By Judith Areen
This year marked the culmination of a project AALS first undertook in 2016 to understand what college students think about law school, and what sources of advice and information they rely on in deciding whether and where to go. Before the JD was designed in response to the ominous drop of more than 38 percent in the national applicant pool to law schools that began in 2010. AALS recruited Jeff Allum to be the first AALS Director of Research. He worked with Katie Kempner in overseeing the project.
In 2017, we selected Gallup from a field of five major research firms to partner on the project. Gallup recommended that we collect responses from at least 3,000 undergraduate students from 20 four-year institutions in order to identify national trends. Because some law students only decide to attend law school after college, we also sought responses from 1,000 first-year law students from 30 law schools. Thanks to assistance from a number of law schools deans who helped to persuade provosts and presidents to participate, more than 22,000 undergraduates from 25 four-year institutions and more than 2,700 law students from 44 law schools provided responses, resulting in a cornucopia of revealing data.
There are three highlights from the final report, Before the JD: Undergraduate Views on Law School, that I will mention:
First, public-spirited factors led the list of reasons undergraduates provided for considering law school. The top reason given (of 15 listed choices) was to pursue a career in politics, government, or public service. This was followed by being passionate about the work, an opportunity to give back to society, and to advocate for social change. That is certainly not the stereotype held by the public about what motivates lawyers.
Second, students first considered going to law school much earlier than many in the academy imagined. More than half of the law students first considered law school before college; one-third before high school. Law schools should consider this data as they design outreach programs.
Finally, there is the role of parental education, used in the study as a proxy for socioeconomic status. According to U.S. Census data, only 12 percent of adults age 45 to 65 (the typical age range of parents of college students) have an advanced degree. By contrast, half of the undergraduates considering law school had at least one parent with an advanced degree. This reproduction of privilege means that law schools need to greatly expand their efforts to support first-generation students if they are going to succeed in reducing economic inequality. In addition, although one-third of college students nationwide are first-generation, only one-fifth of undergraduates considering law school are. As the report concludes, “it will take deliberate effort on the part of law schools to level the playing field for qualified applicants, particularly if they are the first generation in their family to graduate from college.”
As the first known study in more than 50 years of undergraduate views on law school, AALS is very pleased that several national media outlets covered the report’s findings including Inside Higher Ed, National Law Journal, ABA Journal, and Bloomberg.
On October 23, the Association launched a second report from findings in the data: Beyond the Bachelor’s: Undergraduate Perspectives on Graduate and Professional Degrees. We co-hosted a public release with LSAC and Gallup at Gallup headquarters in Washington, DC. It is my hope that you see value in the expanded mission AALS has pursued for the last several years—a mission that now includes conducting research on topics of value to all law schools. For more information about research at AALS including partners and financial sponsors of Before the JD, the design of the project, and selected findings from both reports, visit AALS Research.
As part of our expanded mission, AALS continues to showcase the innovations and accomplishments of member and fee-paid law schools. The homepage of the AALS website features the innovations and accomplishments of law schools around the nation. It celebrates the accomplishments of colleagues such as those at the University of Buffalo School of Law who responded to the need for undergraduate initiatives that encourage a legal career by instituting a minor in law for undergraduate students; or colleagues at the University of Kansas School of Law who are strengthening the legal profession by teaching future lawyers to understand statistics, data analysis, and artificial intelligence. We rely on your schools (and your communication directors) to submit material to be featured on the website. As part of the Association’s ongoing work to repair the reputation of legal education, the AALS communications team led by James Greif continues to make improvements to our digital presence. In addition to showcasing law school events, we maintain a calendar of upcoming symposia at law schools around the nation on the AALS website. This fall, we began regularly emailing the calendar to all law faculty as part of our effort to share new ideas and scholarly insights throughout the legal academy. The communications team also maintains and disseminates a weekly compilation of news clips, which you are welcome to sign up for.
AALS maintains daily content on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube. More importantly, we retweet and report the material that showcases developments at all of your schools in order to make it accessible to a national audience.
