LSSSE Announces New Board Members

The Law School Survey of Student Engagement Announces New Board Members

The Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) is proud to announce that Ajay K. Mehrotra, Executive Director of the American Bar Foundation (ABF) and Professor of Law at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, and Camille A. Nelson, Dean of American University Washington School of Law, and Kellye Y. Testy, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), have joined the LSSSE National Advisory Board.

“We are delighted to welcome Ajay, Camille, and Kellye to LSSSE’s National Advisory Board, “ said, Meera E. Deo, Director of LSSSE. “The role of the Board is to help shape the strategic direction for LSSSE using an approach that applies effective educational practices to law school improvement.  Their insights into the world of legal education, both its history and the modern law school environment, will provide an important perspective to our work and to the future of the project.” Bryant Garth, Chair of the LSSSE National Advisory Board and Vice Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Irvine School of Law agreed, noting: “LSSSE has become one of the leading organizations in legal education. It is central both to research agendas and to improving legal education. The expertise and perspective that these stellar legal educators bring will be invaluable for LSSSE’s future.”

Ajay Mehrotra was appointed director of the ABF in 2015. Prior to his appointment, he was Associate Dean for Research, Professor of Law, and the Louis F. Niezer Faculty Fellow at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.  From 2007-2011, he was Co-director of the Indiana University Center for Law, Society & Culture, where he was a university-wide leader on interdisciplinary approaches to the study of law. He was also an adjunct professor of history at Indiana University and an Affiliated Faculty member of the Lin & Vincent Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory & Policy Analysis. Mehrotra's scholarship and teaching explores legal history and tax law, with a focus on law and political economy in historical and comparative perspective.

“It's a great honor and pleasure to be on the LSSSE Board.  The unique and insightful data gathered by LSSSE has been invaluable not only to researchers and law schools, but to everyone concerned about the legal profession.  I look forward to working with the other Board members and the LSSSE research team in furthering the organization’s mission,” said Mehrotra.

Kellye Testy joined LSAC in July 2017 after serving as the 14th dean and first woman to lead the University of Washington School of Law. A prolific scholar, outstanding teacher, and experienced administrator, Testy is known throughout academic and legal communities for her dedication to the rule of law and commitment to justice and equality. Named the nation's second most influential leader in legal education in 2017 by the National Jurist, Dean Testy served as the president of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) in 2016, with the presidential theme "Why Law Matters," focusing on how the law plays a critical role in setting the foundation for justice and human prosperity.

“Law students hold the future of justice in their hands and minds, and it is the responsibility of everyone in the legal education community to work together to help them succeed,” remarked Testy. “I support the efforts of LSSSE to understand the needs of law students and improve their law school experience, and I am honored and delighted to join the LSSSE National Advisory Board.”

Camille Nelson has long been an outstanding member of the law community. Prior to joining American University as Dean of the Washington College of Law, she was a litigator at a large Canadian law firm, clerk for the Supreme Court of Canada, Professor of Law at Hofstra Law School, Dean's Scholar in Residence and Visiting Professor at Washington University School of Law, and Dean of Suffolk University Law School.  A widely published scholar and dynamic speaker, Nelson is an expert on the intersection of critical race theory and cultural studies. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Association of American Law Schools, the Governing Council for the American Bar Association Center for Innovation, and the Advisory Board of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.

“It is an immense honor to join the Advisory of Board of LSSSE,” said Nelson. “I am particularly impressed with LSSSE as a student-centered and focused provider of innovative research support and services which have attracted national and international recognition.  I look forward to supporting their mission of helping law schools proactively assess, and thereby support, the experiences of their students."

Media Contact

Chad Christensen





Diversity Within Diversity: The Student Experience (Part 3)

This final installment based on the Report, Diversity Within Diversity: The Varied Experiences Of Asian And Asian American Law Students, highlights findings related to the law student experience.

