Artificial Intelligence and JD Students

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as reasoning, learning, or decision making. AI has been applied to various domains, including law, where it can assist in research, drafting, analysis, or prediction. However, the use of AI in the law is certainly not without controversy, particularly given the high-profile and embarrassing incidents in which lawyers who had not properly vetted their AI bot’s research included AI hallucinations in court filings.

Institutions of higher education are currently grappling with the question of whether artificial intelligence is an essential tool of the future workforce or a means by which students may attempt to bypass their own educational enrichment and critical thinking skill development. We wanted to know how often JD students are currently using AI in their law school coursework. In 2024, LSSSE added the following question:

How often do you use AI (ChatGPT or similar technology) to help prepare for class or complete class assignments, projects, exams, or papers?

  • Never
  • Sometimes
  • Often
  • Very often

Our analysis shows that most law students are not currently using AI in their coursework at all. Almost three-quarters (72%) never use AI to prepare for class or complete assignments. A quarter of law students (25%) sometimes use AI in their coursework, and only 4% use it often or very often.

There are only slight generational differences in AI usage, with students in the 23-30 age group a perhaps a tiny bit more likely to use AI than other students. Interestingly, law students who are 22 or younger are the least likely age group to use AI for class preparation or assignments, with only 22% doing so at least sometimes.


However, international law students are much more likely than domestic law students to use AI for their law school coursework. Almost half of international law students (48%) use AI at least sometimes compared to only 27% of domestic law students. This parallels a larger trend in undergraduate education in which U.S. college students are much less likely to use AI than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. International students attending U.S. law schools who speak English as a second language may be drawn to AI because of the ways it can be harnessed to support the unique needs of multilingual students, particularly in decoding complex texts. Whether AI usage for this or any other purpose is necessarily desirable remains to be seen, although it is useful to note that students are already accessing and using these tools.


AI usage among law students in the U.S. is currently quite low, with most students never using it for their coursework. There are some variations by age and nationality, particularly with international law students using AI tools at a much higher rate than domestic law students. Law schools would be wise to pay attention to both the potential benefits of AI for legal research and writing, as well as the challenges and limitations of AI in the legal domain. LSSSE will continue to track AI usage to understand the degree to which law students are using these tools in their pursuit of learning and understanding the law.

Law Student Stress Management Strategies

Law students must deal with high academic expectations, heavy workloads, competitive environments, and uncertain career prospects. They also must balance their studies with their personal and professional obligations, such as family, friends, jobs, or extracurricular activities. These sources of stress can affect the mental and physical health of law students, as well as their academic performance and satisfaction. Thus, law school presents the perfect opportunity for each law student to develop self-care and stress management strategies that they can use both during law school and to take forward into their future lives as lawyers.

In 2024, the LSSSE Student Stress module began asking students about specific coping strategies they use for stress and anxiety. Although some strategies provided on the survey are healthier than others, they all represent ways students may try to manage their stress and anxiety levels. Gathering these data can provide a starting point for law schools to take the pulse of their students’ mental health and to consider ways to support their students more effectively.

On the survey, students can select as many stress and anxiety management options as they wish. Exercise and seeking social support are the most commonly used stress management strategies, with 77% of students exercising to reduce stress and around 75% of students talking about their troubles with a friend or family member. A little more than half of students engage in procrastination (57%) to manage stress and 53% engage in a hobby. Negative self-talk and alcohol or other recreational drugs are the least common stress reduction techniques, with slightly more than a quarter (27%) of law students using them.



Law schools are increasingly concerned about making sure their students are learning healthy stress management and coping strategies and for good reason, given the substance use and mental health challenges that disproportionately affect lawyers, relative to the general population. Mindfulness and meditation in particular are gaining traction because they are proven techniques that can improve mental health, enhance focus, and promote well-being. Some law schools are offering workshops, courses, or online resources on mindfulness and meditation for their students, as well as creating spaces where students can practice these techniques. Whatever strategies law students adopt, law students who understand what they can do to regulate their negative emotions and stress responses will be better positioned to learn more deeply in law school and to perform their best as law students and as lawyers.

