Where do students get advice?

LSSSE’s optional Student Services module asks students about whether and how often they access academic and career services. Students draw from various sources to get advice about law school, legal education, and their future careers. Here, we look at the most commonly selected meaningful sources of advice for students and examine how patterns of advice-seeking change as students progress through law school.

 

Advice about Academic Plans

Faculty or staff not formally assigned as an academic advisor are the most common meaningful source of advice about academic planning. Over 40% of LSSSE respondents rely on these personal relationships that they develop with the law school professionals around them. Formal academic advisors –those assigned and those available to any students – are the second and third most commonly used sources of advice and were selected by 26% and 23% of students, respectively. About 22% of students consider websites, catalogs, or other published sources to be meaningful sources of advice about academic plans, and roughly one in five consulted family members. Only 14% of respondents did not seek academic advice from anyone during the current school year.

Students appear to rely less on assigned academic advisors as they progress through law school. Roughly one-third of 1L students say their assigned academic advisor was a meaningful source of advice, but only 15% of 3L students feel the same way. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 3L students were slightly less likely to seek academic advice than 1L and 2L students.

Advice about Career Plans

The ranking of meaningful sources of advice about career planning is remarkably similar to the ranking for advice about academic planning. Students highly value their relationships with law school faculty and staff when it comes to seeking career advice, ranking faculty or staff not formally assigned as a career advisor highest (38%), followed by career advisors available to any student (35%) and then assigned career advisors (27%). Interestingly, students were equally likely to select family members and assigned career advisors as meaningful sources of career advice. Twelve percent of respondents did not seek any career advice during the current school year.

Students rely less on assigned career advisors as they progress through law school, which is similar to the pattern we saw for academic advising. However, the gradual decrease in reliance on formal career advising is somewhat mirrored by a gradual increase in reliance on advice from faculty or staff not formally assigned as career advisors. It would appear that as students refine their interests and form relationships with particular faculty or staff members, they start to rely more on personal relationships for career advising and less on relationships facilitated by the structure of law school.


Learning How to Think Like a Lawyer

A legal education strives to teach law students how to "think like a lawyer." Although students may not articulate their reasons for attending law school in exactly this way, the rigor of the law school curriculum certainly challenges students to develop mental flexibility and analytical critical thinking skills. LSSSE asks students to comment on the degree to which their coursework emphasizes the development of several mental activities, namely memorizing, analyzing, synthesizing, making judgments, and applying ideas to new situations.

For each skill, more than half of law students indicated that their school emphasized developing that skill "quite a bit" or "very much." Analyzing the basic elements of an idea, experience, or theory was a nearly universal skill with ninety percent of 2020 LSSSE respondents reporting high emphasis in their coursework. Nearly as many (85%) said their law school placed a high emphasis on applying theories or concepts to new situations. About 83% felt that their coursework emphasized synthesizing ideas into new interpretations, and about 74% said the same for making judgments about the value of information. Memorization was the least emphasized mental activity, but still, 61% reported that their coursework places a high emphasis on memorizing facts, ideas, or methods.

 

1L students were slightly more likely than 3L students to say that their coursework emphasized the development of any given mental activity. This may be because 1L students are still in the process of adjusting to the rigors of a legal education and thus are more likely to see their educational challenges as formidable. It may also reflect the slight gradual decline in satisfaction and enthusiasm that occurs as law students progress through their degree programs.

 

Interestingly, the ranking of the five mental activities has remained constant since at least 2005. The longitudinal LSSSE data show a slight increase in the proportion of students who report that their schools place a high emphasis on each mental activity from 2005 to 2015 and then a slight decrease or plateau for each activity from 2015 to 2020.

 

Clearly, law school remains a challenging endeavor in that it places a strong emphasis on developing higher order mental faculties including analyzing the basic elements of an idea, experience, or theory, applying theories or concepts to new situations, and synthesizing ideas into new interpretations. Only a tiny percentage of students report that their legal education has placed very little emphasis on any of these skills. This suggests that law school is delivering on the promise to teach students how to think like a lawyer.


