Better than BIPOC

Meera E Deo, JD, PhD
The Honorable Vaino Spencer Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School
Director, Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE)



We should be precise with our language, especially when talking about race. In “Better than BIPOC,” I argue that BIPOC is a flawed term for empirical scholars to use, one that prioritizes historical oppression over ongoing realities and relies on virtue signaling rather than working toward meaningful change. In my previous essay “Why BIPOC Fails,” I explain how BIPOC can be misleading, confusing, and contribute to the invisibility of the very groups that should be centered in particular contexts. Thus, without the deep investment of community engagement and review, new labels—like BIPOC—run the risk of causing more harm than good. Instead, we should continue to use the term “people of color” when referencing this group in comparison to whites, while “women of color” is useful when considering raceXgender intersectionality. Banding together for mutual support and action has been critical for people from marginalized identities as they have worked toward lasting social change. Additionally, it is often important to disaggregate data to report on individual groups that could otherwise get lost under these larger umbrella terms.

The experiences of various communities in law school help illustrate the point that academics, advocates, and allies should use be careful in their language usage—especially when dealing with data. Grouping populations together is often instructive. It can also be necessary to disaggregate the data to deal with separate communities individually. Law student debt and experiences with issues of diversity are particularly instructive in explaining both paths.

First, LSSSE data reveal that students of color carry more educational debt than white students. Here, it is appropriate and useful to group students of color together as a whole in comparing them with white students in terms of their overall debt loads. However, we can dig deeper to consider the intersectional experience of gender combined with race. If we ignore gender in this context, we run the risk of masking the distinct experiences of women of color compared with men of color as well as other groups. And there are differences. As I write in the article, “[H]igher percentages of Women of Color (23%) graduate with over $160,000 in law school debt, as compared with Men of Color (18%), white women (15%), and white men (12%).” While examining debt by raceXgender is thus more useful than considering race alone, being even more precise with the data and our language provides an opportunity to reveal more nuanced realities for communities within the women of color umbrella. As we share in our 2019 LSSSE Annual Report, The Cost of Women’s Success, the raceXgender groups most likely to carry the highest debt loads of over $200,000 are Latinas (16%) and Black women (14%), compared to lower percentages of Asian American women (7.7%), Black men (7.3%), Latino men (12%), and white men (4.3%). Thus, while it is correct to talk about the people of color and women of color carrying more debt than whites and those who are not women of color, it is more complete and sophisticated to explain how particular raceXgender groups—Black women and Latinas—have the highest debt loads of all. Precise racial language is instructive, particularly if we seek to craft solutions to ameliorate these challenges that are directly responsive to the needs of the populations affected.

Student experiences with diversity provide another example of the benefits of careful language usage. Compared to their white peers, students of color have distinct opinions and experiences in law school when considering issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, although almost one-third (31%) of white law students “strongly agree” that they see themselves as part of the law school community, students of color are less likely to agree. As with debt levels, there are again additional distinctions based on raceXgender. In Better than BIPOC, I draw on data from the LSSSE 2020 Annual Report, Diversity & Exclusion, noting, “Fewer than one-quarter (23%) of women of color ‘strongly agree’ that they are part of the institutional community, compared to almost one-third (31%) of men of color.” Thus, distinctions based on race alone are not as precise as those disaggregating racial data by gender. In certain contexts, we also can—and should—go further still. By looking within the category of people of color, we can determine important differences between groups that administrators, faculty, and staff should consider in order to tailor solutions to the students who most need them. For instance, when we consider student belonging, “only 21% of Native American and Black law students see themselves as part of their law school community—compared to 31% of their white classmates, 25% of multiracial students, 26% of Asian Americans, and 28% of Latinx students.” Considering the student of color narrative as one group would tell an incomplete story as Black and Native law students are even more alienated nationally than even other students of color. Addressing their concerns will require us first to understand them, then to act.

