Annual Results 2020 Diversity & Exclusion: Diversity Skills

This year for the first time, LSSSE introduced a set of questions focused on diversity and inclusion that supplement related questions from the primary survey. The Diversity and Inclusiveness Module examines environments, processes, and activities that reflect the engagement and validation of cultural diversity and promote greater understanding of societal differences. The 2020 LSSSE Annual Results Diversity & Exclusion report presents data about how diversity in law school can prepare students for the effective practice of law upon graduation. In our final post in this series, we will explore how law schools can teach skills to equip students to interact with people from different backgrounds.

Schools have a responsibility to not only admit and provide the resources to enroll a diverse class of students, but to impart the skills these students will need to be effective lawyers. Increasingly, the practice of law requires sensitivity to issues of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Law schools can empower students first by encouraging them to reflect on their own identities, and then supplying coursework on issues of privilege, diversity, and equity; while it is important for students to learn about anti-discrimination and anti-harassment, law schools should also equip them with the tools they will need to fight these social problems as attorneys and civic leaders.

Yet schools are, by and large, not preparing law students to meet these challenges and succeed as leaders. When students were asked how frequently they reflect on their own cultural identity, only 12% of White students do so "very often," compared to 50% of Native American students, 44% of Black students, and 34% of Latinx students. Even more alarming, over a quarter (26%) of White students never reflect on their cultural identity during law school. When we consider the intersection of raceXgender, an even more troubling picture emerges. A full 28% of White men and 25% of White women in law school never reflect on their cultural identity, compared to the 50% of Black women who do so "very often."

Students whose parents have less formal education are also more likely to reflect on their cultural identity, including 34% of those whose parents did not finish high school as compared to 16% of those who have a parent with a doctoral or professional degree. In sum, students with racial, gender, or class privilege are less likely to reflect on the benefits associated with their identity.

Even without self-reflection, students can nevertheless gather information about anti-discrimination and harassment policies. LSSSE data show that while White students see their schools as prioritizing this information, students of color do not agree at the same high levels. Similarly, men (31%) are more likely than women (23%) and those with another gender identity (11%) to believe their schools strongly emphasize information about anti-discrimination and harassment. Considering raceXgender, a full 27% of Black women see their schools as doing "very little" to share information on anti-discrimination and harassment, while 32% of White men believe their schools do "very much" in this regard.

Equally troubling, students from different backgrounds perceive institutional emphasis of various diversity-related topics in starkly divergent ways. Although White students believe that their schools emphasize issues of equity or privilege, respecting the expression of diverse ideas, and a broad commitment to diversity, students of color are less likely to agree. Students of color—including those who are Black, Latinx, Asian American, Native American, and multiracial—frequently note and appreciate assignments or discussions of race/ ethnicity and other identity-related topics in the classroom; yet they are more likely than their White peers to report that schools place “very little” emphasis on diversity issues. Women are similarly more likely than men to believe their schools do “very little” to emphasize diversity in coursework. Furthermore, higher percentages of Black women report “very little” emphasis on equity or privilege (36%), respecting diverse perspectives (27%), and an institutional commitment to diversity (21%)— compared to high percentages of White men who believe their schools are doing “very much” in all three arenas (20%, 24%, and 34%, respectively). First-gen students are also more likely than their classmates whose parents completed college to note “very little” diversity coursework. Synthesizing these data, students who are traditionally underrepresented and marginalized—arguably the students who have the most personal experience with issues of diversity—see their schools as doing less to promote diversity and inclusion than those who are privileged in terms of their race/ethnicity, gender, and parental education.

As part of a broad curriculum that sets up students for their future practice, law schools should teach students diversity skills—a set of skills that facilitate success in our increasingly globalized society, ranging from personal reflection to the tangible tools lawyers can use to combat discrimination. Law schools that succeed at these diversity-related endeavors will be preparing our nation’s newest lawyers to meet the full range of challenges ahead.

 


Law Student Perceptions of Faculty

The Law Student Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) asks students about the quality of their relationships and interactions with law school faculty as a way of measuring whether students feel valued by others and engaged with the law school experience. As a group, law students tend to have positive perceptions of their instructors. In 2018, 76% of the 17,928 U.S. law students who responded to LSSSE rated their relationships with faculty as at least a “five” on a seven-point scale, where “one” was the perception of faculty as “unavailable, unhelpful, and unsympathetic” and “seven” was the perception of faculty as “available, helpful, and sympathetic.” Male and female students were pleased with their instructors at equal rates, although students of other gender identities were somewhat less satisfied, with only 61% rating their relationships with faculty a “five” or higher.

