What Pre-Law Students Think About Most

Harvard law

What are soon-to-be newbie law students spending their time thinking about most? No, it’s not debt. It’s not making friends. It’s certainly not what they are going to wear on the first day of class. According to recent Kaplan research, it’s getting those “A”s.

Kaplan surveyed nearly 500 recent LSAT test takers, gave them five categories and asked what they thought about most. A whopping 89% said they were thinking about “achieving high grades.” The category garnering the next-highest amount of attention was maintaining a healthy work/life balance with 82%. Debt came next at 76%, with securing a summer internship close behind at 73%. A ways off the pack was thinking about “fitting in”—which was only at 38%.

According to a few law school deans, the results are in line with expectations, but they were all pleased to see a high percentage of future 1Ls thinking about life beyond work. “What jumped out to me was work/life balance,” says Sarah Zearfoss, assistant dean at the University of Michigan Law School. “Fifteen years ago people weren’t talking about it a lot and now they are and I think it reflects more savvy about what the legal profession is like. This particular generation is more concerned about it compared to previous ones.”

Georgetown University Law Center Dean William Treanor agrees. “I’m pleased to see work/life balance is so high,” he says. “One of the things studies point to is law students and lawyers can struggle with depression. I think it’s a very positive thing people are concerned with work/life balance.”

DEANS SKEPTICAL OF STUDENTS NOT ‘FITTING IN’

One dean in particular thought the survey results would probably change quite a bit if it were conducted again after a month of law school. “The results don’t surprise me for students getting ready to start,” says Scott Altman, dean of the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. “If you did the same survey four months later, things would feel different.”

Specifically, the already low percentage of students worried about fitting in might drop even further. “I think for most people that anxiety dissipates,” says Altman. “Most get here and settled into a group or groups quickly.”

Zearfoss was equally skeptical of that result.

“I’ve never heard anyone express that to me,” she says. “I hear, ‘What is your student body like?’ Or, ‘What’s the atmosphere like?’ And fitting in is probably behind those sorts of questions but that’s a funny phrase. It sounds like something like when you go to elementary school and a first-grader would say. A similar standard I hear is asking how they will interact with fellow students, which is important.”

WHAT 1Ls SHOULD FOCUS ON

The deans did have some advice about what 1Ls should focus their attention and energies on. For one, it’s figuring out specifically what type of law they want to study.

“If I were giving advice to law students, one of the things I think they should be thinking about is positioning themselves to have the legal careers they want,” Treanor says. “They should start making choices like focusing on networking, hands-on learning, and improving their writing skills.”