Extracurricular Activity Participation Among JD Students

Although reading, class preparation, and classroom engagement are crucial to law student success, extracurricular activities provide unique experiences for hands-on learning and skill development. LSSSE asks about the activities in which law students have either already participated or plan to participate in the future. Which activities attract the most law students?

The majority of law students plan to complete a field placement (79%), engage in pro bono work or public service (74%), and join a law student organization (74%) before graduation. Around half of law students will be or already have been a law student organization leader, and around two in five are drawn to serving as a law journal member. However, students are somewhat less likely to include moot court and working with faculty members on research or committees in their extracurricular plans. Most law students do not plan to study abroad.


We know from previous LSSSE research that part-time students are somewhat less likely than their full-time classmates to engage in extracurricular activities. When we zoom in on part-time students specifically, which activities do they tend to make their highest priorities?

Field placements, pro bono work, and law student organization membership remain at the top of the list for part-time students. However, only about half of part-time students plan to join a student organization. Around a third (32%) of part-time students are interested in working on a legal research project, and around three in ten part-time students (29%) either have been or want to be a law journal member.


Clearly, being a law student is not a 9-5 endeavor. Most law students are engaged in a variety of activities beyond the bare minimum of class attendance and participation. These activities provide them with vital experiences and professional contacts that they will take forward into their legal careers.

Developing a personal code of values and ethics in law school

The pursuit of justice and equality are lofty goals that draw many students to the legal profession. But to what degree do law students feel that their law school is helping them refine their code of ethics and make contributions to the welfare of their communities?

Most law students feel that law school has helped them shape their personal code of values and ethics. A full 85% of students say that their law school has at least some positive impact in this area, and more than half (55%) consider their law school to have quite a bit or very much influence on shaping their values and ethics.


A similar proportion of law students agree that law school has helped them achieve the skills, knowledge, and personal development necessary to contribute to the welfare of their communities. More than four in five (83%) of law students credit their law schools with having at least some influence in becoming a force for good in their communities, while only 17% said that their law school has had very little influence.


Students with different career goals may have different attitudes toward the development of their personal code of values and ethics. We might expect that students who are interested in public service careers would be more likely prioritize opportunities for learning and challenging themselves on difficult ethical and moral questions. Interestingly, however, law students who would prefer a career in the private sector are slightly more likely to credit law school with making a significant impact on their development of a personal code of ethics. Around 57% of students who plan to work for a private firm believe that their law school has “quite a bit” or “very much” impact on developing their personal ethical code compared to 52% of students who are interested in careers in the non-profit and government sectors.


The world benefits greatly from ethical lawyers who care about the welfare of their communities, and the vast majority of law students feel that their law schools are shaping them into exactly that type of legal professional.

Working Effectively with Others

Last month, we looked at characteristics and perspectives of law students who developed the ability to learn independently. This month, we will look at students who have substantially improved their ability to work effectively with others during law school.

Developing skills in working effectively with others may be at least partially about exposure. Students who learned a lot about working with others were more likely to frequently work with classmates during class and also more likely to frequently work with classmates outside of class.


Perhaps not surprisingly, sustained contact with others while working toward a mutual goal appears to be associated with increased awareness of issues of diversity. Students who learned a great deal about working with others were more likely to include diverse perspectives in course assignments and class discussions by considering issues of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or political beliefs more often than their peers. Three in five (60%) of students who learned a lot about working with others frequently had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity than themselves, but only 48% of other students did so. However, the largest difference is in the degree to which students feel that law school contributed substantially to understanding people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Two-thirds (65%) of students who learned a lot about working with others felt this way compared to a meager 22% of students who did not learn a lot about working with others.

We must consider, however, that students who feel their law school contributed substantially to their ability to work effectively about others may feel more engaged and positive about their law school experience overall compared to their colleagues who did not experience very much personal development in this area. The students who learned how to work with others were also more likely to understand themselves quite a bit better because of their time at law school (73% vs. 35% of students who did not learn much about working with others) and to be more satisfied with their overall law school experience (89% vs. 65%). There is likely a constellation of environmental and personal factors that influence how students learn to engage with others and what value they get from these interactions. However, it seems likely that students who work with others, both during class and outside class, develop more collaboration skills and hone their ability to more deeply understand the perspectives of those who do not share their background.

Learning Effectively on Your Own

Working independently and working collaboratively are both important skills for budding legal professionals. In addition to learning through classroom experiences, law students must assume responsibility for learning large amounts of material in a relatively short period of time, often independently and sometimes in small groups. We examined the extent to which law students feel that their experiences in law school have contributed to their personal development in both learning effectively on their own and working effectively with others.

Four in five law students say that law school helped them “quite a bit” or “very much” in developing the ability to learn effectively on their own. Fifteen percent say that they developed “some” skills in this area, and only four percent said they developed “very little.” By comparison, only about half (52%) of law students learned “quite a bit” or “very much” about working effectively with others. A little more than a third (36%) developed “some” skills in this area, and more than one in ten (12%) learned very little about working effectively with others.

Students who greatly enhanced their ability to work on their own generally feel both that their law school has high standards and that their law school adequately supports their academic endeavors. Nearly all (92%) of students who significantly enhanced their independent learning skills felt that their law school emphasizes spending significant amounts of time studying and on academic work compared to 84% of their colleagues who developed fewer skills in this area. Additionally, over two-thirds (69%) of students who honed their ability to learn independently felt that their law school provides the support they need to succeed academically compared to only 38% of their peers. Rigor and institutional support work together to drive student achievement.