LSSSE asks respondents about how they spend their time, in the context of their studies and beyond. Employment can be a very useful part of the law school experience if it has relevance to the practice or study of law. Some employment, however, is motivated by necessity, and not necessarily a desire to foster one’s professional development. LSSSE respondents are asked to stipulate whether employment is law related or non-law-related.

Among the six subgroups, Vietnamese respondents were most likely to report being employed, with the disproportions being particularly apparent in non-law-related jobs. They were also most likely to report working eight or more hours per week in either setting. The relatively high proportions of employment, particularly in non-law-related jobs, raises questions about the role of financial pressures among Vietnamese law students.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 13b

Vietnamese respondents were also most likely to report spending time providing care to dependents residing in the same household, with Vietnamese and Japanese respondents reporting the largest time commitment. Vietnamese respondents were least likely to report feeling as if their law school helped them cope with their nonacademic responsibilities.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 16

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 17







Asian respondents overwhelmingly reported favorable relationships within their law school, but Vietnamese respondents were noticeably more likely to state that other students were “unfriendly and unsupportive.” Korean respondents had the least favorable perceptions of their professors, with less than half harboring the most intensely positive feelings.

Vietnamese respondents were least likely to report feeling as if they were acquiring a broad legal education, with one-in-5 expressing an unfavorable perception. In that vein, almost one-quarter rated their law school experiences fair or poor, again the highest proportion. Interestingly, given these perceptions, 86% of Vietnamese respondents stated that they would probably or definitely attend the same law school again, if given the benefit of hindsight. Only Japanese respondents had a higher proportion expressing this ostensibly favorable assessment. On the other hand, Korean respondents were least likely to state that they would attend the same law school again, with 1-in-4 stating expressing regret.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 22








The experiences of Asian subgroups within the LSSSE pool varied, belying the prevailing assumptions about the Asian monolith. Their backgrounds, informed in large part by immigration patterns, differed markedly. There were vast disparities in expected law school debt. There were differences in how they spent their time, and how they perceived the law school experience. In the end, the distinctive aspects of each group manifested. As law schools work to ensure that their programs benefit all students, the experiences of subgroups within our broad classifications (racial/ethnic and others) should also be considered.

(Photo courtesy of Southwestern Law School)







Diversity Within Diversity: Scholarships and Student Loan Debt (Part 2)

This second installment based on the Report, Diversity Within Diversity: The Varied Experiences Of Asian And Asian American Law Students, highlights findings related to scholarships and student loan debt.


Given the outsized role that the LSAT plays in determining who goes to law school, where they go, and how much they pay, the trends suggest that Filipino and Vietnamese applicants are much less likely to gain admission and less likely to receive lucrative scholarships, even if they receive an admission offer. As explained in the LSSSE report, Law School Scholarship Policies: Engines of Inequity, the overall trends routinely highlight a strong link between LSAT score and receipt of so-called merit scholarships.

But those linkages were not observed as strongly among the Asian subgroups. Sixty-five percent (65%) of Vietnamese respondents reported receiving merit scholarships, the highest proportion, along with Japanese respondents. LSAT score differences suggest that Chinese respondents would have received these scholarships in the highest proportions; but their rate of 57% was tied with Filipino respondents.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 9LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 10

International students are sometimes ineligible to receive merit scholarships awarded by law schools. But immigrant status does not explain why receipt of merit scholarships (from all sources) among Chinese respondents seemed depressed. Chinese immigrants were only slightly less likely to report having received a merit scholarship of some type than Chinese Americans – 55% vs. 56%. For many reasons, the LSAT score should not be the primary determinant of who gets a merit scholarship; but it commonly is. Therefore, the trends among Asian respondents are somewhat of a riddle.

The need-based scholarship awarding trends took a more predictable track, with Filipino respondents (27%) mostly likely to have received this aid, followed by Vietnamese respondents (23%). Chinese respondents (13%) were least likely to report receiving this aid, a possible artifact of the high proportion of international students.

Student Loan Debt

The LSSSE Survey asks respondents to estimate the amount of debt they expect to incur from law school. Half of Chinese respondents expected no law school debt – the highest proportion. Once again, this trend can be explained by the high proportion of international students among the Chinese subgroup. International students do not qualify for U.S. government student loans and, therefore, are much less likely to report expecting student loan debt.