Guest Post: Issue (Blind)Spotting: Using Data to Understand Candidate Motivations to Attend Law School

Guest Post: Issue (Blind)Spotting: Using Data to Understand Candidate Motivations to Attend Law School

Kristin Theis-Alvarez
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
Berkeley Law

Law school trains students to “issue-spot.” This means faculty test whether students can apply general knowledge to novel situations. The approach mimics the day-to-day practice of law: a client walks through the front door and you weave together their particular issue with your understanding of the applicable law in general. This isn’t unlike what admissions office representatives do when presenting to or advising prospective applicants. I’ve been in law school admissions since 2007, and have communicated with countless candidates, read thousands of applications, and partnered with a wide range of organizations that seek to increase access to legal education – so I have some sense of what applicants are asking. Against that backdrop (what admissions professionals believe is generally true about people interested in law school), our role is to offer advice based on specific candidate concerns. Where do we gain that broader understanding? LSSSE survey data is a good place to start if we want to move beyond anecdotal evidence. It can inform our understanding of candidate motivations for pursuing a law degree which then refines our outreach and recruitment messaging.

For example, through LSSSE data we learn that most students cite a desire to have a challenging and rewarding career as the most influential factor in their decision to enter law school. Over three-quarters of respondents indicated this was their primary motivation for seeking a law degree. So, it’s reasonable to suppose that when speaking to a room of prospective applicants, admissions professionals ought to emphasize career opportunities and employment outcomes. We might focus that message to highlight our school’s unique attributes (placing more emphasis on the percentage of our graduates working in public interest law or the number with federal clerkships, for example), but we’re always speaking to that core motivation.

Another significant motivator for law school attendance is the extent to which earning a law degree can lead not just to a rewarding career, but a lucrative one. LSSSE data tell us that many law students are pursuing the degree based on a desire to work toward greater financial stability. Taken together, the ability to get a job – and for that job to be one that provides financial stability – largely informs the decision to attend law school. This leads admissions professionals to frequently reference our school’s median starting salaries, and partially explains why we emphasize a ‘return on investment’ model to justify the cost of the degree.

LSSSE data also suggest that a desire to further one’s own personal academic development is a significant motivator for law school attendance. As a result, admissions professionals might emphasize our school’s leading programs, commitment to experiential education, research centers, and interdisciplinary education opportunities. We explain that law school is one of the few graduate programs where the strong possibility of professional and financial success intersects with that of individual growth. (More people might pursue a PhD in Classics if the academic job market looked different, and we might have fewer law students if instead of teaching through the casebook method we just handed everyone a list of rules to memorize.) We balance employment statistics with anecdotes about student skills being developed and deployed.

At the same time, less than half of LSSSE respondents report that an “inherent interest” in the curriculum or material they are learning is a source of motivation for them to work hard in law school. This may be why most law admissions professionals are not talking to eager undergraduate students about provisional remedies. It’s also why we generally explain a legal education as the opportunity to develop a diverse toolkit that can be used to solve complex problems, and not merely a content delivery method. Instead, more than half of respondents cite being competitive in the job market as a primary motivation to work hard in law school.

 

However, there are assumptions that admissions professionals might make when deploying student experience data in our work. Are we asking who we mean when we say “law students,” and who we imagine when we picture “prospective applicants”? More importantly, how do those assumptions lead to missed opportunities to reach candidates from backgrounds underrepresented in the applicant pool?

One way to illustrate this is to examine the differences between general LSSSE data about motivations for attending law school and what we know about the motivations for particular groups. Within the National Native American Bar Association (NNABA) Report The Pursuit of Inclusion: An In-Depth Exploration of the Experiences and Perspectives of Native American Attorneys in the Legal Profession,” there is a section on the pipeline to law school and the legal profession with a forward written by Stacy Leeds, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas. This section of the NNABA Report indicates that Native American attorneys were more motivated to enter law school in order to give back to their tribe or Nation, to fight for justice for Indians, and to fight for the betterment of Native peoples’ lives, and less motivated by personal or financial benefit. The data suggest that Native American attorneys’ motivation for attending law school is more connected to identity and heritage, and less tied to individual benefit. According to the NNABA Report, “The difference in why many Native Americans may go to law school is fundamental to understanding how to inspire and motivate more Native Americans to consider law school and the legal profession.” Therefore, not talking to Native American candidates about how to leverage a legal education to serve Native peoples is a missed opportunity to build or fortify interest in the degree.

