

Chad began with an overview of work being done at the Holloran Center and others to look at professional competencies touted by a series of reports (such as MacCrate and Carnegie), desired by legal employers, and now mandated by ABA Standards 302(c) and (d). Many of these professional competencies are attributes of leadership and are included in the annual LSSSE instrument, including teamwork and collaboration, professionalism and integrity, self-directedness and cultural competencies.  Chad shared the specific LSSSE questions related to these attributes and discussed the findings related to those questions from 2009 to 2019. The good news is that Chad’s charts showed improvement over time in almost all of those questions. (You can view the specifics of the LSSSE questions and the results related to these leadership attributes by downloading the Webinar Slides.)

Even more exciting was the example he shared of LSSSE in action. In 2008, Indiana University (IU) 1Ls reported a significantly lower level of teamwork/collaboration than 1Ls at its peer schools.  After introducing a first-year, legal professions course in 2009 that emphasized a goal-oriented, collaborative approach to legal work, IU experienced a significant improvement in that category.

We believe the work at a growing number of law schools to introduce leadership development into their programming and curriculum not only will benefit students but also our profession and society. With that said, we are still figuring out how to be most effective and where to focus our efforts. We agree that the goal is to teach our students about the critical role lawyers play in society and our obligation as lawyers to serve, and then to better prepare them for the many opportunities they will have to serve. We want to help our students develop skills and traits that not only will enable them to be more effective in their professional roles but also will better equip them to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the individuals and organizations they serve. We also know that when they do so they will experience the kind of meaningful fulfillment that leads to satisfaction, contentment and happiness. Don’t we all want that for our students? For ourselves?

Our thanks to our co-sponsors for the webinar, LSSSE, AALS Section for Empirical Studies of Legal Education and the Legal Profession, and AALS Section on Law and the Social Sciences. We were excited to find more kindred spirits in our work! Our special thanks to Chad for his personal and vested interest in leadership development for lawyers. We look forward to further collaborations!

We invite all who are interested in introducing or expanding leadership development for law students at your school to join us. Feel free to contact me for more information at

Guest Post: Student Engagement and Law School Stress

Gary R. Pike, Ph.D.
Professor, Higher Education & Student Affairs
Indiana University

The opening scenes of the 1973 movie The Paper Chase show Professor Charles Kingsfield (played by John Houseman) sternly questioning his first-year students about the fine points of case law. Professor Kingsfield’s questioning is so intense that one student becomes physically ill. Although The Paper Chase is a work of fiction, the stress of trying to be a success in law school is very real. In her Huffington Post article, Kate Mayer Mangan reported that 96% of all law students experience high levels of stress, a rate that is much higher than rates for medical school and other graduate students. According to Mangan, law school stress appears to be a product of workload and the teaching methods used in most law schools—case-diaogue instruction. Research I just conducted using data from the 2015, 2016, and 2017 LSSSE administrations showed that law school stress played an important role in what students learn.

Stress in Law School

Stress in law school was greatest for first-year students, first-generation students, women, Latinx, and Asian American students. The amount of debt incurred in law school also increased law school stress. Likewise, students’ effort in their courses increased stress, but the extent to which students felt supported in law school reduced stress.

Student Engagement, Stress, and Learning

A goal of my research was to examine the relationships among student engagement, stress, and learning during law school. I found that both the effort students put forth in their courses and the extent to which students feel supported in law school were strongly related to both academic and personal/social gains. This finding is consistent with the findings of the National Institute of Education’s Study Group on Excellence in American Higher Education report Involvement in Learning, which concluded that both setting high standards and supporting students are necessary for student success. Law school stress had a negative effect on academic learning gains, although it was not related to personal/social learning outcomes.

Gender Differences

I also found that the relationships among student engagement, stress, and learning gains differed for males and females. First and foremost, stress had a much stronger negative effect on academic outcomes for women, compared to me. This is a serious concern because women reported significantly higher levels of stress than men. On a positive note, a supportive environment in law school tended to have a stronger effect for women than men on reducing the negative effects of stress on academic gains.