Closing the Information Gap for Law Students Interested in Public Interest Careers


Verna L. Williams
Equal Justice Works


Our nation is experiencing an access to justice crisis. According to the Legal Service Corporation, 92% of low-income people’s civil legal needs went unmet in 2022, leaving a massive gap in our justice system. What’s more, the number of lawyers focusing on underserved populations is very small. According to the American Bar Association, fewer than one percent of lawyers are paid legal aid attorneys. As law schools plan for the coming academic year, I urge them to consider how to address this untenable gap in our legal system.

Put simply, creating lasting change for communities and in our justice system requires more graduates to choose public interest law.  The fact that so few law graduates pursue this route is not only problematic, but also puzzling.  As a law school dean, I saw first-hand that many aspiring attorneys chose legal education because they wanted to serve the public.  In my new position as CEO of Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit that connects law students, law school professionals, lawyers, and advocates with fellowships at legal services organizations and other opportunities in public interest law, we are tackling this problem head on.

Consider student loan debt. AccessLex reports that, on average, law students borrowed $157,300 last year.  Students of color graduate with an average educational debt twice the amount of their white classmates. With entry-level public interest attorneys earning a median $63,200, compared to $200,000 for law firm associates, it’s hardly surprising that so many graduates would choose private practice.

What else explains the dearth of public interest attorneys?  To answer that question, Equal Justice Works partnered with the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), an invaluable resource, to identify blind spots in supporting future public interest lawyers. Working with LSSSE, we crafted questions for the 2023 LSSSE Survey to help quantify just how accessible information about pursuing public interest law is for law students across surveyed law schools.

The results illustrate that many opportunities exist for legal education to build or strengthen support for new public interest lawyers. Among the findings:

  • Only 44% of participating schools provide funding for public interest internships.
  • An even smaller percentage of schools, 38%, employ public interest career advisors.
  • Just 19% of law schools have a dedicated public interest office.
  • When asked whether their school provided education and exposure to tools like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), the answer was a disheartening 21% responded in the affirmative.

The result is a knowledge gap about how to make the most of existing resources that can make pursuing public interest feel less like fantasy and more of a reality.

The LSSSE survey results strike a chord in me. Like today’s students, I chose law school because I wanted to make a difference. But before I began my public interest journey, I practiced in BigLaw to get my financial house in order—when I graduated, loan repayment assistance plans were brand new.  I was able to get settled with my associate’s salary, paid off some debt, and never looked back.

My debt was considerably less than that of today’s student – but no less frightening.  I wouldn’t trade my trajectory for anything, having had the privilege of practicing at the Department of Justice and the National Women’s Law Center. I built on those experiences as a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College of Law (UC), in part, to create and support the next generation of feminist legal advocates. As a faculty member, I co-founded and co-directed the Nathaniel Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice, through which we created a clinic, advised students seeking public interest fellowships, and put on programs about how to “make a difference while making a buck.” Serving as dean of the law school allowed me to facilitate other efforts to make public interest opportunities available to students. I’m especially proud of the partnership we engaged in with Hamilton County Municipal Court to create the Help Center, which provided assistance to unrepresented litigants.  Staffed by a UC attorney, the Help Center engaged students and volunteer lawyers who together have served tens of thousands of people.

Now, at the helm of Equal Justice Works, my colleagues and I continue the longstanding work of building a movement of public interest leaders who are transforming the communities we live in, come from, and partner with. But we can’t do it alone.

These survey results remind us we have a long way to go. But we are in this for the long haul.  Partnerships with law schools are a key part of our strategy.  We support member law schools, the majority of accredited institutions in the nation, in myriad ways —from educating law school professionals through webinars and other informational resources or introducing thousands of students to the field in the nation’s largest public interest career fair, to preparing them for such careers through summer fellowships and our Public Interest Primer. In addition to those resources, our law school engagement and advocacy team travels the country, visiting member schools to meet with students and share information about our programs and opportunities. Through these efforts and more, Equal Justice Works seeks to fill in the gaps about public interest law for students. Thanks to the LSSSE survey, we have important information to help amplify our efforts.