LSSSE survey data can and should inform a law school admissions office’s outreach and recruitment efforts, but aggregate data can’t be the end of the inquiry. Even within LSSSE data lies the opportunity to further disaggregate, dig deeper, and challenge our assumptions. Admissions professional making use of quantitative data must intentionally work to avoid participation in, or replication of, what Professor Victoria Sutton termed the “paper genocide” of Native American students. And as the NNABA data demonstrates, it’s not safe to assume that what’s true for most is true, or even relevant, for all. Furthermore, the 2020 LSSSE Annual Report “Diversity & Exclusion” shows that the contours of these distinctions persist during (and may even be amplified by) the law school experience itself. Law admissions professionals should therefore question our assumptions about the audiences we speak to, and the students we speak about. Like good lawyers, we must hold general information in the back of our minds, but also listen carefully, research meticulously, and make adjustments. Spotting that issue will not only make admissions professionals more effective, it will ultimately contribute to a more diverse legal profession.

 

 


The LLM Experience

For the first time this year, we invited LLM (Master of Laws) students at American law schools to participate in LSSSE alongside their JD colleagues. To our knowledge, this is the first national empirical survey of LLM students. Here we present a few initial findings about this unique group of students.

Basic Demographics

International students make up 79% of LLM students at American law schools. Among students born in other countries, the most common nation of origin is China, which is the home of 22% of international LLM students. The next three most common home countries are Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Brazil, which each account for around six percent of the LLM international student population.

Because a JD degree or international equivalent is required for admittance to LLM programs, most LLM students are somewhat older than the typical law student. The majority (58%) of LLM students are between the ages of 26 and 40. Fifteen percent are over 40 and 28% are 25 or younger. LLM students are somewhat more likely to be women, which is in keeping with current trends toward slightly more female law students than male law students.

 

Satisfaction

In general, LLM students are satisfied with their law school experience. If given the chance to start over, most (78%) would choose to pursue a law degree and most (85%) would probably or definitely attend the same law school they are now attending. Nearly half (46%) rate their experiences as excellent, and another 38% rate their overall experience as good. Only 3% of LLM students describe having a poor experience. These data suggest that LLM students see their current degree program as a good investment. Future LSSSE reports will delve deeper into how LLM students engage with the law school experience and how satisfied they are with specific features of their programs.


Law Library Usage and Satisfaction

Learning to find, analyze, and use high-quality legal information is a core goal of a legal education. The main LSSSE survey gathers information about student satisfaction with library services while the optional Law Library module provides a wealth of details about how students interact with library resources as they develop information literacy skills. Here we will provide a small sample of survey results focusing on which library functions students use and how satisfied they are with core library teaching functions.

Teaching Functions

The first section of the library module asks students about three key library teaching functions:

  • Legal research classes/presentations/programs the Library staff has held
  • Interactions with librarians where legal research skills are addressed (at the reference desk, individual meetings, and virtual reference)
  • Research guides compiled by Library staff to assist students in legal research

Students are asked about their experiences with these three functions of their law libraries by selecting one of the following options:

  • Very unsatisfied
  • Unsatisfied
  • Satisfied
  • Very satisfied
  • Unsure whether my law library offers this service
  • Not used but aware of service

This format allows us to measure not only satisfaction with each service but also how many students use the service or are at least aware it exists.

Legal research presentations held by library staff are the most used resource, with only 23% of students saying they either had not used them or were unsure whether they were offered at their library.  Students are largely satisfied with these presentations, with about ten satisfied students for every dissatisfied one. Students are even more satisfied with interactions with librarians that addressed legal research skills: 75% of students had these interactions, and among those students, 94% were satisfied or very satisfied with the interaction. Of the students who had not had an interaction with a librarian that addressed research skills, most are at least aware that this service exists at their law school. Research guides were the least used library resource. A full third of students had not used research guides during the school year, with about ten percent of students unsure whether their library even offered this service. Again, however, students who had used research guides are overwhelmingly satisfied with them.

 

Usage Rates

Though many university libraries have reduced their physical presence in favor of more virtual offerings, law libraries remain a notable exception, likely due to the intense reading loads of their student patrons. A full 96% of LSSSE respondents have used their law library as a study space in the past year, and 94% have used their law library’s collaborative spaces. Nearly all law students (94%) used online resources, and another 88% used print resources. About three-quarters of students received reference assistance and used circulation services, and about half asked for interlibrary loan assistance. Thus, overall usage rates of law library resources are quite high.

