Law School Selection

Law School Students Still Not Receiving Adequate Mental Health Support

Forty percent of recent law school graduates say that their school is not doing enough to support students’ mental health and assist students struggling with the stress and pressure of law school. An additional 31 percent do not know, while only 29 percent answered favorably, saying that they feel their school is doing enough. This is according to the Kaplan Bar Review survey results released earlier this month, which include data gathered from over 300 recent law school graduates. Despite the well-documented struggles that law students face and the recommendations for sweeping reforms put out by the American Bar Association in August 2017, there have been few noted improvements. Tammi Rice, vice president, Kaplan Bar Review commented on the survey results saying, “What students are telling us is that law schools need to do a better job of providing the kinds of services that they need for self-care, and also communicating how those services can help them. This is an important conversation to have. We have to conquer the stigma traditionally associated with mental health, particularly in the legal community… May, in particular, can be an emotionally taxing month in the life of law school graduates, as it is when they begin preparing to take the July bar exam…”

 The Kaplan Bar Review survey also asked students for their opinions on the state bar examiners’ ability to inquire about past mental health and addiction issues. Seventy-four percent of students were opposed to the bar examiners’ application asking if the applicant has ever been treated for a mental health issue. At 61 percent, there were fewer, but still a strong majority who were opposed to the bar application asking about past treatment for a substance abuse issue.

 These high numbers were no surprise in the wake of last year’s successful movement to update the mental health questioning on the Virginia Bar application. Law school students, who saw the questioning as a barrier to getting treatment because of the stigma, organized and sent letters to the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners, who were examining the mental health questions. After receiving a recommendation from a Supreme Court of Virginia committee coupled with “valuable input” from lawyers, judges, law school deans, and students, the bar has—as of January 1, 2019—eliminated the question asking applicants to disclose past mental health treatment. The board also edited another question to focus on conduct and behavior. “Knowing that the students who hope to one day join the Virginia Bar will not have to experience fear of ramifications for disclosing any treatment they sought during law school on their bar applications is a wonderful thing,” said Catherine Woodcock, last year’s Student Bar Association president at Washington and Lee University. “The more we normalize and encourage sound mental health and wellness, the better we will be as a profession.” In January, the Michigan Supreme Court also gave notice that it is studying “whether questions regarding mental health should be included on the personal affidavit that is part of the application for the Michigan Bar Examination, and if so, what form those questions should take.”

Law schools and legal professionals still have considerable ground to cover in increasing awareness of mental health needs within the profession. However, kicking off this month, is “Minds Over Matters,” a year-long deep dive into the mental health and well-being of law professionals by Law.com and its affiliate professionals. This site and its affiliate ALM partners, which cover a wide-ranging scope of legal topics are looking to “more deeply cover stress, depression, addiction, and other mental health issues affecting the legal profession. We aim to create a place for open dialogue, to shine a light on these issues that have so long been stigmatized, and to hold the profession accountable to work toward change. With ALM’s broad coverage of the legal profession, we think we are uniquely situated to address these issues.”

All prospective law students, recent law graduates, and legal professionals should stay abreast of these trends and follow the work showcased on law.com. Prospective law students will want to be conversant on these issues for interviews and as they consider the cultural fit of various law school programs. Current students and recent law graduates will want to educate themselves on how to begin cultivating their own wellbeing despite the stress of law school and their upcoming professional lives. These groups may also want to look out for opportunities to engage with and make changes within their own state’s board of bar examiners. As seen in Virginia, a group of engaged students can make a difference.

Considering Public Interest Law? Lucrative Fellowships and Loan Assistance Programs Available

Public interest law can provide incredible fulfillment and satisfaction, but the cost of law school is significant and the salaries for public interest lawyers are lower than those going into private practice.

U.S News and World Report recently published average entry-level salary data for all ranked law schools.  Law graduates in 2016 who entered the private sector averaged just under $85,000, while those from a top 15 ranked institution averaged $180,000. Those entering the public sector, however, collected a much lower average of $53,500. Graduates from the top 15 ranked schools who accepted public sector positions averaged slightly more, at $65,000.  