Students who substantially enhanced their ability to learn independently were more likely to revise course assignments at least once and to engage more deeply with course content. Sixty-three percent of independent learners frequently prepared two or more drafts of a paper or assignment and 84% were frequently required to integrate ideas from multiple sources in papers or course assignments. Students who developed independent learning skills were more likely to frequently discuss assignments with faculty compared to students who developed less of an ability to learn independently. Perhaps crucially, the independent learners were more likely to frequently receive prompt feedback from faculty (50% received prompt feedback "often" or "very often") compared to law students with less-developed independent learning skills (29% received prompt feedback "often" or "very often"). Deep, sustained learning is often an iterative process that requires feedback from experts, and this is borne out by the LSSSE data.


Next month we will look at how students who feel law school has contributed substantially to their ability to work effectively with others differ from those students who do not feel this way. We will also consider how interpersonal effectiveness skills might affect attitudes toward diversity.

How Hard Do Law Students Work Outside of Class?

The average law student spends a sizeable amount of time reading and otherwise preparing for class each week. But given the stresses and time pressures placed up students, how many of them occasionally skip the required readings? We examined LSSSE data from 2004 to present to look for trends.

LSSSE’s core survey asks about how often students come to class without completing required readings or assignments. In 2021, fully 38% of students said they never came to class unprepared. This is up significantly from the all-time low in 2005 of only 27% who said they always completed required readings and assignments. In fact, there has been a steady upward trend toward meticulous class preparation over the last decade and a half.


A similar attitude toward hard work outside of class time can be seen in the percentage of students who prepare multiple drafts of a paper or assignment before turning it in. In 2005, 14% of student never prepared additional drafts of their coursework. By 2019, that number had dropped to 7%. However, in 2020 and 2021, the number of students who never prepared multiple drafts increased slightly again. It will be interesting to see whether this is a pandemic-fatigue effect or whether students are gradually showing either less interest in re-writing or less available time in which to do so.


Writing can play an important role in developing critical thinking and reasoning skills, which is why it is a central component to a legal education. This is also true of doing assigned reading, which occupies about 18.5 hours of a law student’s week on average, and performing other types of course preparation, which takes another 11.2 hours of effort per week. Since LSSSE started collecting data in 2004, it appears that law students have generally become more engaged with putting in the effort necessary to reap the benefits of a legal education, even when that effort happens at home.

Knowledge, Skills, and Personal Development in Law School

What does one learn in law school? In this post, we describe the areas of academic, professional, and personal development that graduating law students feel were most strongly influenced by their law school experience.

Students nearing graduation (full-time 3L students and part-time 4L students) in 2020 were most likely to say that they developed “very much” in terms of their ability to think critically and analytically (49%) and in acquiring a broad legal education (46%). Research, writing, and speaking skills were also key areas of academic and personal growth. Fewer students responded that they developed “very much” in interpersonal skills such as working effectively with others (19%) and understanding people who are different from themselves (17%).

From 2005 to the present, graduating law students have been remarkably consistent in the areas in which they say they have developed the most. Between 40% and 50% of law students over the last fifteen years feel they have acquired a broad legal education and learned how to learn effectively on their own. However, only around 20% of law students felt they had learned very much both about solving complex real-world problems and about developing clearer career goals, although these numbers have climbed over time. In terms of personal development and community values, usually about three in ten graduating students say they have made “very much” progress in understanding themselves, but only between 10% and 20% of students have made similar gains in understanding people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, this area of interpersonal development has also increased noticeably over the last fifteen years.


Writing Papers in Law School

Writing assignments are useful tools for challenging students to put complex thoughts into understandable language. The amount of writing required in law school can vary across courses, years, and schools. Students also sometimes have different reactions to their writing experiences. Here, we estimate how many pages students wrote during the 2019-2020 school year and show how the number of pages written is related to perceived gains in writing abilities.

Law students report on their writing assignments with three LSSSE questions:


Universal Background Checks: This would require a background check for all individuals seeking to purchase firearms, regardless of the source of the firearm. This would help to keep guns out of the hands of individuals argumentative essay on gun control with a criminal history or history of mental illness.

Shorter papers (fewer than five pages in length) are quite common law school. Only 16% of respondents did not write any short papers. Most students (59%) wrote between one and six short papers, although 15% of students wrote ten or more.


Medium-length papers (5-19 pages) are another staple of law school. Slightly more than half of law students (52%) wrote one to three papers of this length during the previous school year, and another quarter (27%) wrote four to six papers of this length. Only 10% of students did not write a medium-length paper in the previous year.

Long papers (20+ pages) are somewhat less common. About 31% of students did not write any long papers during the previous school year, although more than half of students (58%) wrote between one and three long papers.

We can also use information from these three writing questions to create a very rough estimate of the total number of pages each student wrote for class assignments over the past year. Law students tended to write between 26 and 100 pages total. This range accounts for about 60% of law students. Over a quarter (27%) of law students fell specifically into the 51-75 page range. But nearly one in five law students (19%) wrote over 125 pages in the previous school year.


Part of the purpose of writing assignments is to assess how students are assimilating and analyzing information. Another purpose is to enhance students’ writing abilities. In a separate section of the survey, LSSSE asks about the degree to which law school has contributed to the development of the student’s writing ability. Interestingly, when we correlate students’ responses to this question with the number of pages of writing they did over the course of the year, we see a gradual increase that plateaus at around 76-100 pages. That is, in general, students who write more pages of text believe that law school has helped them become better writers but only to a certain point. Beyond about a hundred pages of writing (combined across all their classes), students are not more likely to say that their experience at law school has contributed to their ability to write clearly and effectively.


Law school provides consistent opportunities for students to hone their writing and reasoning skills. Most law students write a handful of short- and medium-length papers each year. Students generally feel that law school contributes to their ability to write clearly and effectively, including those students who only wrote 25 or fewer pages in the previous year. However, students who wrote more (up to around 100 pages) tend to respond more favorably to the writing skill development question than students who wrote less.