 

Satisfaction

Among students who used each service, satisfaction is generally high. The services that involve personal interactions are most highly rated; around 95% of respondents who used interlibrary loan, circulation/reserve, and reference assistance were satisfied or very satisfied. Students were somewhat less satisfied with their law library’s physical spaces, with around 18% of students expressing dissatisfaction with the library’s collaborative spaces and around 12% of students expressing similar negative opinions about their library’s study spaces. Students are more likely to be satisfied with online resources (96%) than with print resources (87%).

LSSSE results strongly suggest that law libraries are crucial to the law school experience. Nearly all students had used their law library in the previous year, and law students were generally quite satisfied with the core services they found there. Most students were pleased by their interactions with library staff and resources, although some students desired changes to their library’s collaborative spaces and study spaces. This suggests that law schools could invest somewhat more in physical aspects of the law library, rather than online ones, to increase student satisfaction. It will be interesting to see whether students interact with their physical and virtual law libraries in different ways during this odd year of social distancing and remote learning. Stay tuned for LSSSE 2021 results.

 


Guest Post: Beyond Enrollment: Why Motivations Matter to the Study of Legal Education and the Legal Profession?


Stephen Daniels
Senior Research Professor
American Bar Foundation

 

 

Shih-Chun Chien
Research Social Scientist
American Bar Foundation

 

The upheaval caused by COVID-19 pandemic might change everything we know about legal education. Reports in the legal media have speculated on the impact of COVID-19 on law school applications, enrollments, budgets and, ultimately, even survival. Depending on the timing, that speculation can run from the negative to the somewhat hopefully positive.[1] Some of the uncertainty comes from the disruption in the normal application to enrollment process – like the cancellation of in-person LSAT testing. More broadly, it surely comes from the truly unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves.

The uncertainty provides an opportunity – in fact, it may require us – to think critically about the homogenized aggregate numbers of applicants and matriculants we often see along with the broad environmental factors said to drive them. With just a few notable exceptions, most recently the 2017 AALS/Gallup surveys,[2] one is tempted to agree with the statement made almost a lifetime ago, “Vague notions, old myths, and thought-shrugging generalities are all we have to describe the raw material from which our lawyers come.”[3]

We need to think systematically about the variety of individual motivations or reasons that may help us understand those prized numbers. This means going beyond the following common idea that appeared recently:

[W]e could also be looking forward to another onslaught of law school applicants thanks to the economic downturn that’s been caused by the pandemic, just like what happened with the recession. ‘In the short-term, going to professional school – be it business school, law school or something else – is a good idea because it’s a refuge from an inhospitable job market, and the job market will be better three years from now.’[4]

An “escapist” explanation like this one is an old one,[5] but its vintage does nothing for its veracity or usefulness.

Such explanations strip any real substance out of the idea of motivation, telling us little about the decision to attend law school and nothing meaningful about the choice of law as a career – and ultimately, this is the important issue. The same is true for explanations that look for environmental causes not escapist in character. A recent variant not tied to escapism is the so-called “Trump Bump.” Here it is the idea that opposition to President Trump – and the overall results of the 2016 election – drove more people to law school than would have been expected. In fact, there may not have been much to it. The bump may have been as much a matter of marginal increases and wishful thinking as anything meaningful. It too is a motivation without real substance if we’re talking about the choice of a life-time career as a professional.[6]

What should we make of a profession that, apparently, is made up of people choosing it for short-term reasons of escape or narrow, time-specific political reasons? Or maybe law school is something akin to Marine Corps training that fundamentally changes the varied lives of the recruits into a singular entity with a distinct mission.

Understanding the motivations that underlie aggregate figures is important for two central reasons in addition to any others. The most immediate and most obvious is enrollment. Law schools must have enough students and the accompanying tuition dollars to keep the doors open. All else of importance depends on this and at some points in time the need for students is more urgent. An article reporting on some of the 2017 Gallup/AALS findings opened by noting the sharp decline in after 2010 in the numbers of people interested in law school and saying that “legal education leaders were posing questions that simply could not be answered definitively: Why is this happening? When will it end? Can we do anything to stop it?  … What motivates undergraduates to attend law school or deters them from attending?”[7] Important as these questions are, they are just a beginning.