When millions of people in the United States cannot access legal assistance to avoid eviction, maintain custody of their children, or escape an abusive partner, we need an all-hands-on deck solution. Every part of the legal profession must focus on this crisis. Law schools must continue to institutionalize their commitment to pro bono work and public service. By continuing to work together, we can empower this next generation of advocates to be ready to direct their passion for impact where it’s most necessary.


A Long-Term Look at Relationships with Law School Faculty and Administrators, 2004-2023

In our last post, we examined how peer relationships between law students have changed over the last twenty years. Now we will consider the relationships between law students and their faculty and administrators over the same period.

Generally, law students have better relationships with faculty than administrators. In 2023, 71% of law students were satisfied with their relationships with faculty (rated 5 or higher on a 7-point scale) compared to only 55% of students who were satisfied with their relationships with law school administrators.

Much like satisfaction with peer relationships, satisfaction with faculty relationships has fluctuated over the last twenty years and may be a bit on the decline in recent years. Satisfaction with relationships with faculty hit an all-time high in 2016 at 80% but has been below the average of 75% since 2021.



This next graph gives us the ability to look specifically at the difference between satisfaction with faculty relationships and the all-time average (75%) for all years since the inaugural LSSSE survey in 2004.

Students’ outlook on their relationships with administrators is even bleaker. The 2023 satisfaction rate of 55% is a full nine percentage points lower than the all-time average of 64%, and eighteen percentage points lower than the peak value of 73% in 2016. Although all law student relationships have been on a downward trajectory over the last few years, the relationships between students and administrators have been most strongly impacted and thus requires some special thought and attention by law schools. Perhaps the disruptions brought by COVID-19 have isolated students most severely from their administrators or perhaps the genesis of this discontent lies elsewhere.



Satisfaction with relationships with administrators has been on a precipitous decline since 2016.


It makes sense that students have stronger relationships with faculty since students see faculty on a regular basis and are likely to come to rely on faculty for academic guidance, feedback, and mentoring. Students and faculty are united in a common goal to study and understand the law, which can foster positive regard. Administrators, conversely, may be regarded as more impersonal given that their impact on the students' learning experience is more remote. Administrators may also be responsible for implementing rules and policies with which the students may not always agree. Hence, law students may understandably experience higher levels of rapport and satisfaction with their faculty than their administrators. However, given that law students’ relationships with administrators is currently at an all-time low, it may be worth some reflection to see how law school administrators came become more engaged to make a positive impact on the lives of their students.

Deciding to go to Law School: Affording Undergraduates Insights on the Reality of Law School

Leena Hussain
Indiana University: Class of 2025
B.A. International Law and Institutions 

Choosing to go to law school is a weighty decision for a number of reasons. There are financial concerns, concerns about success and interest, and ambiguity about the experience itself. As an undergraduate looking to go to law school, these worries weigh heavy on my mind. Like many, I often wonder what law school is like. What does lecture look like? How hard are classes and grading? How much reading is there really?

These contemplations require unique insights that may not come easily. Information for post graduate education can be hard to obtain if one does not know who to ask and where to look. How do we give undergraduates the opportunity to see, firsthand, the reality of law school? Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies and the Maurer School of Law have partnered to grant pre-law students just this. In a class called Espionage and International Law, I sit with undergraduates and law students to study the legality of espionage globally. The class was created to provide a comprehensive experience with the rigor, cold calling, and grading that one often sees in law classes.

Undergraduates should be granted the opportunity to deeply explore the reality of law school. Getting these insights provide students the tools to prepare financially and mentally. Moreover, early insight will lead to more successful law students. The better prepared prospective students are, the better they will do in law school, resulting in stronger lawyers in the field.

There may be large disparities in knowing where to look. The 2020 LSSSE report notes only a small increase in the demographic changes of minorities within law schools. Black, Asian, and Latinx groups saw their numbers go up only a few percent since 2004. While this is commendable growth, it can be better. Perhaps if these groups had more resources and insights on the law school experience, there would be more of these students in the field.

