Future JDs Seek Experience & Purpose

law school gradsA sense of purpose. Practical experience. Lower tuition.

Those are the core benefits sought by prospective law students, according to a new study published today (Feb. 12) by Kaplan Test Prep. Surprisingly, at a time when unemployment of JD grads remains stubbornly high, it was an issue that didn’t surface strongly in the results.

In a survey of 1,378 pre-law students taken last fall, the majority answered that they were applying to law school because they enjoyed the law itself. In the study, 58% responded that their primary motivation was to practice law. Another 11% expected to use the degree to change careers, while increasing salary potential and preparing for a political career were cited by 7% each.

Prospective students were also weighing experiential learning in their decisions. Some 97% of respondents wanted clinical experience in their program. This correlates with efforts undertaken at many law schools, where 71% are integrating more clinical experience and practical training into their curriculum according to a 2013 Kaplan survey of law school admissions officers.

In a nod to President Obama’s recent call for a two-year law school curriculum, 58% of students surveyed support a shorter curriculum, which could substantially reduce their post-graduation debt. Kaplan notes that this 58% figure aligns with a 2013 Kaplan study, where 63% of recent law school graduates answered the same.

Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan, argues that these results demonstrate that students are making more informed choices about law school. “Our survey suggests that pre-law students are paying attention to the current state of legal education and the job market for new lawyers, and recognize the need for big changes that they think will benefit them. This desire for a shake-up puts them on the same page as many in the legal education community, including law school admissions officers and educators,”

Thomas was especially pleased that a majority of students were enrolling in law school for the right reasons: “It’s also encouraging that… the primary reason they are planning to go to law school is to actually practice law,” he said. “While the JD is a versatile degree and there are many career paths possible with it, it’s smart to make practicing law your primary focus.”

To learn more about the future of law education and the best practices in experiential education, check out our interview with Dean David Yellen of Loyola Law.