The more far-reaching reason goes to the role of law schools as the gatekeepers to the profession.[8] They are key in shaping what the profession will look like, what it will be, and even what it will do. Law schools do so through the curriculum, pedagogy and the socialization process – and they do it with the people who choose to attend. Paying attention to general factors in the environment without a good sense of the varying motivations involved in the decision to attend law school is insufficient for performing that role well. That is, unless one is prepared to think those variations – the why, the who, and the interaction of the two – are irrelevant. That the substance of the raw material – beyond LSAT scores and GPAs – is irrelevant so long as the supply chain keeps moving. Literatures in psychology and on organizations suggest that motivations can be important for understanding the outcomes of legal education, especially graduates’ career aspirations. That substance is not irrelevant if we care about the nature of the legal profession and the role it plays or should play in our society.

In short, motivation should not be simplified to provide just so explanations for law school application or enrollment trends. It is time to look more closely at the variations in and the complexities and dynamic components of motivation. This includes topics like shifts in motivations in response to changing environmental conditions or the possible links between particular variants of motivation and career aspirations or how such inclinations may be changed by the law school experience.

Some students may just want to join and prosper in the hierarchical legal profession, but others may want to use their legal training and position to change the world. But perhaps more importantly, many may think they want the latter but end up pursuing the former. Do motivations vary depending on one’s characteristics or background? In the deeper past this question may have been easier to address since law students were almost all white and male and from relatively affluent backgrounds, but no so today with a much more diverse student body. What difference, if any, do such changes make?

The earliest motivation studies go back to the 1960s and 1970s,[9] when the legal education landscape looked very different than today. There were fewer law schools but depending on the year chosen for comparison not necessarily fewer students than today and a decidedly non-diverse student body. This means many of their findings may not be all that relevant now, but some are (and that’s a topic for another post).

Perhaps most importantly, the early motivation studies set the stage for later ones even if they did not literally use the same survey questions. All studies, from two 1961 NORC surveys to the 2017 AALS/Gallup surveys,[10] share an interest in a small but varied set of themes surrounding: making money; prestige and professional advancement; serving the public good; the influence of others, especially family; the intellectual side of the profession; independence; and a catch-all category for those with no substantive motivation like waiting out the poor job prospects in sluggish economy. All find that individuals have a mixture of motivations – some more intrinsic, others more extrinsic – with different degrees of importance or intensity.[11] There are some basic consistencies – money and prestige are always important; yet, so are motivations that speak to the public good and to the kind of career wanted. The picture is a nuanced one.

The extant studies, old and more recent, share something else. In addition to asking about motivation they also asked students a host of demographic questions about the students themselves and their family backgrounds. They remind us that the pool of people considering a career in law has changed over time and suggest that motivations may vary among the different groups making up that pool and change over time.

One source – a data set rather than a published analysis – went farther in asking law students numerous questions about their legal education and the type of law they would like to practice along with the setting in which they would like to work. It allows us to look for connections among motivations, backgrounds, law school engagement, and most importantly what a student hopes to do. Motivations become intelligible and meaningful to the extent they are connected to what students – with different backgrounds – hope to do and how well their law schools meet their expectations.

That source is a group of questions included in the 2010 LSSSE survey of law school students. In addition to the broad set of questions asked in the annual LSSSE surveys the 2010 survey asked students at 22 law schools to rate the level of influence of seven possible reasons for choosing to attend law school (reasons readily recognizably in light of earlier studies). From those schools 4,626 responded. Among other things, the survey found that among first year students, the most influential factor in the decision to enter law school was the desire to have a challenging and rewarding career (figure 1). The survey also found a relationship between student motivation and academic engagement.

Figure 1: Percentage of 1Ls who rate each factor "highly influential" in their decision to attend law school (rated 6 or 7 on a seven-point scale)

 

The 2010 LSSSE is important for another reason. It provides a fascinating snapshot at a critical moment in the contemporary history of legal education: the peak of greatest enrollment, immediately after which came the “great enrollment decline.” The 3Ls in the survey would have made their choice before the Great Recession hit and the 1Ls would have made their choice at a time when the recession was well underway. How might motivations and other student characteristics have differed between these two cohorts – one choosing in better times and the other in worse times?

By 2015 the decline ended and enrollments leveled-off – but at numbers not seen since the 1970s. Students starting this fall will have made their choice as the COVID-19 pandemic – along with its collateral damage – was unfolding, and 2020-21 3Ls would have made their choice in 2018, amidst a robust economy. Are the motivations different? Are the students different?