Among Chinese and Indian respondents, international students were more than twice as likely to expect no student loan debt than domestic students. Less than 10% of Filipino and Vietnamese respondents expected to leave law school debt-free. Half of Filipinos expected to owe more than $120,000, compared to 15% of Chinese respondents.

And at the highest end of the spectrum, Filipinos were about seven times as likely to expect more than $200,000 in law school debt than Chinese respondents, 14% to 2%.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 11

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 12






Diversity Within Diversity: The Varied Experiences Of Asian And Asian American Law Students (Part 1)

This is the first installment in a series based on data from the 2016 LSSSE survey administration and the LSSSE Report, Diversity Within Diversity: The Varied Experiences Of Asian And Asian American Law Students.

LSSSE-Diverstiy Within Diversity-Figure 2

In 2016, LSSSE, for the first time, asked respondents identifying as Asian or Hispanic/Latino to also identify an ethnic subgroup. This report presents various disaggregated data for the Asian subgroups.

The data presented in this Report comes from the LSSSE Survey responses of more than 16,000 students at 67 U.S. law schools. A total of 1,147 LSSSE respondents identified as Asian, comprising 7% of the LSSSE pool – and about 1-in-7 of all Asian law students in the United States.

Chinese respondents were the largest Asian subgroup (23%), followed by Koreans (19%) and Indians (18%). There were six subgroups that comprised at least 5% of the pool of Asian respondents.

Comprising 81% of all Asian respondents, this report will center on these six groups. About 6% of respondents identified with multiple Asian subgroups or with an Asian subgroup and another race; their data is excluded from the subgroup analyses, as are data for respondents who identified with groups comprising less than 5% of the pool. The data presented in this report provide a glimpse into the experiences of these law students over the course of one school year.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 6


Socioeconomic background

Socioeconomics loom large in the ascent to law school, and law students tend to be a relatively affluent group. The LSSSE Survey attempts to get a sense of the socioeconomic backgrounds of respondents by asking about the education levels of their parents. Researchers often use parental education as a proxy for socioeconomic status. The linkages between higher education and income dictate that students with college-educated parents tend to come from more affluent backgrounds. Respondents with at least one parent possessing a BA/BS or higher comprised more than 75% of each subgroup, with one glaring exception: Vietnamese respondents.

Only 41% of Vietnamese respondents had at least one parent with a BA/BS or higher. Put the other way, about 6-in-10 Vietnamese respondents were among the first-generation in their family to graduate from college. These trends align with the overall educational attainment figures cited earlier, and can be explained in large part by different immigration histories and patterns among groups.

Immigrant Status

Half of Chinese respondents reported being international students. This was the highest proportion by far; the second-highest being among Indian respondents (24%). The lowest proportion (1%) was among Filipino respondents.

LSSSE Annual Results 2016: Socioeconomic Background and Economic Inequity (Part 3)

This is the third installment in a series of five posts based on data from the 2016 LSSSE survey administration and the 2016 Annual Report. The LSSSE 2016 Annual Report highlights inequities in scholarship policies and the associated consequences for student loan debt.

Equity is often assumed to be the same as equality, but they are different. Equity accounts for differences in ways that equality does not. In fact, the insensitivity of equality-based frameworks can exacerbate inequity through a dichotomous compounding of privilege and disadvantage. Merit scholarship programs provide a classic example of this phenomenon. Merit scholarships tend to be awarded through equality frameworks, in which similar criteria are applied to all applicants. These criteria most often revolve around standardized test scores and other factors that track closely to non-merit indicators, such as socioeconomic status. In the end, wealth and privilege become proxies for merit, a conflation that results in financial windfalls and further advantages for applicants least in need of such assistance.