In sum, my research shows that stress is a serious concern in law school, particularly during the first year. Stress tends to be greatest for underrepresented groups in law school—women, first-generation students, as well as several racial/ethnic minority groups. Law school deans and other administrators and faculty members who are interested in reducing stress and reducing the negative effect of stress should focus on creating supportive environments in law school, particularly for women and minoritized groups.



Mangan, K. M. (2014, October 28). Law school quadruples the chances of depression for tens of thousands: Some changes that might help. Huffington Post. Retrieved from

National Institute of Education Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in American Higher Education. (1984, October). Involvement in learning: Realizing the potential of American higher education. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. ERIC Document Reproduction Service, ED246833.

Enriching Experiences: Expectations and Reality

Participation in enriching activities can help law students gain experience, learn new skills, and forge professional connections. LSSSE is a powerful tool for measuring student engagement both inside and outside the classroom. Using 2019 LSSSE data, we know that most students had joined at least one student organization (71%), completed a field placement (70%), and engaged in public service (65%) by the end of their third year. Relatively few students had competed on a moot court team (21%), served on a student/faculty committee (21%), or studied abroad (12%).


But how do 1L students’ intentions to engage in enriching experiences match their experiences? We compared the 1L student data from 2017 with 3L student data from 2019 to see whether students in this cohort had ultimately engaged in the activities that seemed most appealing early in their law school careers.

Nearly half (46%) of student had joined at least one student organization by the end of their first year, and another 26% planned to do so eventually (72% total). Indeed, by 2019, 71% of students had become a member of a student organization. The expectations and reality were similarly matched for student organization leadership, with 14% serving in a leadership position during their first year and another 34% planning to take on a leadership role eventually (48% total). In 2019, 49% of students reported having been a student organization leader. However, approximately a third of students expected to work on a law journal, but only 20% of students had been law journal members by the time they became 3Ls.


Gaining real-world legal experience was a high priority for 1L students, with 84% of 1Ls expressing interest in field placements and 82% expressing interest in public service. Most students engage in these experiences before graduation (70% and 65%, respectively). Less than half of 1L students express interest in research projects (43%) or student/faculty committees (31%), and even fewer go on to participate in these activities (29% and 21%, respectively).


As one might expect, different activities have different levels of appeal for students. But in general, 1L student seem to accurately predict where they will devote their extracurricular energy over the course of their law school careers.

Guest Post: Connecting Bar Exam Performance to the Law Student Experience

Aaron N. Taylor
Executive Director
AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence

There is much research tying student engagement to academic performance. The more engaged students are, the better their academic outcomes. Little of this research, however, has been conducted in the law school context. This is a significant gap in information, particularly given the extent to which law schools must focus on outcomes, such as bar exam passage rates.

AccessLex Institute aims to fill this gap with an upcoming report summarizing our work with the AccessLex/LSSSE Bar Exam Success Initiative. The report—planned for release in Spring 2020—will present findings from analyses of factors that impact law school academic performance and first-time bar exam performance among graduates of 19 law schools that are participating in the initiative.

We considered a range of factors, including graduate demographic background; their undergraduate GPA and LSAT score; their law school grades; and responses that many of them provided on the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) in their third year. In all, we tested the marginal influence of over 60 engagement variables on law school grades and bar exam performance.

Understanding the factors that influence academic and bar exam outcomes can aid law schools in identifying high-impact experiences and interventions premised on student success. This insight could also help schools better design their admission processes in ways that properly contextualize admission factors and minimize overreliance on certain factors.

Across all 19 schools, measures of law school academic performance were the strongest predictors of bar exam performance. For the vast majority of schools, LSAT scores and undergraduate grades (UGPA) were partial predictors of law school academic performance. At the median level, a one-point increase in LSAT score was associated with a 0.07 increase in final law school GPA. At the median level, a one-tenth point increase in UGPA was associated with a 0.08 increase in final law school GPA (LGPA). The LSAT score had a statistically significant predictive relationship with final GPA at 18 of the 19 schools. The UGPA was tied to final GPA at 15 of the 19 schools.