Classes like my espionage one are not the only way pre-law students can get exposure. Many law schools provide detailed overviews of what to expect in law classes. Penn State’s Pre-Law Advising website, for example, provides resources that detail lecture methods, the curriculum, exams, and grading. Undergraduates can also look for pre-law advisors or law professionals on their campuses for insights. These mentors can walk students through the admissions process as well as give advice for classes. Moreover, students can gain insights on the law through working at firms. JD Advising notes that working before going to law school familiarizes students to the legal world by giving them exposure to legal jargon, processes, and networks.

The groundwork exists, but there is still work to do in enabling all pre-law students to gain exposure to law school. Universities across the country can offer classes like my espionage class, develop stronger pre-law advising programs, and create comprehensive resources with insider information. While it is understandable to keep the field competitive, failing to address the hurdles that undergraduates may face in exploring law school is not. The decision to go law school is weighty, however, we can lighten the load by opening the experience.

A Long-Term Look at Relationships with Law School Peers, 2004-2023

A common misconception about law students is that their competition with each other for grades, jobs, and prestige creates a stressful and hostile law school environment. However, this is not the case for most law students who often find opportunities for support and friendship among their peers. Law students share common challenges and goals, and they can benefit from exchanging ideas and resources with each other. Many law schools also foster a culture of collegiality and mutual respect, where students are encouraged to help each other and celebrate each other's achievements. Rather than being a source of stress, peer relationships can be a source of resilience and well-being for law students. In fact, LSSSE data from 2023 show that only 38% of law students experienced quite a bit or very much stress or anxiety because of competition with peers. They are far more likely to be substantially stressed by academic performance (80% of students) and academic workload (79% of students).

Since the 2004 LSSSE inaugural survey, an average of 77% of law students have said that their overall relationships with other students are mostly positive (at least a 4 on a 7-point scale). This number has fluctuated over time, with 81% of students having mostly positive relationships in 2004 and 73% of students feeling similarly in 2023.


If we compare the percentage of students having an overall positive relationship with peers to the all-time LSSSE national average of 77%, we can see that the last several years have had slightly lower levels of peer satisfaction.


Although satisfaction with peer relationships was already on a somewhat downward trajectory before COVID-19, the notable decrease in relationship satisfaction during the 2020-2021 academic year may be largely driven by the decrease in relationship satisfaction among 1L students. In the spring of 2020 (largely before COVID-19 shutdowns started), 80% of 1L students were satisfied with their relationships with their fellow students. In the spring of 2021 after a year of huge disruptions in the law school environment including widespread online learning, only 72% of 1L students felt this way. However, 74% of 3L students were satisfied with their peer relationships in 2020 and again 74% of 3L students felt this way in 2021. Students who were introduced to law school in a time of necessary isolation were understandably somewhat less able to bond with their classmates. Orientation programs, study groups, moot courts, clinics, extracurriculars, and informal gatherings were either canceled, restricted, or moved online. These disruptions may have hindered the ability of 1L students to establish friendships and build rapport. Furthermore, online learning may have decreased the frequency and quality of interactions among students, as well as the sense of belonging and community that stems from being physically present in a shared space. Nevertheless, relationships among law students remained positive overall, showing that even the limitations of pandemic life did not prevent characteristically creative and resilient law students from forging relationships with each other. It will be interesting to examine how law students feel about their relationships with each other in future years now that life has largely returned to the pre-pandemic normal.

How to Help Students with Procrastination

How to Help Students with Procrastination
Katie Rose Guest Pryal, JD, PhD
Parts of this essay are adapted from Katie Rose Guest Pryal, A LIGHT IN THE TOWER: A NEW RECKONING WITH MENTAL HEALTH IN HIGHER EDUCATION (U. Press of Kansas 2024)


There is a longstanding belief that procrastination is a manifestation of laziness, or just not caring about the work a person must do.

This belief is wrong.

As psychologist Devon Price, an expert on procrastination, has pointed out, “laziness does not exist.”[1] According to Price, procrastination is driven either by “anxiety about … not being ‘good enough’” or “by confusion about what the first steps of the task are.”

