Trends in Preferences & Expectations for Employment After Law School

The newly released LSSSE 2017 Annual Results explore the relationship between students’ preferred and expected work settings post-graduation. In a series of related blog posts, we will share tidbits of information about where law students hope to work, where they expect to work, and how these preferences and expectations vary by race and gender. In our final post, we will look at patterns in students’ preferred and expected work settings relative to their projected levels of student loan debt.

LSSSE asks respondents to identify the setting in which they would most prefer to work after graduation and the setting in which they most expect to work. Preferences can be seen as representing a respondent’s ideal outcome; expectations can be seen as representing perceptions of a realistic outcome. For both questions, respondents are asked to choose between sixteen answer options.

For purposes of much of the analyses in this report, the answer options were divided into two broad groups:

Public Service Settings

  • Academic
  • Government agency
  • Judicial clerkship
  • Legislative office
  • Military
  • Prosecutor’s office
  • Public defender’s office
  • Public interest group

 Private Settings

  • Accounting firm
  • Business and industry
  • Nonlegal organization
  • Private firm – small (fewer than 10 attorneys)
  • Private firm – medium (10-50 attorneys)
  • Private firm – large (more than 50 attorneys)
  • Solo practice

The “Other” response was removed from our analysis. The primary factor underlying the assignment of an answer option to one of the two groupings was whether a person working in that setting would likely qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), which typically requires one to be employed in the government or non-profit sector. There is naturally some imprecision in the assignments.

Sixty-four percent of respondents indicate a preference for working in one of the private settings, with the remaining 36% preferring public service. This proportion is unchanged from five survey administrations ago (2012) and higher than the 30% public service proportion ten administrations ago (2008).

 

Seventeen percent of respondents would prefer to work in medium-sized law firms, making this category the most popular private setting and the most popular setting overall. Government agencies are the most popular public setting, with 11% of respondents indicating that preference. Medium-sized law firms are also the most commonly expected private work setting, accounting for 20% of respondents. Small law firms are the fourth most preferred private setting yet the second most common expected setting. Government agencies are the most commonly expected public service setting.

Forty-four percent of respondents indicate a different expected work setting than their preferred setting. Respondents who prefer to work in an academic setting are least likely to expect to work in that setting, with only about one-in-five matching preference with expectation. Respondents who prefer to work in large law firms or as prosecutors are most likely to also expect to work in those settings.

Forty-six percent of respondents who prefer one of the public service settings expect to work in a non-preferred setting, including one-quarter who expect to work in private settings instead. Forty-one percent of respondents who prefer one of the private settings expect to work in a different setting, but only 12% of students who prefer to work in a private setting expect to work in public service instead.


LSSSE Annual Results: Higher Debt, Lower Student Satisfaction (Part 2)

This is the sixth installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt and the student satisfaction.

The LSSSE Survey is designed to measure the effects of legal education on law students.  Student satisfaction is related to those effects; therefore, respondents are asked:

If you could start over again, would you go to the same law school you are now attending?

The purpose of this question is to, again, prompt respondents to consider and assess their law school experiences, but this time in the context of the opportunity costs.  Respondents are given the following four answer choices:

  • Definitely yes
  • Probably yes
  • Probably no
  • Definitely no

In the analyses below, the favorable responses (Definitely yes and Probably yes) are combined, as are the unfavorable responses (Probably no and Definitely no).

In each survey year, respondents who expected to owe more than $120,000 were noticeably less likely to respond favorably to the satisfaction questions.  In 2006, 75% of these respondents had favorable views of their law school experiences, compared to the overall rate of 80%.  Similar differences were observed in 2011 and 2015.

The effects of debt seemed even more apparent in the responses to the “same law school” question.  With a few slight exceptions, in every survey year, respondents were less likely to state that they would attend the same law school as expected debt increased.  At the level of more than $120,000 in expected the debt, 70% of respondents in 2006 said they would attend the same law school, compared to 82% of those who expected no debt.  In 2011, the favorable response rate among these high-debt respondents was 74%, compared to 83% of those who expected no debt.  And lastly, in 2015, 74% of these high-debt respondents stated they would attend the same school, compared to 87% of those expecting no debt.  This 13-percentage point difference was the largest among the three survey years.

figure 12 would attend the same law school

 

 

 

 


LSSSE Annual Results: Higher Debt, Lower Student Satisfaction (Part 1)

This is the fifth installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt and the student experience.

The LSSSE Survey is designed to measure the effects of legal education on law students.  Student satisfaction is related to those effects; therefore, respondents are asked:

How would you evaluate your entire educational experience at your law school?

The purpose of this question is to prompt respondents to consider and assess their law school experiences.  This is, in essence, a question regarding satisfaction, a perceptional concept.  As such, respondents are given the following four answer choices:

  • Excellent
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

In the analyses below, the favorable responses (Excellent and Good) are combined, as are the unfavorable responses (Fair and Poor).

As a general proposition, LSSSE respondents reported high levels of satisfaction with their law school experience in each of the survey years.  In 2015, 84% of respondents rated their law school experiences “excellent” or “good.” [i]  Eighty-one percent stated that they would definitely or probably attend their same law school again. [ii]  Interestingly, these proportions were higher than in both 2011 and 2006.  This is noteworthy, given the increased costs of legal education and the handwringing about whether the endeavor is worth those costs.

A possible theory for these higher expressions of satisfaction might be that those who have opted to attend law school in spite of the unflattering scrutiny of late are more likely to have an affinity for the endeavor that transcends some of the most common practical considerations.  Put simply, current law students may be more apt to be satisfied with the experience compared to past cohorts.  Another theory could be that law schools have adapted to changing student needs and demands in ways that have increased satisfaction.  In any case, the trend was somewhat surprising to us.