 

 

In 2018, a subset of 7,718 LSSSE respondents received the popular Learning Experiences and Professionalism (LEAP) module, which dives more deeply into students’ perceptions of both the law school community and their own readiness for legal practice. The vast majority of law school students (93%) agree or strongly agree that their instructors “care about my learning and success in law school.” Students in their first year of law school are most likely to strongly agree with this statement (44%), but overall there is not an appreciable drop in students’ sense that their instructors care about their law school experience across class years. Only 6-9% of students in any year of law school disagree or strongly disagree that their instructors care about them.

 

The LEAP module also asks whether student believe that their “instructors demonstrate sensitivity to diverse backgrounds and perspectives in their interactions with students." Among U.S. law students surveyed in 2018, 89% of students agree or strongly agree with this statement. There is some variation among students of different racial groups: 92% of white students agree or strongly agree that their instructors are sensitive to issues of diversity while only 67% of American Indian or Native American students share this viewpoint. This suggests that disparities still exist, particularly in how students of color perceive faculty attitudes toward diversity and how students from varying backgrounds are treated in the classroom.


A Tribute to Dan Bernstine

Late last week, legal education lost an icon.  Dan Bernstine, president of the Law School Admission Council and member of the LSSSE Advisory Board, passed away at the age of 69.  Over the course of his illustrious career, Dan did it all.  He was a lawyer, a law professor, a law school dean, a university president, and president of LSAC – a position I sometimes call “master of the law admissions universe.”

Unsurprisingly, many tributes discussing Dan’s impact on the people and institutions he encountered have been written over the last few days.  I found the recollections of people who date back to his tenure as president of Portland State University to be particularly telling, given that he left that position almost ten years ago (to join LSAC).  Good people are unforgettable. Dan was such a person.  And while I could walk through Dan’s impressive biography, I really want to reflect on the impact he had on me.
I began my career in legal education in 2002 – and it was not long before I heard Dan’s name for the first time.  This was years before I would actually meet him; a colleague of mine, who was acquainted with him from his time at Howard University, felt that he was someone whom I should seek to emulate in my career.  Needless to say, I was very excited when he became LSAC president about five years later.

My first interaction with him would not come until 2009, when he attended a meeting for an LSAC committee on which I was serving.  I must admit, I was a bit awe-struck.  I had been hearing and reading about him for years.  I couldn’t help but assign a level of heightened significance to that first encounter.  But Dan’s approachable, unpretentious demeanor immediately took the edge off.  We didn’t talk much that day.  But I did take the opportunity to ask for his permission to email him about a career move I was considering at the time.  When I followed up, he actually responded – quickly, I might add (recommending that I not pursue the particular course).   I would have many interactions with Dan over the years.  He was one of the first people I contacted as I sought the opportunity to serve as director of LSSSE.  As always, he was willing to share his time and his insights.  As always, I followed his advice.  It always made sense.

In his role as an advisory board member, Dan was highly supportive of LSSSE’s mission.  For example, he readily agreed to have LSAC serve as co-sponsor of LSSSE’s first symposium, which centered on legal education assessment.  This sponsorship quite literally made the event possible.  At our annual board meetings, he was a source of sound perspective.

If I had to pick one word to describe the impact that Dan had on me, it would be “inspiring.”  It was inspiring to see a man – a black man – ascend to the highest levels of higher education administration.  It was inspiring to observe how he treated people, how he was always approachable, and always willing to share his insights and experiences.  Dan owed me nothing.  There was nothing I could even give him.  Yet, he treated me with a level of openness that profoundly reflected who he was as a person.

There’s an old saying about giving people their “flowers” while they are still living.  The premise is that it is best to tell people how much you appreciate them while they are around to hear it, as opposed to regretting not having done so once they pass away.  I missed that opportunity with Dan.  While I was always effusive in expressing my appreciation of his time and support, I never shared with him the extent to which he inspired me to be excellent, to dream big, and to do good.  For that, I am regretful.  All I can do now is try to live by the example he set.  That strikes me as a wonderful tribute to a life that is truly worthy of emulation.

Thanks, Dan.

Dr. Aaron N. Taylor

LSSSE 2016 Selected Results: Law School Activities

LSSSE 2016 Selected Results

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

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

2016 size and aff

Law School Activities

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

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

Most freq act 3