Contrary to popular belief, Price points out, “procrastination is more likely when the task is meaningful and the individual cares about doing it well.” In other words, when a person cares deeply about a task, the person can become paralyzed by the fear of failure.

Students will procrastinate; it is inevitable. We must learn what procrastination is and how it works so we can help our students.

What is procrastination?

According to psychologists, procrastination is “the voluntary delay of an intended act despite the awareness that this needless delay will be detrimental in the longer term.”[2]

Procrastination is thus something that the procrastinator is aware that they are doing, and that they are also aware will hurt them. Students (and faculty) who procrastinate are not lazy, or bad workers, or poor planners. They are struggling with a real psychological problem.

A recent study on procrastination found a link between feeling awful about yourself and procrastination. Procrastinators “have a chronic tendency to cognitively dwell on their dysphoric feelings [feelings of profound unhappiness] and on negative self-relevant information.”[3]

In other words, procrastinators chronically focus on their bad feelings about their lives in general and on bad feelings about themselves. Together, these bad feelings create chronic self-doubt, which leads to procrastination.

Researchers have found that “procrastination and depression were linked significantly.”[4] Indeed, these researchers found “the association between depression and procrastination-related thoughts was stronger” than they had expected it to be.

What Can We Do?

If a student of yours is struggling with procrastination, there is a strong chance that they are also struggling with depression or anxiety. If a student feels stressed or anxious about a task, they are more likely to procrastinate.

And many of our students do suffer from stress and anxiety during law school. Data from LSSSE reveal how widespread this problem is, with over half (54%) of respondents noting stress or anxiety at a level of 6 or 7 on a 7-point scale:

You can think of procrastination as a cycle. Because of a stressful environment, a person’s mental health, awful life events, or all of the above, a person—we—feel poorly. Perhaps, because of these factors, we even develop depression or anxiety. Because we feel poorly, we cannot do our work. When we cannot do our work, we feel even worse, beginning the cycle again.

Institutions and faculty can intervene in this cycle. Yet we rarely do as much as we can to help. When asked whether their schools helps them manage stress and anxiety, a full 30% of LSSSE respondents say their schools do “very little” in this regard.

Instead, we can ask ourselves:

  1. Are we creating a needlessly stressful environment? If so, what can we do about it?
  2. Are we adequately tending to our students’ mental health? If not, how can we do so?
  3. Are we creating enough flexibility for students who are going through tough life events, such as the birth of a child or the death of a loved one? If not, how can we do so?

Remember, your students want to impress you. This desire starts on day one. Thus, they put pressure on themselves because the work is meaningful, as Price puts it, and if they procrastinate, it is for this same reason.

In the classroom

Try this teaching technique to lower the pressure on your students at the beginning of the semester. Assign a very low-stakes assignment the first week of class. Something small—a case brief in a lecture, or a one-half page reflection essay in a seminar. (You don’t have to grade them.)

Tell your students: “I want you to put in 70% effort on this. I do not want 100%, 90%, or 80%. If I see anything higher than 70%, then I will make you redo it to make it worse.” You will get laughs, and some bafflement. Give them till your next class to do it, and then collect them (on paper, via course software, it doesn’t matter).

You will find two things have occurred. First, usually all of your students will turn in the work because the 70% rule lowers the stakes and allows them to beat procrastination. You’ve told them that it is okay to turn in crap, which means it’s okay to be imperfect.

But the second thing you will find is that your students will turn in great work. You will get far fewer 70% assignments than you would expect. Without the pressure of perfect, students can achieve greatness.

You’ve set the tone for the rest of the semester: it’s okay to be imperfect. You just have to get it done. And great is pretty darn good.



[1] Devon Price, “Laziness Does Not Exist,” Human Parts, March 23, 2018,, See also, Devon Price, Laziness Does Not Exist: A Defense of the Exhausted, Exploited, and Overworked (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2021).

[2] Alison L. Flett, Mohsen Haghbin, and Timothy A. Pychyl, “Procrastination and Depression from a Cognitive Perspective: An Exploration of the Associations Among Procrastinatory Automatic Thoughts, Rumination, and Mindfulness,” The Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy 34, no. 3 (September 2016): 170.

