New Research Provides Insight into the Importance of Relationships in Law School:
Newly-released data by the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) provides a compelling look at the importance of relationships in law school. Data from this Report, Relationships Matter, draw from the responses of more than 18,000 students at 72 law schools who participated in the LSSSE Survey in 2018.
“Law students do a phenomenal job of harnessing available resources and engaging with those around them,” said Meera E. Deo, Director of LSSSE. “Whether connecting with faculty, staff, or classmates, they draw on these relationships to maximize opportunities in legal education. The majority of law students know that their professors care deeply about their professional achievements and well-being, that staff members are invested in their success, and that their peers want the best for them too.”
Relationships are critical. Law students who build strong connections with faculty, administrators, and classmates are more likely to appreciate their legal education overall and also have better academic and professional outcomes.
The 2018 LSSSE Annual Report focuses on these relationships, on what law schools do well and where we can improve. LSSSE data make clear that the vast majority of students not only have positive interactions in law school, but that they draw from these connections to maximize their success in school and beyond.
My fellow faculty will likely be as pleased as I am to find that a full 93% of our students recognize that we care about their learning and success in law school. After a decade in legal academia and affiliations at half-a-dozen institutions, I have seen first-hand the significant investment that most professors make in our students. While it is no surprise, it is nevertheless deeply satisfying to see hard data showing that a majority of law students see faculty as mentors, approaching us to discuss course assignments as well as career opportunities. We strive to be the “available, helpful, and sympathetic” professors that most students see us as.
Similarly, law students appreciate the many ways in which student services staff and other administrators enrich their legal education. Over two-thirds of students from the LSSSE sample find administrative staff “helpful, friendly, and considerate,” and note their satisfaction with academic advising, career counseling, and financial aid advising. This will be music to the ears of staff members whose primary goals involve supporting and advising students throughout law school.
Although legal education has a reputation for being inherently competitive, LSSSE data encouragingly reveal that 76% of all students find that their peers are “friendly, supportive, and contribute to a sense of belonging.” While 42% of 1L students note that peer competition creates some stress during law school, that percentage declines significantly by the third year.
In the midst of these vibrant relationships there are some disquieting trends. Students of color tend to have more contact with faculty but rate their interactions less positively than do white students. Smaller percentages of women than men note high levels of satisfaction with administrators. Many relationships that start strong at the beginning of law school diminish or fade by the third year.
We should work to intensify these relationships, bolster and sustain them throughout law school and for all students. In fact, students of color and women students tend to be the most vulnerable and in need of support. We must also maintain the high levels of support that students note when they begin their legal education so that they feel just as encouraged as they near graduation and bar study—a time when many of our students need us most. The LSSSE data tell us that we are successfully building relationships with students and that they rely on these relationships to succeed. Now is the time to reinforce them further.