Better than BIPOC also draws from the data behind my book project, Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia, to share examples from the law faculty context. I use findings on student evaluations and the challenges different populations face while navigating work/life balance to suggest when we should compare faculty of color as a whole to their white colleagues, when to disaggregate by race as well as gender to examine the experience of women of color faculty, and when to look more carefully within racial and gender-based categories to reveal important distinctions that could otherwise be hidden. Beyond the context of legal education, we can apply this thesis to frameworks as diverse as political engagement, workplace harassment, elementary school integration, diversity in corporate boards, and more. Different situations will naturally call for specific groups to be named and studied directly; that context, regardless of the terms currently en vogue, should drive the data used and arguments made in any endeavor. Working collectively serves a purpose, as does disaggregating the data. Through both efforts, we can understand the unique challenges facing different groups and work collectively to address them.



Part 2: Part-Time Students & the Law School Experience

Part-time law students tend to be particularly happy law students. Four out of five part-time students (81%) rate their overall law school experience as good or excellent compared to 77% of full-time students. In fact, 37% of part-time students give their school an excellent rating compared to just 29% of full-time students. Most part-time students (83%) would choose to attend law school again if they could start over, and a similarly high proportion (86%) would choose the same school they are currently attending.

Part-time students feel a level of support from their law schools that is generally on par with – or higher than – the level of support experienced by their full-time colleagues. Two-thirds of part-time students feel that their school is providing the support they need to succeed academically.  Around half feel that their law school is providing the support they will need to succeed to succeed in finding employment. Only a quarter of part-time students feel that their school provides the support they need to thrive socially, although this is nearly identical to the 26% of full-time students who feel similarly. Part-time students may require somewhat different considerations than their full-time peers, but they generally feel that their law schools provide adequate assistance to allow them to be successful.


Part-time students feel a strong connection to their law schools. They are fairly satisfied with the resources their law schools provide, and they are quite satisfied with their overall experiences as law students. Although their experiences as law students may be slightly untraditional, they are still highly engaged and active participants in their programs of legal study.

Guest Post: Introducing the Antiracist Development Institute


Danielle Conway
Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law
Penn State Dickinson Law



In 2020, the cascade of murders of Black and Brown individuals and the Black Lives Matter protests demonstrated the prevalence of systemic, structural, and institutional racism. Structural racism permeates our democratic institutions, including legal education and the legal profession. For example, LSSSE data from that same year reveal that “[a]lmost a quarter (23%) of Black law students nationwide say their schools do ‘very little’ to create a supportive environment for race/ ethnicity, compared to just 6.8% of White students.”

Similarly, the LSSSE 2020 Annual Report Diversity & Exclusion revealed that students of color need greater institutional support to avoid being stigmatized on campus, as “14% of Native Americans, 18% of Latinx students, and a full quarter (25%) of Black students believe their schools do ‘very little’ to emphasize that students are not stigmatized based on identity.”

Penn State Dickinson Law has created the Antiracist Development Institute (ADI) to work in coalition with organizations and institutions to help facilitate dismantling structures that scaffold systemic racial inequality using a systems design approach.  Systems design, leveraging design thinking approaches, is a vehicle to iteratively identify users and their needs to prototype and test solutions to seemingly intractable problems such as systemic racial inequality and systemic oppression.  Legal education and the legal profession are starting points because of their special duty to deliver on equal justice.  The ADI has identified institutional antiracism as a significant component of a multilayered strategy in the pursuit of systemic equity.

This interdisciplinary approach to legal education provides law students and lawyers the critical thinking skills that accompany introspection about the role of legal education and the legal profession in creating, interpreting, and counseling of laws that have scaffolded structural racism in American society in contravention of the fundamental value of equality vis-à-vis equal liberty, equal justice, equal citizenship, equal rights, and equal protection of the laws.

The ADI builds on the concepts and information presented throughout the “Building an Antiracist Law School, Legal Academy, and Legal Profession” book series to provide law schools and other institutions with a blueprint that will be workshopped through the stages of systems design.

“Building an Antiracist Law School, Legal Academy, and Legal Profession” is distinct in its use of a systems design approach combined with antiracist principles to transform law schools from edifices of systemic inequity into sustainable democratic institutions whose platform is built upon principles of systemic equity. It is unique for its admixture of systems design, organizational theory and practice, and antiracist theory and practice. The book series is the precursor from which the Antiracist Development Institute will use series content to develop course and workshop materials.