[3] Flett, Haghbin, and Pychyl, “Procrastination and Depression,” 180.

[4] Flett, Haghbin, and Pychyl, “Procrastination and Depression,” 182.

Focus on First-Generation Students, Part 2

In our last post, we shared some of the demographic characteristics of first-gen law students, which we define as law students who do not have at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree. In this post, we will dig deeper into the first-gen law student experience and how it differs from the experiences of non-first-gen law students.

Time Usage

LSSSE asks students to estimate the average number of hours they spend each week engaging in activities that are directly and indirectly related to the educational experience. Time usage is important because it reflects students’ academic engagement and overall priorities. First-gen students are more likely to attend law school part-time, which suggests that they have complicated schedules with competing demands, rather than a sole focus on law school. LSSSE data show that high percentages of first-gen students have familial obligations as caretakers for dependents living in their household. Forty-four percent (44%) of first-gen students spend time caring for dependents, compared to 33% of non-first-gen students.

First-gen students are just as engaged as their non-first-gen peers in academic pursuits outside of class, despite the fact that they have more responsibilities competing for their time. First-gen students work with students and faculty on group projects at equal or greater levels relative to non-first-gen students. Roughly equal percentages of first-gen students (19%) and non-first-gen students (18%) report that they frequently work with faculty members on activities other than coursework (including committees, orientation, student life activities, etc.). Likewise, 33% of first-gen (and 31% of non-first-gen) students frequently work with classmates outside of class to prepare assignments. The diligence of first-gen students is particularly impressive given their personal obligations. One third (33%) of first-gen students always come to class fully prepared despite their family duties and work schedules, the same percentage as non-first-gen students (who tend to work less and have fewer familial obligations).



First-gen students, like law students overall, are overwhelmingly satisfied with their law school experience. Seventy-four percent (74%) of first-gen students evaluate the educational experience at their law school as “good” or “excellent,” similar to non-first-gen students (78%). Furthermore, 77% of first-gen (and 79% of non-first-gen) students report they would choose to attend the same law school again, with the benefit of hindsight. These trends are particularly noteworthy given the increased financial risks and other sacrifices made by first-gen students to attend law school.

First-gen students face unique challenges and responsibilities as they navigate legal education. Law schools should take the findings from this Annual Report, as well as their own school-specific LSSSE data, to craft targeted programs to support first-gen students. Better supporting them personally will free up time and resources for first-gen students to devote to not only academics, but other co-curricular pursuits so they are optimally placed to thrive as they enter the legal profession.

Focus on First-Generation Students, Part 1

Our next two blog posts will provide selected snippets from the LSSSE 2024 Annual Report: Focus on First-Generation Students. To read the entire report, please visit our website.

First-Gen Demographics

First-generation (first-gen) students are trailblazers for their families. They attend college without the guidance of a parent who has completed their own bachelor’s degree. Decades of research show that first-gen students overcome significant challenges simply to gain access to college and invest even more to persist until degree completion. First-gen students tend to enter higher education with fewer financial resources and less social and cultural capital than those who have at least one parent who completed a college degree. Although first-gen students have already drawn on their resiliency and determination to adapt to college life, law school brings its own cultural norms and ways of learning that are, again, likely to be unfamiliar.

Despite these expected challenges, few studies focus on the experiences of first-gen students in law school. In 2014, LSSSE was one of the first organizations in legal education to collect data on first-gen students by adding a survey question about parental education. The data LSSSE has collected shed light on how first-gen students engage with law school and how their experiences differ from those of their non-first-gen classmates.

For LSSSE analyses, students who respond that neither parent received a bachelor’s degree or higher are considered first-gen students. First-gen students comprise over one-quarter (26%) of the LSSSE respondents. First-gen students tend to be different from non-first-gen students in important ways, including race, gender, age, and a full-time focus on law school. Students of color from every racial group are more likely than White students to be first-gen. For instance, 53% of Latinx respondents and 36% of Black respondents are first-gen, compared with 21% of White respondents. Twenty-eight percent (28%) of women are first-gen students compared to 24% of men. First-gen students also tend to be older, with 54% of first-gen students being over the age of 25 compared to 44% of non-first-gen students. Finally, while the vast majority of law students in the U.S. study on a full-time basis, first-gen students are more likely to study part-time by about 10 percentage points. Thus, in addition to their first-gen status, many of these students have other demographic differences from the average law student.