“Our goal is for AALS to be a better resource for each of you.” – Judith Areen
As part of our expanded mission, AALS is committed to providing law school deans with opportunities to work together. The Deans Forum, a day-long program for deans of member and fee-paid schools at the Annual Meeting that we established five years ago, enables that. Approximately 150 deans attended last year in San Diego for a very productive program. AALS also established a Deans Steering Committee to identify matters of interest to deans and to work on those issues throughout the year. In recent years, the Steering Committee has undertaken such projects as meeting with the ABA Committee on the Future of Legal Education and discussing recommendations for the Ninth Circuit Committee on Workplace Environment with Judge Margaret McKeown in 2018. In addition, the Section on Law School Deans continues to offer a section program at the Annual Meeting that is open to all interested faculty and administrators as well as deans.
Sections are the primary contact most faculty have with AALS. Our 103 sections have more than 9,000 law faculty and professional staff as members. Sections are intended to improve excellence in both teaching and scholarship across the legal academy, although we recognize that some have been more effective than others.
This year, AALS made a number of improvements to the online communities and resources available to sections. First, section webpages have been redesigned to make content such as newsletters, upcoming events, and announcements available to all faculty. The design of the resulting webpages is both more inviting and more useful. The Join a Section page is another important improvement. Where before faculty had to email AALS to ask to join a section, these requests are now sent automatically through an interactive form. Finally, staff identified faculty members using the Directory of Law Teachers who did not belong to a section in their area of law and invited them to consider joining. In only two months, these invitations produced more than 600 faculty requests to join sections, ten times the usual number.
I am delighted to report that the responsibility for leading sections is widely shared among our membership. This past year, for example, the 105 section chairs came from 69 different member schools.
We invite you to join in this new focus on sections by reaching out to new faculty at your schools to explain the value of joining. We also ask you to encourage your most productive faculty to become more active in the AALS Section (or Sections) in their field(s) of interest by volunteering to join the leadership of a Section.
I am pleased to report that we have exceeded our goal for attendance at this meeting with more than 2,400 attending, 250 sessions, and more than 1,000 speakers, moderators, and discussion participants. For the second year in a row, we also have more than 140 deans at the meeting. In addition to enabling the Association to take on the new projects described earlier, the expanded mission of AALS also has enabled us to do traditional things in better ways. This past year, AALS hosted its 41st Annual Conference on Clinical Education in Chicago; and in Washington, DC we hosted the 35th Annual New Law Teachers Workshop in June, and the 30th Faculty Recruitment Conference in October. All told, more than 3,600 law faculty attended at least one AALS conference in 2018.
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Our goal is for AALS to be a better resource for each of you. We want to be your bridge-building organization, for sharing ideas and best practices inside the legal academy as well as learning from outside organizations ranging from the American Council on Education (ACE) to NALP.
To keep your dues increases and meeting fees as low as possible, AALS has solicited support from 14 major national law firms and four corporate legal departments for our general efforts and recruited more than 20 sponsors for this Annual Meeting (a number of them are law schools). For this meeting, we also have again offered a 50 percent discount on the meeting fee to both new and retired faculty.
This past year, the publication and distribution of the 2018- 2019 edition of the Directory of Law Teachers marked our second successful “greening” campaign. We reduced the number of hard copies printed by 30 percent while still providing schools with the copies they requested.
For the third year, AALS has surveyed law schools about the number of hours contributed by their students in pro bono legal services. For the class of 2018, it turns out that law students contributed more than 3.48 million hours, an average of about 211 hours per student. Using the Independent Sector’s recommended value of such volunteer time as worth $24.69 an hour, this means the law class of 2018 contributed more than $85.9 million worth of pro bono legal services. This number is based on responses from less than half of the ABA-accredited law schools. If your school did not participate, we encourage you to urge them to participate in the next annual survey so it will be an even more accurate report on this important national contribution from the legal academy.
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I want to close by thanking the amazing staff of the AALS. We were fortunate to be joined this year by Sean Megan Scott as Associate Director. It is a small group (less than 25 plus a handful of students), yet they handle not only this Annual Meeting, but all the challenges of operating an association with an expanded mission that now includes professional development programs, publications, a website and social media presence, support for deans and for sections and research.
It continues to be a privilege and honor for me to work with all of you and the more than 1,000 volunteer faculty, deans, and administrators who plan the AALS professional development programs, speak at those programs, serve as Section officers, and work on all our other projects and initiatives. Without your support and hard work, and that of your faculty colleagues and staff, AALS could not function. On behalf of the entire AALS staff, I extend our thanks for all that you do.