Over 155 colleagues from the legal academy, legal profession, and adjacent organizations are contributing to the book series as chapter contributors, editors, content reviewers, and workshop facilitators, representing 62 institutions across the country.

To get involved in this project, please complete this involvement survey.



Part 1: Part-Time Students & the Law School Experience

Around 12% of law students attend part-time. This subpopulation of law students has a unique experience that differs from that of their full-time colleagues. In part one of this two-part series, we will explore the characteristics of part-time law students and describe some of the ways that they engage with the law school community and environment. In part two, we will look at how satisfied part-time students are with their law schools and the extent to which they feel supported in their success as students and as future legal professionals.

Part-time students tend to be somewhat older than their full-time classmates. Sixty percent of part-time students are over thirty years old compared to 14% of full-time students. In fact, one quarter (25%) of part-time students are over 40 compared to just 3% of full-time students. However, the proportions of men, women, and people of another gender identity are about equal between the two groups. Part-time students are more likely to be first generation (defined as a person whose parents did not graduate college) with over a third of part-timers (36%) falling into this category compared to only a quarter (25%) of full-timers. Part-time students are also more likely to be Black or Latinx.




Part-time students are more likely than full-time students to expect to have no law school debt upon graduation, possibly because some part-time students are attending law school with the financial support of their employers. However, part-time students are also slightly more likely than full-time students to expect to owe more than $200,000, which is the highest debt category that LSSSE records. Seven percent of part-time students expect to owe this much compared to five percent of full-time students.

In terms of engagement with their coursework, more full-time students than part-time students frequently work with classmates outside of class to prepare class assignments. However, more part-time students frequently work with other students on projects during class time. Part-time students are somewhat less likely to engage in enriching experiences than their full-time counterparts, perhaps because they are more likely to have more intense work and family responsibilities. Still, about two-thirds (65%) of part-time students have completed or plan to participate in field placements and about two-thirds (67%) of part-time students have completed or plan to participate in public service. Additionally, over half (53%) of part-time students will join a law student organization before graduation. Part-time students are less likely than full-time students to partake in these opportunities, but their participation rates are still reasonably high given the other demands on their time.

Part-time students find ways to make the law school experience their own. This group of students tends to be older and slightly more ethnically diverse, and they are somewhat less likely to add enriching law school experiences to their schedules. In our next post, we will examine part-time students’ feeling toward their law schools and the support they receive from faculty and administrators.

Guest Post: From Candidate to Law Student: Collaboration and Collective Efforts to Support LGBTQ+ Inclusion

Guest Post: From Candidate to Law Student: Collaboration and Collective Efforts to Support LGBTQ+ Inclusion


Elizabeth Bodamer, J.D., Ph.D. (she/her/ella)
Director of Research
Law School Admission Council, Inc. (LSAC)




Judi O'Kelley, J.D. (she/her/hers)
Chief Program Officer
National LGBTQ+ Bar Association (LGBTQ+ Bar)


The 2022 matriculant class in law school today is the most diverse class in the history of legal education. We have made progress, but there is more work to be done.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are needed not just at the admission stage, but throughout the prelaw-to-practice pathway. Law schools play a crucial role in creating an effective and supportive learning environment is important for everyone, particularly for LGBTQ+ students. LSSSE data shared in a blog post last year reveal that gender diverse and LGBQ law students were more likely than cisgender and straight students to report not feeling comfortable being themselves at their law schools.

Figure 1: Students Reporting Not Feeling Comfortable Being Themselves

Source: Data from the 2020 Law School Survey of Student Engagement Diversity and Inclusiveness Module. Data collected from over 5,000 law students across 25 law schools. LGBQ students represented about 14% of the sample and gender diverse students represented 1% of the sample.

It is within this context that LSAC and the LGBTQ+ Bar have worked to provide candidates, students, and law schools with data  about the experience of LGBTQ+ students in addition to information about the availability of LGBTQ+ inclusive policies, practices, supports and resources.

