Law Students in Search of Jobs

January 5, 2011

The majority of those who graduated from law school last year were not satisfied with the help they received to find a job, according to a study released today. On the whole, the report asserts, “professional development of students during law school is largely underemphasized.”

The report, the Law School Survey of Student Engagement, comes amid increasing anger directed toward law schools over job placement rates. A hunger strike generated considerable interest, and numerous blogs sprang up to raise the issue's profile.

For Kyle McEntee -- whose organization The Law School Transparency Project is fighting for law schools to release more information to prospective students about employment prospects -- the results in the engagement survey confirm an unacceptable state of affairs. “For many students, they start out with a certain ideal in mind, be it public interest or big law, and quickly learn it's very competitive and that many can't get help at schools without certain G.P.A.s,” he told Inside Higher Ed via e-mail. “This is a sign that institutions have failed from day one.”

Requests to the Association of American Law Schools for comment were not returned. Susan Prager, its executive director, has spoken at length to Inside Higher Ed on these subjects in the past.

The annual survey always focuses on “engagement” as an overarching theme, but each year also specializes on a niche aspect of a law school student’s life. This year's theme was "professionalism." The survey tabulated three categories of self-reported student data from 77 law schools: the effectiveness of law schools’ efforts to prepare students for a professional role, the motivations behind students' choosing to attend and then performing well in law school, and the influence of non-academic factors on students’ personal and professional development.

The statistic about post-graduation employment, for example, came from data showing that 59 percent of law students of any class year who used career-counseling services were satisfied with the experience, but 57 percent of third-year law students were unsatisfied with job search help.

McEntee said these figures pointed to a real problem. “Schools (sometimes knowingly) reinforce faulty beliefs of prospectives and, when things are different than expected, students are unsatisfied with the help they receive or don't use the services at all,” he said.

Lindsay Watkins -- the survey’s project manager, of Indiana University's Center for Postsecondary Research, where the study was prepared -- said the authors were particularly struck by the findings on student-faculty interaction.

Data showed that students who interacted more often with faculty showed strong increases in six kinds of professional development, like “acquiring job or work-related knowledge or skills,” and “dealing with ethical dilemmas that arise as a part of law practice.” It also showed that only one-third of third-year students at some point during their enrollment worked with a faculty member on a research project, and that only 20 percent of law students frequently discuss course concepts with their professors. As a consequence, the authors note, "opportunities for valuable student-faculty interaction are often missed."

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