The analyses also yielded interesting findings about relationships between different aspects of student engagement (as captured by LSSSE responses) and academic and bar exam performance overall and among the 19 schools. Below are three of the most notable. All of these findings yielded statistically significant relationships to final LGPA or bar exam outcome, even after controlling for the other factors in the model. Put simply, these factors were independently influential.

#1: Raise your hand if you’re……unsure.

The frequency of asking questions in class had a positive and statistically significant relationship to final LGPA. Students who reported asking questions “very often” in class had a predicted final LGPA of 3.25, while those who reported “never” asking questions in class had a predicted final LGPA of 3.18. Asking questions are a manifestation of engagement, and among the pool of students we studied, questions were associated with higher grades.

#2: Do the reading!

Unsurprisingly, coming to class unprepared was associated with lower grades. Students who reported coming to class unprepared “very often” had a predicted final LGPA that was 0.17 grade points lower than those who reported “never” coming to class unprepared. So, students: do the reading. Your grades really do depend on it.

#3: Student-faculty interaction matters

At nine of the 19 schools, the quality of relationships between students and faculty had a positive, statistically significant relationship to final GPA (the strongest predictor of bar exam outcome). Students who rated these relationships highly tended to have higher GPAs. Interactions with faculty members are central to the law student experience. How students view their professors – as teachers, as mentors, as sources of guidance and support – translates into more engagement and better outcomes.

Be on the lookout for our national report as well as a companion blog on this website providing a more in-depth discussion of key findings. This analysis will employ applied research principles and methods to provide participating schools with tangible, actionable information, including explanation and illustration of significant findings from the project and appropriate recommendations. If your law school would like to be a part of our initiatives involving student engagement and bar success, contact us at

Annual Results 2018: Relationships Matter – Student Relationships

Decades of research on student engagement and student learning demonstrate the importance of peer interactions. Engaging with classmates in meaningful ways contributes to a deeper sense of belonging and enhances understanding of classwork, leading to better academic and professional outcomes (Hurtado & Carter, 1997; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; NSSE, 2013).

Although law school is an inherently stressful and anxiety-producing endeavor, the vast majority of students (76%) report that their peers are friendly, supportive, and contribute to a sense of belonging. There are noticeable variations by race/ethnicity. White students are most likely to report positive relationships with peers (79%), as compared to Black (69%), Asian American (71%), and Latinx (73%) students.


The Student Stress Module examines law student stress and anxiety—their sources, impact, and perceptions of support offered by law schools to manage stress and anxiety. One question asks directly about various sources of stress and anxiety that students may face in school. High percentages of students report that academic performance (77%) and academic workload (76%) produce stress or anxiety, but competition amongst peers does not create or magnify these feelings for most students. Students report that competition amongst peers is most significant during the first year of law school but sharply declines each year. Forty-two percent of 1L students report that peer competition is a source of stress or anxiety. By the third year of law school that number drops to 24%.

Annual Results 2018: Relationships Matter – Advising

A majority of students are pleased with the quality of advising and their relationships with administrators:

  • 69% are satisfied with academic advising and planning.
  • 66% are satisfied with career counseling.
  • 64% are satisfied with job search help.
  • 70% are satisfied with financial aid advising.
  • 68% report that administrative staff are helpful, friendly, and considerate.

The quality of relationships with advisors and administrators is both positive and relatively consistent across race, gender, and year in school. Seventy percent of 1L students (and 67% of 2Ls and 3Ls) report that administrative staff are helpful, considerate, and flexible. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of students consider at least one administrator or staff member as someone they could approach for advice or guidance on managing the law school experience. Higher percentages of Black students (87%) rely on these relationships than students from other racial backgrounds (79% for Asian American, white, and Latinx students).



Interactions with academic support personnel drive whether a student would choose to attend the same law school again as well as overall satisfaction with their law school experience. Though students report positive relationships with administrative staff, satisfaction with advising services is less consistent and more varied across race/ethnicity, year in school, and gender. Sixty-nine percent of all respondents report that their law school provides the support they need to succeed academically, with higher perceptions of support among 1L students. Similarly, academic advising, career counseling, and job search help are key support services that students appreciate greatly when they begin law school, though they are more dissatisfied as graduation nears.