Surveys administered by LSAC and by the LGBTQ+ Bar have found that schools are making progress in supporting LGBTQ+ applicants, students, faculty and staff. For example, the LGBTQ+ Bar found that that 99 participating schools (96.1% of survey participants) self-report that they allow transgender and nonbinary students who have not legally changed their names to have their name-in-use reflected on applications and forms. This is a positive change from a number of years ago. The next stage of inquiry is whether schools are implementing these policies and practices in a way that improves the student experience. LSAC found that of the 110 schools who responded to their question about chosen name usage:

  • 67% reported that students’ chosen names automatically appear on their orientation name tags and/or materials.
  • 49% reported that students’ chosen names automatically appear on faculty class rosters, 41% reported that this action requires students to submit a request, and 5% reported that students’ chosen names cannot appear on faculty class rosters.
  • Only a very small proportion of schools indicated that students’ chosen names automatically appear on their transcripts (15%) and diplomas (14%).
  • Almost 40% of schools reported that students’ chosen names cannot appear on transcripts that can be sent to employers.
  • Almost one-third of the schools reported that students’ chosen names cannot appear on their diploma.

Woven together, the work done by the LGBTQ+ Bar and LSAC reveal that while progress has been made in creating a more inclusive experience for LGBTQ+ students, there are areas for growth.

Supporting the LGBTQ+ community in legal education takes a collective effort. Today, we know that according to LSAC data, about 0.6% of the 2022 matriculant class self-identified as transgender, gender nonbinary, or genderqueer/gender fluid, and about 14% of the 2022 matriculants identified as LGBQ+ (i.e., not straight/heterosexual). We expect these numbers to continue to grow given the latest 2022 Gallup report that about 1 in 5 Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ+. To support this new class and all future law students, LSAC and the LGBTQ+ Bar are collaborating to administer a joint 2023 LGBTQ+ survey to law schools. The goal is to combine our efforts to build on our robust resources and insights for applicants, current law students, and schools. In order to have impact, we must work together.

Law Students Working Harder Than They Thought Possible

Faculty hold law students to high standards. In 2022, 60% of law students frequently worked harder than they thought possible to meet faculty members’ standards or expectations. This number has generally trended upward over the last twenty years, although the lowest recorded percentage of students frequently working harder than they thought possible was still a respectable slight majority (51%) in 2006. In 2022, only 8% of students never worked harder than they thought possible.



Somewhat unsurprisingly, students who are new to law school are more likely to push themselves to their limits than students who are accustomed to law school life. Two-thirds (66%) of 1L students frequently work harder than they thought possible compared to 54% of 3Ls and 49% of 4Ls. Perhaps new law students are particularly eager to prove themselves to their professors and peers or perhaps more senior students are accustomed to the way that the law school curriculum draws out their best performance and thus already know exactly how hard they can work.


Interestingly, students who generally achieve C grades in law school are more likely to frequently work harder than they thought possible compared to students who achieve mostly A’s and B’s. This may indicate that degree of effort is not always accurately reflected by scores on papers and exams for some students.


Finally, there are gender differences in the percentage of students who surprise themselves with the intensity of their efforts. Sixty-three percent of women frequently work harder than they thought possible to meet faculty standards or expectations compared to 56% of men. People with another gender identity fall in between at 60%. Ten percent of men and people with another gender identity never work harder than they thought possible compared to only 7% of women.

The data are clear that attending law school is a challenging and demanding endeavor. Most students rise to the occasion by pushing themselves to do their best work in order to meet faculty members’ standards or expectations. Hopefully these efforts are counterbalanced by supportive law schools who also foster good self-care and community care practices for budding legal professionals.

Success with Online Education: Classroom Environment

Our last post shared some general findings about online learning from our 2022 Annual Results, Success with Online Education (pdf). In this post, we will share evidence that online classrooms appear to encourage a more diverse cross-section of students to participate in class discussions. We will also share reassuring signs that online law students are learning as much as their in-person counterparts.

