When Deciding On A Law School, Culture Matters, Too

5097239229_bf47a5a060_zRankings, employment rates, professors, location, specialty areas, and notable alumni are all applicable factors in deciding which law school to attend. However, an often-overlooked factor is culture. Many employment decisions are based on cultural fit between a potential employee and the employer. It makes sense that culture should be a pertinent topic when deciding on where to commit three years and a large amount of money.
To help pre-law students and law schools understand each other culturally, Kaplan surveyed 676 Kaplan Test Prep Students who took the LSAT in June of 2014 along with admissions officers from 126 of the 204 American Bar Association accredited schools. The survey examined what pre-law students look for and expect from their future law school and how the admissions officers view their respective schools.
“Law school culture is one of those things that’s not necessarily incorporated into schools’ reputations or rankings, so pre-law students should do some digging to find out which law school best suits their individual tastes,” says Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs, Kaplan Test Prep in a release. “Culture is also a matter of perception, which illustrates why speaking with current students, alumni and professors is so important. We’d also point out that while the survey results give a good general overview of how law schools view themselves, it may be somewhat challenging to place a program into one bucket or another. For most law schools, the reality may be somewhere in between.”
The results showed a large disconnect in many areas between what pre-law students hope to receive from their future law schools and what those law schools actually see themselves as doing. For example, 55% of students want to attend a law school that has a casual environment. The other 45% want a formal environment. But 89% of admissions officers perceive the environment of their schools as casual while 11% sees themselves as formal.
Students wanting a culture of cutthroat competition will have to dig deep and do some due diligence to track down a school embracing a competitive nature. According to the survey, only 2% of schools view themselves as competitive while 98% see their schools as more collaborative. Another difference stems from students expectations of professors. More than half (53%) would like to see leniency amongst their professors but just 44% of the schools see their professors as lenient opposed to 56% viewing them as strict.
Finally, students and schools disagreed significantly on whether their program should prepare students to specialize in certain areas or focus more on graduating well-rounded students. More students (63%) want interdisciplinary-focused programs and 82% of law schools report having interdisciplinary-focused programs. Only 18% of law schools report having specialty-focused programs.
Three important factors that students and law school agreed on were the population of the school, focusing on practice-ready graduates, and teaching the Socratic method. According to the study, 84% of students want small class sizes and 92% of schools report having small classes. Additionally, 74% of students say they want a school with practice-ready curriculum and 77% of schools say they provide just that. Finally, 72% of prelaw students shared that they wanted to learn from the Socratic method and 75% of law schools report teaching the Socratic method.
“It’s also important for law schools to listen to what the next class of entering law school students want,” Thomas says. “While entry into law school remains competitive, it’s also clear that law schools are sometimes fighting over the best students because there are far fewer applicants now than there were a decade ago. This means intangibles like culture can make a difference. We also think it’s encouraging to see both pre-laws and law schools both recognizing the importance of a practice-ready curriculum. If law schools and the legal job marketplace are to thrive again, it is going to take new thinking like this.”

Topic Student Result Law School Result Student Result Law School Result
Collaborative vs. Competitive 77% collaborative 98% collaborative 23% competitive 2% competitive
Team vs. Individual 58% individual 33% individual 42% team 67% team
Casual vs. Formal 55% casual 89% casual 45% formal 11% formal
Professors being strict vs. lenient 53% lenient 44% lenient 47% strict 56% strict
Practice-ready vs. academic focus 74% practice ready 77% practice ready 26% academic focus 23% academic focus
Bigger vs. small class sizes 16% want big class sizes 8% see big class sizes 84% small 92% small
Socratic Method 72% yes 75% yes 28% no 25% no
Well rounded vs. specialized 63% interdisciplinary 82% interdisciplinary 37% specialized 18% specialized

The entire release and results can be found here.