Annual Results 2018: Relationships Matter - Student-Faculty Interaction

Faculty, administrators, and classmates are key ingredients to law student success. These relationships serve as important ties to the law school and impact student satisfaction, sense of belonging, and academic and professional development. This year’s annual report explores relationships and examines the nuances of the impact they have on law students.

The vast majority of students (76%) report positive relationships with faculty, including interactions both in and out of the classroom. Meaningful interactions vary across student demographics, with notable race/ethnic differences. On multiple dimensions Black and Latinx students report more engagement and interaction with faculty than white and Asian American students. For instance, while a majority of all law students (57%) discuss assignments with faculty “often” or “very often,” 65% of Black students do so, the highest of any racial or ethnic group, followed by 58% of Latinx students, 56% of white students and 53% of Asian American students.


The pattern of Black and Latinx students enjoying higher rates of engagement with faculty persists across multiple dimensions. For example, Black students (47%) are more likely to discuss career or job search with faculty than Latinx (41%), white (40%), or Asian American (38%) students. Black and Latinx students are also more likely to talk with faculty outside of class. The vast majority of students find faculty available, helpful, and sympathetic. Interestingly, this sentiment does not directly track interaction with faculty, as a higher percentage of white students report favorable relationships with faculty than Black and Latinx students.





Guest Post: Getting to Excellent

Evan Parker, PhD
Parker Analytics, LLC

Law school administrators operate in an environment that Dean Camille A. Nelson calls “relentlessly competitive” (See Nelson, “Towards Data-Driven Deaning,” LSSSE, August 22, 2019.) With students taking on sizable debt and an increasingly uncertain legal job market, it’s more important than ever that school administrators and faculty find ways to maximize the value of the law school experience.

What should they do to maximize the student experience? Conveniently, we can ask the students. More precisely, we can study students’ views of their law school experience as captured by the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE). One question on the survey asks, “How would you evaluate your entire educational experience at your law school?” LSSSE participants respond with one of four options: Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor. Using a statistical model, we can identify what factors most strongly differentiate students who say their experience in law school was “Excellent.”

As a rich professional survey with extensive coverage of student issues, LSSSE lets us examine a number of possible drivers of student satisfaction with law school, and highlight those factors that seem to matter the most. I view this as evidence into what students want—and thus, what administrators looking to maximize value should work hard to deliver.

In the analysis to follow, the factors that most strongly predict an “Excellent” response—the top “value differentiators”—are within reach of every law school administrator, albeit addressing these factors requires hard work. In broad terms, this student-driven data indicates that schools must do three things well:

  1. Build and sustain relationships among students, faculty and professional staff;
  2. Provide first-rate advising, career counseling and personal support; and
  3. Develop a broad curriculum that instills work-related knowledge.

Analyzing the Law School Experience

In this analysis, we’ll consider pooled LSSSE data over the 2009 to 2019 period. Figure 1 reports the four responses to the “entire experience” question, illustrating the distribution in percentage terms. Number of students per response is listed in parentheses.

Over the past decade, about one-third of LSSSE participants said that their entire law school experience was “Excellent” (35%). A near-majority of students viewed their law school experience as “Good” (48%), and the remainder were less positive (Fair = 14%, Poor = 3%).

We can use a statistical model to identify factors that are most strongly associated with an excellent law school experience. With more than 60,000 complete survey responses (i.e., 60,000 surveys have complete data), it’s straightforward to perform an exploratory analysis—one that includes all possible inputs into the model using the standard battery of LSSSE questions, 2009 to 2019—82 questions in total.[1] In a sample this large, the fact the model returns information about “statistical significance” is not so meaningful, since most of the factors will reach a level of significance. What is meaningful in the model, however, is its ability to produce “appropriate comparisons” between types of students—comparisons which isolate the importance of specific LSSSE factors by revealing the expected differences in students’ perceived law school experiences. For the purpose of this post, we’ll compare student responses that are typical (at the mean) versus responses that are very favorable (+2 standard deviations above the mean), and all else equal.