More interestingly, what would we find if we asked the exact same questions in the spring 2021 LSSSE survey as asked in the spring 2010 LSSSE survey?[12] Are motivations different in this changed world compared to those found in the 2010 data? Are the students different?

While we are working now with the 2010 data to address some of the questions above, we are also working with the LSSSE administrators to include those questions in the upcoming 2021 LSSSE survey. This will allow us to address not only differences at two points in time but changes in motivations, students, and students’ views of their legal educations. Doing so will help provide a fuller understanding of what may underlie students’ reasons to choose law as a career and how well law schools meet those motivations.

__

 

[1] Staci Zaretsky, “Should Law Schools Be Expecting Another Onslaught of Applicants Thanks to the Pandemic?” Above the Law, April 24, 2020, https://abovethelaw.com/2020/04/should-law-schools-be-expecting-another-onslaught-of-applicants-thanks-to-the-pandemic/;  Karen Sloan, “Law School Applications are Down: Will COVID 19 Spur a Late Comeback?” Above the Law, June 3, 2020, https://www.law.com/2020/06/03/law-school-applications-are-down-will-covid-19-spur-a-late-comeback/ : Karen Sloan, “Law Schools See Late Application Boost After Spring COVID 19 Slowdown,” July 14, 2020, https://www.law.com/2020/07/14/law-schools-see-late-applicant-boost-after-spring-covid-19-slowdown/.

[2] See Association of American Law Schools and Gallup, Before the JD: Undergraduate Views on Law School (2018); American Association of Law Schools, LSAC and Gallup, Beyond the Bachelor’s: Undergraduate Perspectives on Graduate and Professional Degrees (2018); Jeff Allum and Katie Kempner, “Inside the Minds of Future Law School Grads: Some Findings from Before the JD,” 87 The Bar Examiner (Winter 2018-1019), https://thebarexaminer.org/article/winter-2018-2019/inside-the-minds-of-future-law-school-grads-some-findings-from-before-the-jd/.

[3] Louis Toepfer, “Introduction,” in Seymour Warkov and Joseph Zelan, Lawyers in the Making (1965); at xv.

[4] Zaretsky, supra note 1, quoting Bernie Burke; see also Sarah Zaretsky, “Law School Applications on the Rise Thanks to Bad Job Market: Law Schools Will Happily Take Applicants’ COVID cash,” Above the Law, July 14, 2020, https://abovethelaw.com/2020/07/law-school-applications-on-the-rise-thanks-to-bad-job-market/.

[5] On escapism, see Barry Boyer and Roger Cramton, “American Legal Education: An Agenda for Research and Reform,” 59 Cornell Law Review 221, 253 (1974); Robert Stevens, “Law Schools and Law Student,” 59 Virginia Law Review 551, 616 (1973).

[6] Stephanie Francis Ward, “The ‘Trump Bump’ for Law School Applicants is Real and Significant, Study Says,” ABA Journal, February 22, 2018, https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/the_trump_bump_for_law_school_applicants_is_real_and_significant_survey_say; Karen Sloan, “Forget the ‘Trump Bump:’ First-Year Law School Enrollment Dipped in 2019,” December 12, 2019, Law.Com, https://www.law.com/2019/12/12/forget-the-trump-bump-law-school-enrollment-dipped-a-bit-in-2019/.

[7] Allum and Kempner, supra note 2.

[8] See Boyer and Cramton, supra note 5, at 224.

[9] See Warkov and Zelan, supra note 3; Leonard Baird, et al., The Graduates: A Report on the Characteristics and Plans of College Seniors (1973); Stevens, supra note 5.

[10] See Warkov and Zelan, id; AALS/Gallup, Before the JD, supra note 2.

[11] Intrinsic motivation refers to the desire to expend effort based on interest in and enjoyment of the task or effort itself – like a motivation driven by the intellectual side of things.  In contrast, extrinsic motivation refers to the desire to conduct certain activities to obtain outcomes external to the task or effort itself, such as rewards or recognition – like money or prestige.

[12] See Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro, The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans’ Policy Preferences (1992), 39: “question wording matters … The only safe way to identify opinion change, then, is compare answers to identical survey questions.” (emphasis in the original)


Time Spent Caring for Others, Part 2

In our last post, we examined the differences in time spent caring for dependents among law students by age, gender, and enrollment status (part-time or full-time). In this post, we look at the stress and satisfaction levels of students with different levels of caretaking duties. Most law students report moderate to high levels of law school related stress and anxiety (3 or higher on a 7-point scale). Interestingly, there are virtually no differences in law school related stress levels among students based on the amount of time they spend caring for dependents. Students at all levels of caretaking responsibility are all equally stressed during law school, with around 50% having high levels and around 45% having moderate levels.

