Legal education may be grappling with some problems, but the vast majority of law students are satisfied with their experience, according to the 2011 Law School Survey of Student Engagement.
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.
“While it is not all good news for participating law schools, the results paint a more nuanced and balanced picture than that often reported in the press,” reads the report, which was financed by the Association of American Law Schools and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
The students who expected to graduate with debt loads of $80,000 or more tended to be the heaviest users of career services and job counseling. Most students — 80 percent — reported discussing their career plans with law faculty.
Not all the findings were so positive, however. Forty percent of students felt their legal education had contributed “only some or very little to their acquisition of job or work-related knowledge and skills.”
Debt loads appear to affect how students feel about their education overall. Of students who expected to graduate with more than $80,000 in law school debt, 23 percent would not enroll again given the opportunity to start over and 18 percent were unsatisfied with their law school experience. That compared to a 14 percent dissatisfaction rate for students borrowing $40,000 or less.
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.
The survey also took a close look at transfer students and their level of participation in campus life. They tended to earn grades on par with their classmates, but were less likely to participate in activities such as law review, moot court and campus organizations.
“Despite their academic success, transfer students’ overall experience at their new school is mixed,” said Carole Silver, a professor of law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law-Bloomington, who directed the survey. “The survey finds that transfer students do not fully integrate into their new environment, at least in the 2L year, although they are successful according to traditional academic measures.”
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