Figure 2 reports the top 10 positive predictors of the law school experience response. Reported values are the model-based differences between a typical baseline response (mean) and a very favorable (mean +2 s.d.) Scanning across the items, the three general themes involve (1) interpersonal relationships, (2) perceptions of support, and (3) features of the law school curriculum.

Quality of Relationships. The strongest positive differentiator is question (9a), the quality of relationships with other students. On this item, LSSSE asks students whether their relationships with other students are unfriendly or friendly using a 1 to 7 scale. So, at schools where students report above average friendliness among their peers, they are also more likely to view their law school experience as excellent. The same is true for relationships with faculty (9b) and administrative staff (9c), who are evaluated in terms of their availability and helpfulness, respectively.

Counseling and Support. A second set of factors that are strongly positively related pertain to students’ perceptions of support. This is the case in general per the importance of (8c), about the school’s ability to provide necessary support to succeed (1 = Very Little, 4 = Very Much). It’s also the case with academic advising (6a), personal counseling (6c), and career counseling (6b). Perhaps not surprisingly, the quality of a school’s advising and support functions matters a great deal to students.

Law School Curriculum. A final set of factors pertain to the nature of the curriculum. Students who most strongly believed they had acquired a broad legal education (10a) along with job or work-related knowledge (10b), and were taught to think critically and analytically (10b), were those who were most likely to give their law school an overall rating of “Excellent.”

What Students Want

With this short analysis, we see the value in leveraging the student perspective to focus the efforts of law school decision-makers. Students want to attend a school where relationships with other students, faculty and staff are both possible and enjoyable. For Deans, this might mean giving more weight to social functions and community-building activities than they have in the past. Students also want a sense their school is supportive, and working toward their success by providing resources to aid in both academic and personal decisions. They find greatest value when the law school curriculum equips them with skills they will need in practice. At the end of the day, “the ask” seems reasonable on its face.


[1] The model is a linear mixed effects regression that accounts for law school class year, survey year, and unique law school effects. More sophisticated models are certainly possible (e.g., an ordinal response model), yet in my exploration I’ve found that the conclusions shared here end up the same regardless.

Guest Post: Towards Data-Driven “Deaning”

Camille A. Nelson
Dean and Professor of Law
American University Washington College of Law

Surprisingly, there are few opportunities as a dean to ascertain student engagement, insights, and concerns in a manner that is comparative, data-driven, and longitudinal. LSSSE presents an opportunity to intentionally harness student-derived and student-driven data in service of the aspirations of one’s law school community, and to ensure a continuous drive for excellence in a marketplace for legal education that is relentlessly competitive.

we are often simultaneously seeking to improve metrics, especially those
reported to outside entities, while ensuring the maintenance and embrace of
core values in service of a shared vision, such data and information is
extremely helpful. While it is not easy to move all of the needles at once, the
LSSSE survey provides a good deal of information from our students as we try to
improve our schools in ways that help us better serve and support our students
and alumni. Having such student-centric data from our students, combined with
the information on how similarly situated schools are faring along comparable
trajectories is important to our ability to recognize challenges and
opportunities, and to be more diagnostic in our problem solving towards
informed solutions.

the students are the heart of any great law school, it is interesting, and
unfortunate, that their views are seldom collected in durable ways that provide
data over time for enterprise improvement. If we take “customer service”
seriously, LSSSE appears to be one of the few, if not the only, mechanism
through which to glean the holistic well-being and effective functionality of
the law school as a student focused enterprise over time. For instance, despite
the profound impact of the US News and World Report (USNWR) on legal education,
there are no input variables that are student generated in the USNWR law school
rankings from which to ascertain insight into the student experience, both
specifically and comparatively.