We used parental education as a proxy for a respondent’s socioeconomic background in order to compare debt and scholarship trends. Framing socioeconomic background based on parental education is common in the research literature and is rooted in the fact that children of college-educated parents are more likely than other children to come from relatively affluent backgrounds. We classified our respondents into three parental education groupings:

FG-HS: “first-generation” respondents for whom neither parent has more than a high school diploma

FG-SC: “first-generation” respondents for whom at least one parent has some college experience, but no bachelor’s degree

N-FG: “non-first-generation” respondents for whom at least one parent has a bachelor’s degree or higher

The debt burden is highest among respondents for whom neither parent has more than a high school diploma. Almost half of these “first-generation” respondents (FG-HS) expected to owe more than $100,000, compared to 34% to non-first-generation (N-FG) respondents.first gen debt 1

In our sample, N-FG respondents – presumably the most privileged group – were most likely to have received a merit scholarship; FG-HS respondents – the least privileged – were least likely. Like the disparities in scholarship awards among participants with different racial and ethnic backgrounds (see previous post), the disparities among students with differing parental education levels align with LSAT score trends. Forty-three percent of FG-HS respondents had LSAT scores below 151, compared to about a quarter of N-FG respondents. At the other end, 22% of N-FG respondents scored at 160 or higher, compared to just 10% of FG-HS respondents

lsat dist by par ed

The question is often posed: Why shouldn’t the LSAT be a primary criterion for determining who gains admission to law school and who receives scholarships? The most basic answer to this question is that the LSAT is designed to be a predictor of first-year law school performance and, in fact, explains roughly 38% of the variance in first-year law school grades. But the LSAT is even less reliable in predicting longer-term outcomes, such as bar exam performance and career success. Despite these limitations, the LSAT remains a central factor in most admissions and scholarship awarding decisions. It is an unfortunate and uncomfortable truth that a large number of admissions and merit scholarship decisions are rooted in a fundamental misuse of the LSAT. The heavy reliance on LSAT scores to award scholarship money exacerbates disadvantages based on privilege by distributing resources inequitably. Equity requires that we encourage the success of all our students by appreciating their differences and meeting their needs to the extent possible.

In our next post in this series, we will show some interesting associations between the type of scholarship students receive and their expected student loan debt levels.


LSSSE Annual Results 2016: Race, Ethnicity, and Economic Inequity (Part 2)

This is the second installment in a series of five posts based on data from the 2016 LSSSE survey administration and the 2016 Annual Report. The LSSSE 2016 Annual Report highlights inequities in scholarship policies and the associated consequences for student loan debt. In this post, we examine whether the financial costs of a legal education reinforce or mitigate larger societal inequities based on race and ethnicity.

Equity is important given the risks involved with attending law school. If scholarships are awarded to students with the most financial need, these students could attend law school with less financial stress and less reliance on student loans. The aid would, in turn, minimize risks among students for whom law school is already riskiest. Unfortunately, based on the LSSSE Survey data, law school scholarships flow most generously to students with the least financial need and least generously to those with the most need.

The income and wealth inequalities that plague our society foster vast disparities in student loan debt among people with similar levels of education. According to the Brookings Institution, “black college graduates owe $7,400 more [in student debt] on average than their white peers.”  Four years after graduation, this gap balloons to $25,000, due to differences in interest accrual and graduate school borrowing. LSSSE data align with these findings. Fifty-three percent of black respondents and 57% of Latino respondents expected to owe more than $100,000 in law school debt upon graduation, compared to 38% of white and 40% of Asian respondents. As the Brookings data illustrate, higher interest accrual on higher debts will likely exacerbate these already yawning disparities over time.


The close correspondence between LSAT scores and merit scholarships fostered racial and socioeconomic disparities. White and Asian respondents were most likely to have received a merit scholarship. Black and Latino respondents were least likely.


The underlying reason for this disparity is that LSAT scores among blacks and Latinos tend to be lower than those of whites and Asians. In the LSSSE sample, 63% of black respondents and 46% of Latino respondents had LSAT scores below the rough national median of 151. Only about a quarter of white and Asian respondents had scores below 151. At the other end of the distribution, where scholarship money flows most abundantly, 22% of white and Asian respondents scored above 160, while only 4% of black and 9% of Latino respondents scored at that level.