Luckily, there are a plethora of scholarships, fellowships, and loan repayment assistance programs, which may be available to you. So, when evaluating specific law schools, don’t forget to fully evaluate the following: 

  • Tuition and Scholarship Opportunities: While it is advantageous to attend a top-tier school, you may want to expand your list to include those programs more likely to offer scholarships to students interested in public interest law. That is, if you feel ready to commit to that career path.
  • School Fellowships: Many top-tier law programs grant fellowships, which pay for summer and post-graduate public interest employment, to those interested in pursuing public interest law.
  • Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP) or Low Income Protection Plans (LIPP): The LRAP is more common and is generally limited to those working in public interest law, while the LIPP works more like scholarship money that is received after graduation. Over 100 law schools have an LRAP in place, and the American Bar Association has compiled a list of programs. When considering a school’s LRAP, consider if an LRAP is funded through a specific endowment or designated fund and how many applicants typically receive LRAP funding. Most schools are not able to provide funding to all applicants.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): The PSLF provides debt forgiveness to those who work for a qualifying government, non-profit, or public interest organization, and who make 120 qualifying student loan repayments while working for that organization. There is some uncertainty regarding the future of this program, however. It has been slated for elimination in two of the President’s proposed budgets.
  • Other Federal Repayment Adjustment programs: There are other existing repayment programs based on income, such as the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), and Income-Based Repayment (IBR). These adjust monthly payments based on your income.

While public interest law may require some additional planning in terms of selecting and paying for law school, there are many resources available for prospective law students who feel passionate about pursuing this career path. Some additional research during the school selection and application period can go a long way towards making your dream come true.

More Pre-Law Students Striving to Work for Public Interest

The “Trump Bump” theory is real. Earlier this year, Kaplan Test Prep released the results of a survey of over 500 pre-law students and found that 30 percent of respondents said the 2016 election impacted their decision to apply to law school. “We’ve seen significant jumps in both LSAT takers and law school applications over the past admissions cycle, which has fueled speculation about how much impact, if any, the 2016 election and subsequent political climate has had on this year’s law school admissions landscape. We now have an answer: It’s significant,” said Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan.

Survey data released by BARBRI Law Preview, which includes responses from 500 pre-law students expected to matriculate into the Class of 2021, demonstrate a similar finding. When asked to provide a primary reason for attending law school, the top two most selected options “I have always wanted to be a lawyer” and “I want to advocate for change of social policies in the United States” garnered almost identical responses at 38.2 percent and 37.6 percent, respectively. The survey also found that almost 98 percent of respondents plan to practice law after graduation, with the plurality of respondents selecting public interest (13.5 percent) as the type of law which they want to practice. The next most selected choices were business (corporate) law (12.2 percent) and criminal law (12.0 percent). Furthermore, when asked where they would like to practice law, over half of the respondents reported that they would want to practice law as an attorney working for the government (33.9 percent) or for a non-profit/non-governmental organization (22.5 percent). 39.8 percent reported wanting to work for a private firm.

Lynn Page, a pre-law advisor at Northwestern University provides anecdotal evidence supporting the BARBRI survey findings when describing the students who she advises and their goals in a recent Chicago Tribune article. “If it’s not immigration (law), it’s an interest in public interest law. Most students are interested in civic engagement (and) social justice” she said.  

The Latest Law School Employment Rates from The American Bar Association

A helpful resource for prospective law students, The American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar published a report detailing the employment of 2016 law school graduates based on different employment classifications, including Bar Passage Required and JD Advantage (without bar passage).

For the graduating class of 2016, 64.5 percent of law school graduates were hired into Bar Passage Required employment, an increase of two percentage points from 2015 (62.4 percent). Additionally, 14.1 percent were hired into JD Advantage positions and only 8.8 percent were described as Unemployed/Seeking, both statistics slightly improved from 2015.