Online discussions feature diverse voices

Online classes excel at inviting participation from a broader range of students than in-person classes. Men are equally likely to participate in class discussion and ask questions “often” or “very often” whether participating in person (60%) or online (61%). However, women taking mostly online courses are more likely to engage in class “often” or “very often” (58%) compared to women taking mostly in-person courses (53%). In fact, online courses appear to encourage all students to engage more intensely with class discussion. One quarter of students (25%) who take primarily in-person classes participate “very often” compared to 31% of students taking mostly online classes. There is a marked gender difference, with 23% of women participating “very often” in person but a full 30% participating “very often” online, and only 21% of those with another gender identity participating “very often” in person while 32% do so online. The online environment–perhaps because of the mechanisms for turn-taking or because it is more comfortable for students to volunteer– invites more voices to engage in the conversation.

Online students are learning as much as in-person students

Regardless of how they attend classes, most students are confident that they are developing crucial legal skills. Nearly 90% of online and in-person students are learning to think critically and analytically. More than four out of five online and in-person students say they are acquiring a broad legal education (82% and 84%, respectively) and developing legal research skills (81% and 82%, respectively). Interestingly, online students are more likely to be developing the ability to speak clearly and effectively, perhaps because online courses invite more participation from a diverse range of students. Thus, law school classes do not lose their intellectual rigor when they are offered in an online format.

Online law school classes can be highly successful and well-received by students. Many students who take most of their classes online are as satisfied—and sometimes more satisfied—than their peers who attend classes  primarily in person. Furthermore, law students who attend classes via either modality are equally likely to feel confident that they are learning important skills that will help them succeed as legal professionals. Although the law school experience is unlikely to be primarily online again, the accelerated transition to offering online courses that occurred due to COVID-19 shows that the online law school experience can be as successful,  enriching, and satisfying as the traditional law school curriculum.

Success with Online Education: Relationships

The latest LSSSE Annual Results, Success with Online Education (pdf), focuses on the largely positive online learning experiment that law schools embarked upon due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This week and next week we will share selected snippets from the results. In this post we will describe how the switch to online learning impacted relationships among law students, law faculty, and administrators.

LSSSE data confirm other research showing how law school faculty have invested an enormous amount of energy and effort to connect with students, regardless of instructional modality. A full 72% of students taking mostly in-person classes have strong relationships with faculty (5 or higher on a 7-point scale), and 71% of mostly online students feel the same way. Students remain highly engaged with faculty in an online environment.

Online students and in-person students are equally likely to have positive relationships with administrative staff. A little over half (57%) of each group rate their relationships with their law school’s administrators a 5 or higher on a 7-point scale. Career services-oriented staff could consider using these relationships to bring more targeted career guidance to online students to narrow the gap in career preparedness between online students and in-person students. However, the relatively low percentage of both in-person and online students who have strong relationships with staff is a point of concern that should be addressed to better support law student development.


Despite similarly positive relationships with professors, students in mostly online classes are less likely than others to have strong relationships with each other. Only 68% of online students rate their relationships with their classmates positively, compared to nearly three-quarters (74%) of in-person students. There is again a disparity across class years, with 1Ls having similarly positive peer relationships regardless of mode of attendance and online 3Ls being much less likely to enjoy strong relationships with their peers than 3Ls attending in person. There may be a loss of social connections among online students because of a lack of the sort of incidental contact that builds relationships over time.


Next week we will discuss the learning experience in the virtual classroom. For the complete story, you can view the entire report on our website.

Guest Post: The Importance of Supporting First-Generation Law Students

Melissa A. Hale

Director of Learning for Legal Education

Law School Admission Council



Today is First-Generation Student Day[1]! So, to celebrate, I want to talk about why we should support first-generation law students, and how we can do that.

Who are first-gen students?  Although definitions vary and self-identification is important, a first-generation student is typically one whose parents or legal guardians have not completed bachelor’s degrees [2]. First-generation students are an important part of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  However these students are often overlooked when discussing DEI goals. In fact, when I started law school[3], I’m not even sure the term “first-generation student” was being used, or if it was in some circles, students certainly weren’t recognizing the term or identifying as “first-gen” the way they are now.

