How Law Student Goals Have Changed Over Four Decades
How has law school changed since the 70’s? Well, quite a bit. Duh. What hasn’t? But Indiana Law professor, William Henderson set out to answer the question in detail. He surveyed 4,000 Northeastern Law alumni who graduated from 1971 to 2012 and published his results on The Legal Whiteboard. Specifically, Henderson looked at reasons why people have decided to attend law school over the past four decades.
Why Northeastern Law? According to Above the Law’s report, Northeastern volunteered to participate. In 2011, Northeastern’s then-dean, Emily Spieler invited Henderson to “study her alumni.” The survey asked alums to rate their “goals for attending law school” that were listed on a five-point scale. Some goals included “having a satisfying career” or “improving society.” Respondents were asked to rate how much those goals factored into their decision to attend law school where a one was “not at all” and a five was “extremely.”
Interestingly, in four decades, the top three goals for attending law school essentially remained the same. Or, to put it another way, it’s likely an individual in 1972 went to law school for the same broad reasons as someone in 2011. The top three responses all fell into the 4 to 4.5 average. They were, in order, having a satisfying career, helping individuals, and improving society.
Commitment to social justice and being intellectually challenged rounded out the top five across decades. Becoming influential and deferring the job search were the two least likely goals for someone attending law school.
While many of the categories remained the same in terms of decade-to-decade averages, three categories had some decade-to-decade fluctuation. First, attending law school to “acquire transferable skills” has increased in importance consistently since the 1970s. Alums from the 70’s rated it at about 2.5 and alums in the 2000s placed it at about 3.5.
The other category to have about the same fluctuation was “eventual financial security.” Even though employment placement rates have declined recently and debt loads have soared, “eventual financial security” has increased as a goal for attending law school. One reason could be the word “eventual.” Another reason could be generational differences in what “financial security” means. It could also be due to t the alumni surveyed ended with the 2012 class, who were experiencing the full brunt of the economic downturn.
Finally, the only category that was significantly higher in the 70’s compared to the 2000s was “other goals.” To be sure, it’s a broad category and could mean a lot of different things. But what can be taken away is this: Law students are increasingly going to law school to fulfill common legal-related goals.
Source: Above the Law
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