But in each survey year, respondents who expected to owe more than $120,000 were noticeably less likely to respond favorably to the satisfaction questions.  In 2006, 75% of these respondents had favorable views of their law school experiences, compared to the overall rate of 80%.  Similar differences were observed in 2011 and 2015. [iii]

[i]. Overall Satisfaction with “Entire Law School Experience” response proportions

fig 9 overall satisfaction

[ii]. Overall “Same Law School” response proportions

fig 10 overall same law school

 

[iii]. Satisfaction with “Entire Law School Experience,” more than $120K

satisfaction with law school more than 120k


LSSSE Annual Results: Lower LSAT Score, Higher Debt

This is the fourth installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt trends through the lens of LSAT scores.

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) looms large in the law school admissions process. Applicants with high scores tend to have the best chances of being offered both admission and lucrative scholarships. The latter trend has potential implications on student debt trends. The more that a student’s costs of attendance are discounted, the less that student has to borrow. And across the entire system of legal education, it seems logical that student debt trends would share some relationship with trends pertaining to the awarding of scholarships and grants.

For each LSAT grouping, the proportion of respondents who expected to owe more than $120,000 was higher in 2015 than in 2006.  But the intensity of these increases was greater for respondents with LSAT scores of 155 or below.  In 2006, the proportion of these “lower-LSAT” respondents who expected to owe more than $120,000 was 16%–the same proportion as their “higher-LSAT” peers.  By 2015, however, the proportion for the lower-LSAT group was 37%, almost double the 20% proportion of the higher-LSAT group.  The trends were even starker for respondents with LSAT scores of 145 or below. In 2006, 15% of these respondents expected to owe more than $120,000; in 2015, that proportion was 52%. [i]

At the other end, in each survey year, respondents in the higher-LSAT groupings were more likely to expect no debt than other respondents; but these trends became more apparent in 2015.  In 2006, 12% of respondents with LSAT scores of 156 or above expected no debt, compared to 10% of respondents with lower scores.  In 2015, the proportion of no-debt expectations within the higher-LSAT group increased to 20%, while the proportion within the lower-median group remained at 10%.

[i]. Proportion of expected debt, by LSAT Scores

Debt LSAT

 


LSSSE Annual Results: Black and Latino Respondents Expected The Most Debt

This is the third installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt trends based on race and ethnicity. For sake of clearer explication of trends, this post focuses on respondents who identified as Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latino, or White.

Reliance on student loans is largely a reflection of wealth and access to alternative sources of funds. Students from less affluent backgrounds tend to rely on student loans to greater extents than their more affluent peers. This means that the large racial and ethnic wealth disparities in the U.S. have broad implications on student debt trends.

In each of the survey years, white and Asian respondents were more likely than black and Latino respondents to expect no debt.  Regarding high debt, a telling trend was observed.  In 2006, there were only marginal racial and ethnic differences in expectations of more than $100,000 in debt.  By 2011, however, clear disparities emerged, with black and Latino respondents more likely to expect debt at this level.  By 2015, the disparities became more intense, with 61% of black respondents and 56% of Latino respondents expecting debt at this level, compared to about 40% of white and Asian respondents.  That year, 43% of black respondents expected to owe more than $120,000—the first time a racial or ethnic group crossed the 40% threshold on any LSSSE debt category.[i]

[i]. Proportion of expected debt at various levels, by race

debt by race


LSSSE Annual Results: Ten Years of (Ever-rising) Law Student Debt

This is the first in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, using survey years 2006 and 2015 as bookends. Survey year 2011 will be used as a midpoint in much of the analyses—2011 is noteworthy because a record number of students—157,298—enrolled in U.S. law schools that year. This post discusses the increase in law student debt over the 10-year period.

The vast majority of law students— almost 90%, according to LSSSE Survey data and estimates by the American Bar Association—rely on student loans to finance their education. The typical law school graduate is part of a relatively rarefied group of debtors with student loan balances approaching, if not exceeding $100,000. In 2012, the average debt for graduates of private law schools was $127,000; $88,000 for public law school graduates. These amounts represented inflation-adjusted increases of one-quarter and one-third respectively in just seven years.

The LSSSE Survey asks respondents the following question:

“How much educational debt from attending law school do you expect to have upon your graduation?”

In order to account for the inherent imprecision of speculating about the future, the response options appearing on the survey are presented mostly as ranges in $20,000 intervals, with two outer options:

  • $0
  • $1- $20,000
  • $20,001 – $40,000
  • $40,001 – $60,000
  • $60,001 – $80,000
  • $80,001 – $100,000
  • $100,001 – $120,000
  • More than $120,000

For much of the analyses in this series of posts, the six intermediate ranges are compressed into three $40,000 ranges, with the outer options remaining the same:

  • $0
  • $1- $40,000
  • $40,001 – $80,000
  • $80,001 – $120,000
  • More than $120,000

Unsurprisingly, over the 10-year timeframe, increasing proportions of LSSSE respondents reported expecting high law school debt.  In 2006, 32% of respondents expected to incur more than $100,000 in debt during their law school matriculation.  By 2011, that proportion had increased to 44%, a level at which it remained in 2015.  The differences in expected debt were particularly acute at the highest level—more than $120,000.  Roughly 30% of respondents in both 2011 and 2015 expected debt above $120,000, compared to 16% in 2006.

An analysis of the subgroups of “high-debt” respondents really highlights the prevailing trends.  We measured the proportional split between respondents who expected to owe $100,001-$120,000 and those who expected to owe more than $120,000.  In 2006, 51% of respondents in this high-debt subgroup expected to owe more than $120,000 (leaving 49% expecting to owe $100,001-$120,000).  By 2015, 67% of this high-debt subgroup expected to owe more than $120,000.