It’s certainly progress that we, as educators and researchers, are recognizing this group of students, but that’s not enough. We need to do more. Especially because there is significant intersectionality between first-generation students and historically underrepresented BIPOC students, including students of color and students from a lower socioeconomic status. According to the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), 29% of law students are first-generation. Students of color are more likely than their white classmates to be first-generation. More than half of all Latinx students, 45% of Native American students, and 40% of Black or African American students are first-generation.

What Makes First-Generation Students Different?

So why does this matter and why is this group different? Well, first-generation law students often come to law school with fewer resources than their peers, including a lack of social capital. Most importantly, they also come to law school bearing an “achievement gap.”  The “achievement gap” refers to the disparity in academic performance – grades, standardized-test scores, dropout rates, college-completion rates, even course selection and long-term success– between groups of students. In this instance, we are referring to the gap between students who have had parents complete some form of higher education (“continuing-generation students”) and those that have not. The Close the Gap Foundation refers to this as “the opportunity gap” instead of the achievement gap, and specifically states that it is “the way that uncontrollable life factors like race, language, economic, and family situations can contribute to lower rates of success in educational achievement, career prospects, and other life aspirations.”[4]

This gap becomes obvious when you look at the data. In the 2021 LSSSE survey, 31% of continuing generation students earned a A- or higher.  For first-generation students that number was only 24%. While this might not seem like a staggering gap, without networking and family connections, first-generation students have to rely more heavily on grades for job prospects, so that gap can make a significant difference to their future.[5]


 As for social capital, in all professions and cultures there are unwritten rules and norms, generally learned from observing others or knowing people in the culture or profession. Essentially these are not rules you learn about in any explicit way. There is no way for students to study up on these rules, no matter how diligent or well-prepared they are, because they are acquired only through experience.  While incoming law students start to pick up on some of these rules during their undergraduate programs, there are still huge gaps where law school and the legal profession are concerned.

Finally, it is far more likely that first-generation students will be providing care for a dependent, either a parent or a child. In fact, 11.3% of first-generation students care for a dependent more than 35 hours per week, as compared to only 5.2% of continuing-generation students.[6] In addition, first-generation students typically end up working more hours, either in legal or non-legal jobs, than their continuing-generation counterparts.

Taken all together, this means that most first-generation students come to law school with considerable hurdles: lower access to finances, lower social capital (i.e., fewer networking connections), lack of exposure to professional norms, and finally, hurdles related to academic preparation, especially when so much of the language used in law school might be brand new to them. And first-generation students themselves know this, coming to law school with concerns surrounding academic success, their career path, building a professional network, finances and family obligations.[7]

What Can We Do?

As legal educators we can do so much. And this starts at the point of admissions. Today, I’m speaking on a panel at LexCon ’22[8] called "Empowering First-Gen Students Through Your Schools' 'Hidden Curriculum,'" along with Morgan Cutright of AccessLex, Teria Thornton, and Susan Landrum, Dean of Students at Illinois College of Law.

Our panel is discussing ways to support first-generation students through the admissions process, navigating financial aid, and finally with academic support once they enter law school. The first step is having these discussions because we often don’t realize the challenges that first-generation students face or what resources they might lack. This is an opportunity for student facing law school professionals – student services, academic support, financial aid, admissions, career services and other administrators – to think through what information we take for granted and then how to make the transition for students a bit easier and more welcoming. For example, even recognizing that many choices they make might be based around financial considerations and scholarships, or staying close to family. Or that purchasing books so that they can read the first class assignment might prove difficult if financial aid checks aren’t distributed before classes begin. Another challenge might be career services assuming that all students have interview appropriate clothes to wear, or can afford such clothes. Some schools have set up interviewing closets where professors and alumni donate old suits for students.

Beyond conversation, at the point of admission, schools can also provide students with a wealth of resources that will help them feel like they belong in law school, and reinforce the message that law school is difficult for all -- not just them. We know that a sense of belonging is linked to positive academic outcomes, such as increased engagement, intent to persist, and achievement[9] However, first-generation students report less belonging, which then increases the achievement gap mentioned above. In addition, students who don’t feel they belong also find it much more difficult to persist in the face of struggle, or even reach out for assistance.