 


Law students with no, low, or high levels of time spent caring for dependents also report similar levels of satisfaction with the law school experience, with slightly more than a third saying their experience has been “excellent” and slightly less than half rating their experience as “good.”

However, students with varying levels of caretaking responsibilities do diverge in how they allocate their time among law school activities, work, and leisure. Nearly half (49%) of students with caretaking duties spend more than five hours per week commuting to class while only 37% of students without caretaking duties report the same. Students without dependents tend to spend more time on leisure activities such as socializing and exercising whereas students with dependents are more likely to work for pay and have longer commutes to class. This suggests that caretaking students meet the needs of their dependents at the expense of time that might otherwise be spent on self-care activities. This trade-off is similar to the findings of the LSSSE 2019 Annual Results, which show that women are performing well in law school but with higher costs to their physical and mental health relative to their male classmates. Non-caretakers are slightly more likely to spend at least five hours per week participating in law school activities while caretakers are somewhat more likely to engage in legal pro bono work not required for class and to participate in community activities. So when caretaking students have the ability to engage in extracurricular activities, they are likely to choose different activities than their non-caretaking classmates.

Clearly, the way students spend their time varies depending on whether they spend time caring for others during the week, even though both groups are remarkably similar in stress levels and overall satisfaction. This implies that students who differ in caretaking duties may adapt by taking advantage of different resources and strategies in order to make the most of their law school experience. Students who have greater caretaking duties are also more invested in other non-campus-related activities—including work, community organizations, and pro bono services. Though they spend less time socializing, they remain almost equally invested in participating in law school activities overall.


Time Spent Caring for Others, Part 1

Law students with support networks are more likely to be successful in their studies, but students who are interdependent with others may also bear substantial caretaking duties. In the analysis of how students use their time, LSSSE asks about how many hours per week respondents provide care for dependents living in their household (parents, children, spouse, etc.). We decided to dig into the data to see which students are most likely to spend time caring for others and how caretaking duties interact with measures of student stress and satisfaction.

 

Demographics of Caretaking

Among law students, men and women are equally likely to report spending some amount of time each week caring for dependents who live with them. Thirty-five percent of men and 36% of women spend at least one hour per week taking care of dependents. Students of other gender identities spend somewhat more time on caretaking duties, with almost half (47%) spending at least an hour per week.

 

 

As law students get older, they tend to spend more time on caretaking tasks. About 77% of students 25 or younger spend no time at all caring for dependents during the week, but only 26% of students over 40 can report the same. In fact, about half of students over 40 spend eleven or more hours per week taking care of dependents. About 40% of students in their thirties have similarly intense caretaking roles, but that figure drops dramatically for students under 30.

 

 

Part-time students are more likely than full-time students to spend some time each week caring for dependents. Fifty-six percent of part-time students report caring for dependents compared to 32% of full-time students. One-third of part-timers spend eleven or more hours per week caring for dependents while just 13% of full-timers report the same.

 

Overall, the LSSSE data show that there are variations in the time students spend caring for children, parents, and others. Older students and part-time students are more likely to spend time caring for dependents, relative to their younger and full-time counterparts. Interestingly, men and women are about equally likely to engage in caretaking duties. Next week, we will explore how caretaking responsibilities interact with law students’ stress levels and their overall satisfaction with the law school experience.


Guest Post: Some Tips for Improving Student-Faculty Relationships in Law School

Guest Post: Some Tips for Improving Student-Faculty Relationships in Law School

 

 

Susan Wawrose
Professor Emerita
University of Dayton School of Law

 

Law student distress remains an ongoing challenge for law schools. Always an important concern, student well-being deserves even greater attention now during this time of pandemic. Many law faculty saw this up close last March when they transitioned their classes on-line in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Through the relentless lens of Zoom, it was hard not to notice that some students were struggling to cope.  This may have been because of the abrupt change in environment or a loss of support systems as students were forced to leave campus, or it may have been simply a result of the general uncertainty that affected us all.

