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The Zombies (I Mean, Law Students) Are Happy

Vivia Chen

January 16, 2012

©George Hubka.Fotolia.comCuriously complacent. This is one reason why there's no real impetus to change legal education: The consumers aren't complaining that much.

According to the 2011 Law School Survey of Student Engagement, law students are perfectly content with their education. Here's what Karen Sloan of The National Law Journal writes:

That report, released earlier this month, includes responses from more than 33,000 law students at 95 U.S. and Canadian law schools about how they study, use campus resources, and interact with faculty. Of the students surveyed, 83 percent responded that their law school experience was either "good" or "excellent," and 80 percent said they would attend law school again if they could start over.

Okay, maybe these kids are just mesmerized by case study. I can accept that. But this is what I find truly puzzling: The report also finds that 40 percent of the students believe their legal education had contributed "only some or very little to their acquisition of job or work-related knowledge and skills."

Then there's this finding:

Despite the contracting legal employment market, 20 percent of students said they have not drawn upon job support from their law school, and 14 percent had not availed themselves of campus career counseling.

Let me see if I can summarize this: The vast majority of law students are happy with their legal education, though almost half of them don't think it'll help them find legal jobs, and some aren't even bothering their schools about finding jobs. Wow, who knew folks go to law school just for kicks?

Oh, goody: four more officially sanctioned mediocre law schools. I guess if law students are content, it only makes sense to crank out more law schools.

According to the NLJ's Karen Sloan, the Association of American Law Schools had a "banner year," approving four law schools for membership, "its largest yearly increase since the 1970s."

This esteemed crop includes Drexel University Earl Mack School of Law, North Carolina Central University School of Law, the St. Thomas University School of Law, and Texas Wesleyan University School of Law.

"Each one of these schools brings its own personality to our membership," said AALS executive director Susan Westerberg Prager in the NLJ article. (Since when was the "personality" of a law schools a relevant consideration for admission to AALS? Are we talking about a puppy contest?)

As you'd expect, ABA president William Robinson III also jumped into the act, lauding the new members and repeating this familiar baloney about the benefits of earning a law degree:

The decision to attend law school is not necessarily about job security, Robinson said, but rather about opportunity. A law degree offers the "widest potential variety of career opportunity" compared to other advanced degree programs, he said.

The ABA is committed to defending law schools from attacks on its ability to produce good lawyers, he said. 

"Our law schools can stand up and measure up against any other graduate program in this country," he said.

Please, kids, don't buy the ruse. Oh, I forgot, you already did.

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Isn't this similar to taking a "perception of instruction" survey during the semester long before you take the final exam? Students may be "perfectly content" with their law school education but have they passed the bar and found a job in their chosen field? What precisely are they
assessing - all the warm and fuzzies?

Actually, the number of people taking the LSAT has dropped significantly this year.


It appears that law school is becoming a less desirable place to wait out the economy than it used to be. There will likely be a corresponding drop in the number of applicants to law school.

Sounds like this study was somehow skewed. Law schools are busy fighting a onslaught of class action lawsuits from their students so if that doesn't say UNhappy, I don't know what does.

Some people like being carefully educated and learning to think like a lawyer. Admittedly there are schools that do that better than others and it is an expensive education, but it is also a legitimate reason to go to law school.

I love and loved my college, http://www.sjca.edu/. Right now there is a (sorry closed) discussion on the College’s alumni site about whether the large cost was worth it. That conversation has traction. The people who think it was worth the price largely believe that knowing how to think critically, read well and analyze carefully are priceless benefits.

Sounds similar to your law school discussion to me.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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