In our next post, we will highlight some differences in scholarship and debt patterns among students from different socioeconomic backgrounds and expand on why heavy reliance on LSAT scores to allocate scholarship funding may be deeply problematic for those who value equity in education.

LSSSE Annual Results 2016: Types of Scholarship Awards (Part 1)

This is the first installment in a series of five posts based on data from the 2016 LSSSE survey administration and the 2016 Annual Report. The LSSSE 2016 Annual Report highlights inequities in scholarship policies and the associated consequences for student loan debt. In this post, we summarize the overall prevalence of merit-based and need-based scholarships reported by LSSSE respondents.

The cost of legal education is a topic of considerable interest. Discussions tend to revolve around ever-rising tuition sticker prices. The truth, however, is that relatively few students actually pay sticker price for their legal education. The downturn in law school applications and enrollments has prompted schools to rely more heavily on tuition discounts – mainly, scholarships – as a means of attracting students. Over 70% of the law students surveyed by LSSSE in 2016 reported having received scholarships for their studies – a proportion that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. By forcing schools to be more generous in awarding scholarships, the decreased demand for legal education has been a bright spot for many students.

Merit scholarship funding makes up the bulk of law school scholarship budgets.  American Bar Association data show a vast expansion of merit scholarship funding between 2005 and 2010, and while more current data are limited, all indications are that this trend has continued and likely intensified since that time. Need-based funding, on the other hand, has remained essentially flat. Funding for so-called “need-plus” scholarships increased markedly. These awards are, in theory, need/merit hybrids. Nevertheless, indirect trends suggest these scholarships have little equitable impact, operating as merit scholarships by another name.

Among those respondents who reported receiving a scholarship, 79% of the scholarships were merit-based. Only 21% of the scholarships were need-based. Although the LSSSE data does not capture the dollar amounts of these scholarships, it is clear that law school scholarship policies heavily emphasize merit without regard for differences among students based on background or economic need.

1-1 Scholarship Types

Among those respondents who reported receiving a scholarship, 79% of the scholarships were merit-based. Only 21% of the scholarships were need-based. Although the LSSSE data does not capture the dollar amounts of these scholarships, it is clear that law school scholarship policies heavily emphasize merit without regard for differences among students based on background or economic need.

1-2 Merit Scholarship Percent

In our next two posts, we will discuss some general differences in student demographics between recipients of merit- and need-based scholarships.










LSSSE 2016 Selected Results: Law School Activities

LSSSE 2016 Selected Results

This spring more than 35,000 law students at 72 law schools in the United States and Canada were asked to participate in the LSSSE survey. All JD or LLB students who attended the law school for at least one semester were invited to complete the web-based survey instrument. The average law school response rate in 2016 was 53%.

Figures 1 and 2 provide a comparison of LSSSE 2016 U.S. law schools to all ABA-approved law schools (“National”) with regard to the size of the student body and affiliation. The 2016 LSSSE cohort resembles that of the ABA-approved law schools in terms of size and affiliation.

2016 size and aff

Law School Activities

The LSSSE survey focuses on activities in which students participate—both inside and outside the classroom—that influence their learning and personal and professional development.

Table 1 identifies the most and least frequent activities in which students participated. The “most frequent” activities are those in which more than half of respondents participated “often” or “very often.” The “least frequent” activities are those in which more than 25% of students responded “never,” meaning that at least a quarter of students never participated in that activity during this academic year.

Most freq act 3



Law Student Stress

The topic of law student stress has garnered increased attention in legal education. Given the prominence of this issue, LSSSE created a 9-question Law Student Stress Module that was appended to the core survey and administered to a subset of students at 13 law schools. The module gathered 3,716 responses that provide interesting insights into this under-researched but central aspect of the law student experience.

The first question in the module asked respondents:

During the current school year, how would you characterize your level of law school related stress or anxiety?