the dearth of student generated data available to law school administrators and
faculty, LSSSE is a helpful mechanism through which to learn, analytically, as
opposed to anecdotally, about the student experience and organizational
pinch-points. Deans need to learn of areas in need of trouble-shooting,
especially areas that might encumber student success and well-being, or which
impede the creation and maintenance of durable institutional good-will.  So while I recognize that no tool is perfect, LSSSE
data proves valuable in providing deans with the ability to study and assess,
in protensive ways, areas that must be of importance to law schools, and legal
education more generally.[1]

may bristle at the notion of customer service in an academic setting as inappropriately
consumerist, perhaps fawning and misguided. However, for many of our students,
and often their families, their monetary investment in graduate and
professional schools, especially given rising tuition,[2]
not surprisingly, nor unreasonably, enhances expectations for such a student
facing and customer-driven focus. I empathize with the impetus for assurances
along the lines of customer service -- these are often fueled by increased debt
loads and what some are calling a national student debt crisis.[3]

an average annual tuition rate of $27,160 for public law schools and $47,754 for
private law schools,[4]
we should expect that our students want what some may view as more from us, but
which may reasonably be interpreted as value for their dollar, and for their
debt. For such outlays of money and the assumption of debt, would we too not do
the same in every other space of personal investment and expenditure? Such
expectations are especially the case in areas that bode well for student
preparation for their professional opportunities, be that from wellness and
counselling, to legal research, writing and the search for employment, skills that
all intersect with and amplify doctrinal and substantive acumen.

striving to be more of a data-driven dean, LSSSE can help. I look to LSSSE to
help me/us improve both our appreciation of student feedback, and also to provide
a basis upon which we assess our adherence to, and support of, core values we
hold dear, starting with the embrace and uplift of our students.

[1] LSSSE data
supports the opportunity to study various aspects of the law school experience,
including how students utilize law school services, how they study, and what
their employment goals are, and how it changes over time. LSSSE,

[2] According to data
compiled by Law School Transparency, average in-state tuition for public law
schools in 1985 was $2,006, while average tuition for private schools was
$7,526; by 2018, average tuition had risen to $27,160 and $47,754 respectively.
Law School Costs,

[3] Sandy Baum and
Patricia Steele, Graduate and Professional School Debt: How Much Students
Borrow (January 4, 2018). AccessLex Institute Research Paper No. 18-02, or; Kristin Blagg,
Underwater on Student Debt: Understanding Consumer Credit and Student Loan
Default (August 2018),; National Center
for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education 2018 - Trends in Student
Loan Debt for Graduate School Completers,; Federal Reserve
Bank of New York, Research & Statistics Group, Quarterly Report on
Household Debt and Credit, Q1 2019 (May 2019),; Josh Mitchell,
The Long Road to the Student Debt Crisis, Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2019,

Farrington, The 2020 Presidential Candidates’ Proposals for Student Loan Debt,
Forbes (April 24, 2019),; Jacob Pramuk,
Elizabeth Warren and 2020 Democrats Want to Erase Student Loan Debt – Here’s
How It Could Affect the Economy, CNBC (April 23, 2019), Also refer to
increasing conversation amongst presidential candidates about same.

[4] Law School Costs,
Law School Transparency (2018 data, most recent available)

Guest Post: A Glimpse Beyond the Numbers

Louis M. Rocconi, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Educational Psychology and Counseling
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

As a former LSSSE research analyst (2011-2016), I am excited to write a guest blog post for a project that means so much to me. In this blog post, I will discuss a recently published article in which my colleagues and I used LSSSE data to examine diverse interactions in law school. The full article is available in the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. [1]

A concerted effort has been devoted to diversifying law schools. However, the focus has been almost exclusively on increasing the structural diversity of the student body (i.e., having representative numbers of a diverse population) rather than increasing the frequency and quality of interactions among students from diverse backgrounds. Research shows that meaningful interactions among students from diverse backgrounds foster many educational and psychological benefits such as reductions in prejudice, appreciation for others’ perspectives, improved critical thinking and self-confidence, greater connection to the institution, greater civic engagement, and enhancement of leadership skills. [2] Understanding how the student experience may foster diverse interactions in legal education will help law schools meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population and society.

