Law schools have had a tough go of it lately.
New student enrollment plummeted 29 percent over the past six years amid stories of a difficult job market and skyrocketing student debt.
But a dozen law deans have drafted their students to publicly share a different side of the law school experience: That of helping underserved communities, the environment, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, and pursuing long-held aspirations of practicing law.
The result is a nearly four-minute online video titled “Why Law?”—a collaboration between 12 law schools to highlight the doors that can open with a law degree and the ability of attorneys to have a positive impact on the world.
Law schools routinely tout their own programs in ad campaigns and YouTube videos. But according to Jennifer Mnookin, dean of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, “Why Law?” represents one of the only times a broad spectrum of law schools have worked together to make the case for legal education as a whole.
“It’s the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that such a variety of schools did something collaborative like this, focusing on what brought our students to law school and what they hope to achieve,” Mnookin said.
The “Why Law?” dozen coalesced primarily through the ties between the schools’ various leaders, many of whom began their deanships around 2015 and attended the American Bar Association’s annual workshop for new deans that year, Mnookin said.
It features students from UCLA; University of Florida Levin College of Law; Wake Forest University School of Law; Suffolk University Law School; Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; West Virginia University College of Law; University of Toledo College of Law; University of Maine School of Law; University of Georgia School of Law, University of Tulsa College of Law; Albany Law School; and the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.
“The message that kept getting out in the media was how much debt students have and what a bad deal this is,” said Maine Law Dean Danielle Conway. “Not that some of those criticisms aren’t legitimate and justifiable, but what could we do—particularly schools that are not necessarily in the top 14—to get the message out about how important the study and the practice of law is?”
“Why Law?” offers a rebuttal to the narrative that a Juris Doctor saddles law graduates with enormous loans and sends them on to unfulfilling careers—assuming they can get a job at all.
Students from each of the participating campuses offer short summaries of the clinical and externship work they’ve done on campus, or their career plans after graduation.
“I came to law school to learn how to serve undocumented immigrants,” said Wake Forest third-year Emily Scotton in the video. “I founded a program that conducts family preparedness workshops for immigrant parents so they can have peace of mind that their affairs are legally in order if they are deported.”
Suffolk law student Kwok Tse discusses using automation and innovation to bring legal services to low-income clients in entirely new ways.
“I decided to go to law school because I feel a moral obligation to take part in securing our environment for ourselves and future generations,” said University of Florida law student Ashley Weisenfeld.
Mnookin said the participating deans collectively felt it was an important moment in time to highlight the civic roles lawyers play, given the partisan rancor in Washington.
“When we talked about that together, we all had the sense that this is a moment where there is perhaps a slightly heightened appreciation for the importance of the rule of law, and it was an important moment for law schools to tell that story,” she said.
Early evidence indicates the political climate may indeed be prompting more people to consider going to law school. The number of people sitting for the Law School Admission Test rose 20 percent in June, and about 12 percent in September. A recent survey of more than 500 people enrolled in Blueprint LSAT Preparation’s courses found that 24 percent cited Trump and politics as their most important reason for wanting to become a lawyer.
Conway said she’s pleased with the end result of the video project.
“I think it was successful because we’re showing people that we are innovating,” she said. “This is not the remnants of the traditional law school as people knew it 20 or 30 years ago. We are responding to the needs of our communities.”
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