As an example of how we can address a sense of lack of belonging, I used to send incoming students a “law school glossary” upon admissions. It was fairly simple, only a few pages of common words that we tend to use. This was sent to all students, not just first-gen, because some of the terms we use on a daily basis are mystifying to anyone who is new to the study of law. For example, what is a “1L” or what on earth is “K” or “Civ pro”? Abbreviations and acronyms can be just as daunting, and alienating, as the Latin often used.

Because first-generation students often assume that everyone else knows things that they don’t, they might hesitate to ask what are perfectly reasonable questions. Providing them with a quick list of frequently used terms is a great way to decrease feelings of uncertainty. This glossary turned into a book – The First Generation’s Guide to Law School[10] – which was essentially the memo I wish I had received before I started law school. I couldn’t cover everything, but tried to cover most of the unwritten rules surrounding law school, as well as the core academic skills needed to thrive. I wanted to make sure that students could go into their first week of classes feeling confident.

In addition, there are many summer bridge programs that exist. I’m currently working on such a program for the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), and it will be available in the summer of 2023. We had a small bridge program in 2022, Law School Unmasked, and received positive feedback from students on how it increased their feelings of confidence and belonging, and generally increased their ability to succeed in their first semester.[11] For example, “It was very helpful for me as a first generation college and now law student since I do not have anyone I can turn to for help with these topics we went over. Figuring out how things work as a first generation student constantly seems like an uphill battle of asking lots of questions to lots of people who always seem to have vastly different answers and then finding out which answers are correct. This program helped to answer a lot of questions that would have made me feel lost for the first semester of law school.” This shows that programs designed for first-generation students can and do make a difference!

Finally, I encourage all schools to support the formation of a first-generation law student group. This can help ensure first-gen students feel connected, and in a very obvious way, realize they aren’t alone. When I was in law school, I assumed that I might be the only person in the building who didn’t have parents who went to college. However, when I started writing my book – and asking for stories and advice – I discovered that many of my friends and professors were, in fact, also first-generation students. This was shocking to me. So a student group, first and foremost, signals to students that they aren’t the only ones. LSAC is currently working on a National First-Generation Law Student Group, and meeting with already existing student groups to find the best ways to support and foster these types of student organizations.

If you have questions about how to support first-generation students, please feel free to reach out to me at



[1] Cite 3

[2] FAQ: First-Gen Definition, The Center for First-generation Success,

[3] Way back in the dark ages in 2003.

[4] Close the Gap Foundation, last visited May 18th, 2022

[5] id.

[6] Law School Survey on Student Engagement, LSSSE Survey Tool 2021, 1 (Last visited Jan. 17, 2022).

[7] Id.


[9] Id.



Engagement with Law Student Organizations

Law student organizations are important venues for developing law students’ professional identities. Through networking, invited speakers, and events, these organizations foster a sense of community and provide students the opportunity to more intensely explore areas of law that interest them. [1]

Law student organizations are among the most popular enriching activities at law schools. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of law students either plan to join a law student organization or have already done so.  About 31% of students have served as law student organization leaders, and another 18% plan to take on a leadership role before they graduate. Men are less likely to join student organizations compared to women and those of another gender identity. In 2022, just 51% of men had already joined an organization compared to 64% of women and 75% of those with another gender identity.


Black students are particularly engaged as members of law student organizations, with 65% of Black students participating and another 20% planning to do so. Native Hawaiian students, American Indian students, and Alaska Native students have similarly high levels of engagement with law student organizations, while Asian and white students have the lowest participation rates.


Women, gender-diverse people, and students of color are most likely to join student organizations. Thus, these organizations likely play a vital role in connecting law students who traditionally face higher barriers in accessing higher education and assimilating successfully into the legal profession. Law student organizations also given students the opportunity develop their leadership skills and to work with their professors and classmates in a non-classroom context.


[1] See Andrew Hitt, The importance of student organizations, (Aug. 27, 2009),