The concept of student engagement provides a useful
framework to explore how students’ activities and perceptions shape students’
contact with diverse others. Using data from the 2014 and 2015 administration
of LSSSE, we set out to investigate the types of activities and experiences in
law school that relate with more frequent diverse interactions. Diverse
interactions were operationalized using three items on LSSSE that asked
students how often they:

(1) had serious conversations with students of a
different race or ethnicity;

(2) had serious conversations with students who are
different from them in terms of their religious beliefs, political opinion, or
personal values; and

(3) included diverse perspectives (different races,
religions, sexual orientations, genders, political beliefs, etc.) in class
discussions or writing assignments.

We examined a number of student characteristics (e.g.,
gender, race-ethnicity, age, enrollment status), activities in law school
(e.g., interaction with faculty, higher-order learning, internship, pro bono
work, law journal, moot court, student organization), perceptions of the law
school environment and relationships with other students, as well as
characteristics of the law school (e.g., structural diversity, selectivity, public/private,
enrollment size).

Our findings (Table 1) were encouraging for law schools. Increased diverse interactions were not only related to structural diversity but to programmatic factors that law schools can influence such as creating a supportive law school environment or encouraging student-faculty interactions. Bringing about diverse interactions requires intentional and well-designed effort on the part of the institution.  Fostering these various opportunities is one way in which law schools can encourage diverse interactions.

One of the strongest relationships involves
student-faculty interactions. Students who reported more frequent interactions
with faculty also reported greater diverse interactions. Law schools can exert
some influence over certain aspects of student-faculty interaction by implementing
policies that encourage student and faculty involvement both in and out of the
classroom (e.g., mentoring programs). Our findings also illustrate that diverse
interactions were related with students’ perceptions of a supportive law school
environment. Faculty and administrators can assist in creating a supportive
environment by providing students the academic and personal support they need
to be successful. We also found that creating opportunities for students to
interact with faculty and peers in collaborative ways, particularly pro bono
service and through student organizations, were related with increased diverse

On the other hand, we found a negative relationship between participating in the law journal and diverse interactions. The lack of diversity among law journal staff could be one reason for this finding in addition to the competitive and insulated nature of law journals. This notion is consistent with the idea that competitive environments can discourage intergroup contact and minimize the benefits of diverse interactions.[3]

More research is needed to better understand the
particular ways in which interactions among diverse groups operate in law
school. Are law students who interact more frequently with a diverse set of
peers better able to apply what they have learned in class? Are these students
better prepared to work with a diverse set of clientele? Understanding diverse
interactions will help law schools meet the needs of an increasingly diverse
student body and better prepare students to meet the needs of the diverse array
of clients these future lawyers will represent.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge my co-authors without whom this research would not have been possible: Aaron Taylor, Heather Haeger, John Zilvinskis, and Chad Christensen.


[1] Rocconi, L.M., Taylor, A.N., Haeger, H., Zilvinskis, J.D., & Christensen, C.R. (2019). Beyond the numbers: An examination of diverse interaction in law school. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 12(1), 27-37.

[2] see for example:  Bowman, N. A. (2011). Promoting participation in a diverse democracy: A meta-analysis of college diversity experiences and civic engagement. Review of Educational Research, 81, 29–68. Nelson Laird, T. F. (2005). College students’ experiences with diversity and their effects on academic self-confidence, social agency, and disposition toward critical thinking. Research in Higher Education, 46, 365– 387. Parker, E. T., III, & Pascarella, E. T. (2013). Effects of diversity experiences on socially responsible leadership over four years of college. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 6, 219–230. Pascarella, E. T., Martin, G. L., Hanson, J. M., Trolian, T. L., Gillig, B., & Blaich, C. (2014). Effects of diversity experiences on critical thinking skills over 4 years of college. Journal of College Student Development,55, 86–92.

[3] Pettigrew, T. F., Christ, O., Wagner, U., & Stellmacher, J. (2007). Direct and indirect intergroup contact effects on prejudice: A normative interpretation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 31, 411–425. Pettigrew, T. F., Tropp, L. R., Wagner, U., & Christ, O. (2011). Recent advances in intergroup contact theory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35, 271–280.