We have compiled the list of Top 20 Schools based on the percentage of graduates who reported having a full-time, long-term position in a Bar Passage Required role for the class of 2016. The graph also shows the percentage of students who held full-time, long-term JD Advantage Positions as well as the percent of students who are classified as Unemployed (Seeking). This chart shows that there are many law schools with excellent job placement, which may help to inform and broaden your search. 

 

Additionally, the ABA report includes information on what types of employment graduates are obtaining. The graph below shows the same schools, but with the percentages of full-time, long-term employees in various legal industries. If you are confident in the career path you are seeking after law school, it is worthwhile to see where previous graduating classes have found employment. It can provide valuable insight into the existing alumni network you will have access to.

Additionally, the ABA report includes information on what types of employment graduates are obtaining. The graph below shows the same schools, but with the percentages of full-time, long-term employees in various legal industries. If you are confident in the career path you are seeking after law school, it is worthwhile to see where previous graduating classes have found employment. It can provide valuable insight into the existing alumni network you will have access to.

Use the links provided below to find additional school-level and detailed information on employment for the class of 2016.  Individual School Summary Reports (Includes information on the size of law firms where graduates are employed):  http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/   Summary Class of 2016 Employment:  https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/2016_law_graduate_employment_data.authcheckdam.pdf

Use the links provided below to find additional school-level and detailed information on employment for the class of 2016.

Individual School Summary Reports (Includes information on the size of law firms where graduates are employed): http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/

Summary Class of 2016 Employment: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/2016_law_graduate_employment_data.authcheckdam.pdf

Innovation and Technology: Key Topics in Today’s Law School Curriculum

As the legal industry continues to evolve, so too has legal education. Thus, prospective law students should pay careful attention to the changing markets for legal services, how technology may be disrupting their fields of interest, and how schools on their list are responding to such change.

In a recent Forbes Online article, Mark Cohen describes the changing landscape of legal services as the role of legal technology increases. He references a Thomson Reuters analysis, issued earlier this year, that showed a 484 percent increase in new legal services technology patents filed globally over the past five years, with the majority filed in U.S. and China (38 percent and 34 percent respectively). The analysis reports that these numbers “reflect the rise of alternative legal services—such as virtual law firms—and the rapid expansion of the online legal industry. This trend is in large part being driven by businesses and individuals looking beyond traditional channels for legal advice.” And it supports findings presented in Deloitte’s Future Trends for Legal Services report, published in 2016, which reported data from a survey of in-house legal services purchasers. Over half of respondents predicted technology would replace the tasks of in-house lawyers in just five years. Additionally, respondents reported a need for legal partners that go “beyond legal,” or what a major law firm typically delivers, and incorporate expertise on industry topics, cyber and data security, and proactive knowledge sharing.

The future for practicing lawyers is shaping up to look considerably different from what we’ve grown accustomed to. Cohen predicts that in the future, “Fewer lawyers will engage in pure ‘practice’ and many more will leverage practice skills and a suite of new ‘delivery’ skillsets to perform as-yet unidentified legal delivery functions.“

So, what does this mean for prospective law students? It means they should be paying close attention to how schools’ are adapting their curricular offerings and knowledge center initiatives to integrate technology and business topics. Daniel Linna, Director of LegalRnD at the The Center for Legal Services Innovation at the Michigan State University College of Law recently launched a prototype for the Legal Services Innovation Index. This is a tool that can be used to track and measure innovation in legal education. While Linna warns that it does not measure quality and should not be considered a ranking, in using this tool, prospective law students can quickly gather information and compare technology-related offerings at various schools. The prototype model currently uses ten technology and legal-service delivery disciplines and includes 38 schools. It is not yet a comprehensive tool, but there are plans for increasing its scope.

Most importantly, Linna’s prototype is a much-needed acknowledgement of the changing nature of the field and the need for law schools to think innovatively about how best to prepare the lawyers of the future. “We need to start measuring these things, start describing innovation and measuring it,” Linna said. “We need metrics for what is happening in the legal industry.”

The Center for Legal Services Innovation has also created an innovation measurement for Law Firms, which is in Phase One.