First-Gen Student Debt

Parental education is often used as a proxy for socioeconomic status. A college degree has a significant positive impact on salary and career earnings over a lifetime. On average, first-gen students come from families that earn less than the families of students with a parent who completed college. Because first-gen students enter law school with lower undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores and because higher LSAT scores result in greater success with scholarships, first-gen students are less likely to be awarded merit scholarships in law school. As a result, first-gen students rely on student loans to a greater extent than their classmates. For instance, 24% of non-first-gen students anticipate graduating with no law school debt compared to only 12% of first-gen students. Conversely, roughly one-quarter (23%) of non-first-gen students expect to graduate with more than $120,000 in student debt compared to over one-third (35%) of first-gen students. Students from the same racial background nevertheless have significant debt differentials based on whether they are first-gen students, with first-gen students of color borrowing at particularly high levels.

First-gen students differ from their non-first-gen classmates in meaningful ways. First-gen students typically are older students, many have caretaking responsibilities, and they are more likely to come from families with fewer financial resources, necessitating working while in school. Because of these differences, first-gen students bring valuable life experiences and diverse perspectives to classroom conversations. Once they complete law school, they are also equipped to bring the fruits of their legal education back to their communities. The hard work and determination that first-gen students bring to law school is nonetheless coupled with higher levels of debt than their non-first-generation peers. This creates an additional burden not only during law school but as they choose their first jobs as lawyers and continue their legal careers.

In our next blog post, we will examine how first-gen law students use their time and the degree to which they engage with different aspects of the law school experience.

Guest Post - Black Faces in White Spaces: The Rise of the Black Law Review Editor in Chief


Gregory S. Parks
Professor of Law
Wake Forest University School of Law 



Etienne C. Toussaint
Associate Professor of Law
University of South Carolina Joseph F. Rice School of Law


In the first seventy-three years of the Virginia Law Review’s existence, there were no Black members. In 1987, three Black students were welcomed as members of the Virginia Law Review, two of whom were invited because of a newly implemented affirmative action plan. Yet, it would take until 2021—approximately 108 years after the law journal’s establishment—for the Virginia Law Review to elect its first Black Editor-in-Chief (“EIC”), Tiffany Mickel. Some might argue that this narrative merely reflects the difficulty of joining, much less leading, one of the nation’s most prestigious law journals at one of its top-ranked law schools where the enrollment of Black students is routinely low. After all, Mickel is exceptional among Black law students nationwide as one of only a few Black women in the United States with a materials science and engineering degree from MIT. Yet, the Virginia Law Review’s story appears to be more of an illuminating trend concerning law review’s diversity problem than a heroic triumph for Black law students.

For example, in January 2022, Texas Law Review elected Jason Onyediri as its first Black EIC, after nearly 100 years of the journal’s existence, and Bradford McGann became Northwestern Law Review’s first Black EIC. More recently, in 2024, the Harvard Law Review elected law student Sophia Hunt as only its second Black woman president in 137 years. In fact, of the less than seventy Black EICs from the top 100 law schools across U.S. history, more than half were elected in the past ten years. What inspired the dramatic increase in the diversity of law review leadership in recent history, and why has it taken so long?

This question—what we call law review’s “diversity problem”—does not have an easy answer. While legal scholars have been talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) on law review boards for far longer than the past decade, no American law school has yet to solve it. Since at least the 1980s, scholars have studied the impact of affirmative action policies on the diversity of law review boards. Early studies revealed that law reviews that did not have an affirmative action program often had no non-White members at all, much less in positions of leadership on the editorial board. Further, these studies showed that law reviews that implemented a mixed-method editor selection process (e.g., assessing first-year grades alongside performance on a writing competition) only fared slightly better.

