The American Bar Association Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education recently released its report identifying factors driving the high costs of legal education. One factor cited by the task force was law school scholarship policies based on high Law School Admis­sion Test scores, instead of financial need. These policies contribute in large part to high levels of law student debt, particularly among first-generation students. Worse yet, they result in the neediest students paying a tuition premium — a “merit surtax,” if you will — that subsidizes the attendance of their wealthier peers.

An analysis of data from the 2014 administration of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement charts how this phenomenon unfolds. The purpose of the analysis was to identify trends relating to the law school experience that were attributable to socioeconomic factors. Those responding to the survey were assigned to groups based on parental education, a common (though imperfect) proxy for socioeconomic status. Respondents whose parents had no more than a high school diploma (first-generation students) made up the “FG” group. Respondents with at least one parent who holds a bachelor’s degree or higher made up the “BA” group.

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