Respondents were given a 7-point scale to characterize the intensity of their stress or anxiety. The first point on the scale (1) signified no stress; the last point (7) signified “very high” stress. For purposes of the analyses below, we constructed the following three response groupings:

  • High stress/anxiety: 6 or 7
  • Medium stress/anxiety: 3 or 4 or 5
  • Low (or no) stress/anxiety: 1 or 2

Half of respondents reported high stress or anxiety during the school year, 46% reported medium levels, and 4% reported low levels (Figure 1). This means that virtually every respondent reported appreciable law school related stress or anxiety. These proportions are not surprising given the nature of legal education, and it is important to note that stress and anxiety are not always associated with negative outcomes.

Figure 1.

Overall Stress Figure 1

While nearly half of all law students indicated high levels of law school related stress, 3L students reported statistically significant lower levels of law school related stress than either 1Ls or 2Ls (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

High stress by class Figure 2

The Law Student Stress Module identified six elements of the law school experience that are believed to be common stressors for students. Using the same 7-point scale, respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which each element indeed caused them stress or anxiety.

The elements are listed below, in order of the proportion of respondents who indicated high levels of stress or anxiety relating to each (Figure 3):

Figure 3.

High Stress by Individual Element Figure 3

About three-quarters of respondents reported that concerns about academic performance and academic workload were sources of high stress and anxiety. More than half of respondents indicated that concerns about job prospects and finances (including student debt) were sources of high stress and anxiety.  About a third of respondents indicated that competition with their peers and concerns relating to the classroom environment (including the teaching methods) were sources of high stress.

Stress related to academic performance was more prevalent for 1L and 2L students than 3L students. A similar pattern was shown for stress related to academic workload, competition amongst peers, and classroom environment/teaching methods where 1Ls reported the most stress, followed by 2L and 3L students. Conversely, 3L students reported being more stressed about financial concerns/student debt and job prospects than either 1L or 2L students (Figure 4).

Figure 4.

high stress by element and class level Figure 4

Stress in law school impacts student performance. About half (46.9%) indicated that stress or anxiety impacted their law school performance with only 19.5% indicating either “not at all” or “very little.” Only 8.2% of the respondents indicated that their law school “very much” emphasized ways to effectively manage stress or anxiety with the vast majority (69.7%) indicating either “very little” or “some.”

First-year students reported that stress or anxiety impacted their law school performance at higher rates than 3L students.   However, 1L students also reported their law school emphasized ways to effectively manage stress greater than 2L or 3L students.

First Generation Law Students: Use of Time

First-generation students face a myriad of challenges in higher education. At the undergraduate level, they tend to apply to college with lower admissions indicators (e.g., grade point averages, standardized test scores) than other students, and once enrolled, they tend to persist and graduate at lower rates. The challenges faced by first-generation students have roots in academic, social, and financial realms.

The bulk of the research on first-generation students focuses on the undergraduate experience.  However, very little research has been conducted on first-generation students who go on to attend law school. Therefore, the data presented in this section explores largely unexamined questions.

LSSSE 2014 data show that on a number of dimensions, the amount of time that first generation law students spent with peers and faculty outside of class was significantly less than non-first generation law students.

Co-curricular activities are critical components of the academic experience. These activities often supplement class discussions and aid in the development of new skills. They can also make students more attractive to potential employers. First-generation students reported lower rates of participation in some of the most prominent co-curricular activities, such as law journal, moot court, and faculty research assistantships. Eligibility for these activities is often determined by law school grades.  Differences in time spent studying for class and working for pay could also contribute.

First-generation students reported spending about 8% more time studying for class and 25% more time working for pay, compared to other students. The disparities in time spent studying are greatest in the latter years of study. First-generation 3Ls reported spending 8.5% more time studying than other 3Ls.

Disparities in the amount of time spent working are most pronounced in the first year, when first-generation students report spending 40% more time. The actual hours spent do not seem particularly high for either group, but aggregated over the course of the school year, the additional time adds up considerably.