Few law reviews have implemented structural changes to both the editor selection and scholarship publication process. As a result, DEI on law reviews remains low. Further, even as law schools push for greater DEI in the classroom, few law schools seem to be concerned with the diversity of their law review boards.

Critics of affirmative action and progressive DEI efforts argue that law school’s so-called diversity problem does not imply that law schools are failing their law students or their local communities. Rather, they argue, too few qualified racially and ethnically minoritized students are applying to and enrolling in law school. Perhaps law review’s diversity problem is a symptom of law schools’ failure to admit more underrepresented students? Or, perhaps there is a lack of interest among Black students to join the law review and rise to leadership? We disagree. And the data support us.

LSSSE data reveal that roughly 8% of current law students are Black. Still, while White students remain the majority (67%), many Black students continue to pursue opportunities to join and lead the law review. Furthermore, there is significant interest among Black students in joining other law journals. Approximately 13% of Black LSSSE respondents note that they have already joined a law journal and an additional 25% note that they plan to do so in the future. Accordingly, the (lack of) participation and leadership of Black law students on law reviews does not reflect apathy.


We believe that law review’s diversity problem must be engaged in the broader context of two complementary lenses: (1) sociopolitical efforts to eradicate racial injustice; and (2) institutional efforts to reform legal education.

On the one hand, the lens of socio-politics suggests that DEI efforts in law reviews experience the push and pull of racial attitudes and perceptions across the nation. For example, researchers have shown that although the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 improved the public’s perception of Black people’s work ethic and intelligence, racial attitudes became more polarized between 2009 and 2013, coinciding with an increased number of racially motivated killings of Black people nationwide. Nationwide calls for racial reckoning in the summer of 2020 after the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among others, coincided with a dramatic uptick in Black EICs in 2021 and 2022. Accordingly, at least one driver of the increased attention to DEI issues in law reviews during the past ten years may be attributed to the increased attention nationwide to racial justice issues since President Obama’s election.

On the other hand, DEI efforts in law reviews also experience the push and pull of racial attitudes and perceptions across their law school community, including the views and attitudes of their faculty. Consider the current project of “building an Antiracist law school,” as Dean Danielle M. Conway of Penn State Dickinson Law puts it, that has been decades in the making. That effort has only been amplified in recent years, with law faculty increasingly prioritizing racial justice in their teaching and scholarship. Therefore, another driver of the increased attention to DEI issues in law reviews during the past ten years could be law professors’ increased attention to modern social movements, such as the Movement for Black Lives.

We argue that there are three fundamental drivers of law review’s diversity problem, with implications not just for law reviews, but for legal education writ large. First, there is confusion on the purpose of DEI. The purpose of DEI for law reviews is not solely to increase diversity on the law review roster to enhance the learning experience of students on the journal. A deeper purpose of DEI, we argue, is to realign the distorted function of the law review with its ideal purpose. While one of law review’s fundamental purposes is to promote scholarly discourse on law and law reform to promote the public’s interest, in practice, many law reviews serve merely as a gatekeeper for elite law practice and prestigious clerkships.

Second, there is confusion on the role that DEI plays in the legal education experience. The role of DEI for law reviews is not merely to increase the equality of opportunities for underrepresented students, nor simply to increase the discussion of marginalized experiences and diverse perspectives of law in public forums. We argue that the role of DEI is to articulate a more ambitious conception of “equity” in law, political economy, and legal education. As Lani Guinier argued, the very concept of meritocracy that governs how racially and ethnically minoritized students pursue equitable outcomes on the pathway toward legal practice must be challenged as an historically limited vision of legal education.

Finally, the value of DEI for law reviews has been distorted. The value of DEI is not simply its ability to increase the number of marginalized voices in mainstream legal discourse. DEI efforts must also challenge the culture of mainstream legal discourse altogether. Challenging elitism in the legal profession, we argue, requires a bold critique of the toxic ideologies that color societal views on meritocracy and leadership, which can influence the very color of law review itself.

To be sure, the recent wave of Black law review EICs is a bold step in the right direction. However, more work remains to dismantle the gatekeeping function of law reviews and transform it into an educational space open to all law students and all members of the broader community.