In any case, with the virus still rampant, as students return to classes this fall they are entering a brand new landscape. Many can expect some combination of socially distanced in-person learning and on-line classes and all will be asked to adopt new models and protocols for interacting with peers, faculty, and administration.  Communication and connection with faculty members will be essential to students as they navigate this new reality. Strong faculty-student relationships have always been important in law school since healthy, appropriate relationships, including those with faculty mentors, both reduce distress and foster student achievement. Now, as the pandemic creates pervasive uncertainty, with its accompanying strains, positive faculty-student interactions can be supportive for all students and especially helpful for those who are feeling untethered, disconnected, or unsure.

Data from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (“LSSSE”) indicate there is room for improvement in the quality of law student-faculty relationships. A comparison of LSSSE data from 2015-2019 shows that just over 50% of students ranked the quality of their relationships with faculty as especially positive. Students rate the quality of their relationships with faculty from 1 to 7 on a 7-point scale, where a higher rating is more positive, i.e., seven is “available, helpful, sympathetic” whereas 1 is “unavailable, unhelpful, unsympathetic.” Ratings of 6 and 7 are combined to create the “Top 2,” an aggregate of the most positive responses. From 2015-2018, the percentage of students reporting the quality of their relationships fell within the Top Two ranged only from 52% to 58%.

How law students have viewed their relationships with faculty members

With this in mind and with a new semester starting, there are some simple steps faculty can take to improve their relationships with students (both in-person and online) and to begin to develop strong, supportive connections.  A full article on this topic is available here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3088008

1. Take the time to develop rapport

Building rapport is a relatively simple way to connect with students that faculty can practice nearly every day. The value of building rapport is that it promotes trust and conveys acceptance, thus increasing the likelihood that a student will feel supported and connected.

The process of building rapport includes listening closely, being approachable, and encouraging open communication, so that students will feel able to speak freely and welcome to reach out again. Simple aspects of non-verbal communication such as making eye contact, smiling, and gesturing appropriately and naturally, can all be used to set a positive tone and to signal engagement and interest.  It can be helpful to take a breath to center yourself when you begin talking with a student and to remind yourself to look up from your laptop, put down whatever you are working on, and attend to the person in front of you. In addition, building rapport includes appreciating individuality and difference in students, even if their appearance, communication strategies, or other personal qualities do not mesh with your expectations of how a law student should act or appear.  Letting go of judgment is not always easy for lawyers, but this act of compassion in personal interactions can support students by creating a more open platform for communication.

2. Practice active listening

Engaged and active listening promotes connection because it communicates respect and caring. Just as with building rapport, it can take a shift of mindset to slow down and set the intention to listen deeply and respond with intention when students speak. But, this shift is valuable because active listening allows students to feel heard and understood.

Active listening involves listening with full attention to both the spoken content as well as the “hidden” messages behind statements. Attention to both verbal and nonverbal messages is important. Verbal and nonverbal communication can also be used to convey that the speaker is being both heard and understood. Non-verbal communication on the part of the listener can include making appropriate eye contact (versus checking your phone or rifling through papers on your desk) or using simple assurances like nodding or use of short words or phrases like “Uh-huh,” “Yes,” and “I see” to confirm understanding and encourage the speaker to continue. Moreover, allowing for some silence while listening can give the speaker time to process and reflect when communication does not flow easily.

Listening well to students is particularly important because, in addition to helping to build relationships, it provides faculty the opportunity to observe and notice when a student seems unusually troubled or unsettled. Thus, faculty who engage meaningfully with students may be the first observers of distress and may find themselves able to provide needed support or direct students to campus support networks.

3. Engage students with empathy

Empathy is an important lawyering skill often taught in clinical and dispute resolution courses. When students discuss their struggles, faculty can opt for an empathetic response to convey a sense of caring and interest in the student experience. Engaging students with empathy builds trust and understanding and supports students by communicating that their ideas and thoughts matter. Students feel heard, rapport is strengthened, and communicating may become easier. A faculty member’s empathetic response to student concerns can promote feelings of well-being and connection. In addition, and importantly, when faculty are empathetic in their communication with students, they model a way of being in a professional setting that students can draw on later in their careers as they seek to develop relationships with both clients and colleagues. That is, through observation, students learn an important professional skill.

By practicing these simple relational skills faculty provide additional support for students and may possibly reduce some of the unproductive and damaging distress students feel. Nudging the percentage of students who report extremely positive relationships with faculty even just a few percentage points higher would be a benefit for all.