AALS/Gallup Report: College Students’ Reasons for Attending Law School Focus on Public Service and Opportunity to Make a Difference

Press Release
Jim Greif
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AALS/Gallup Report: College Students’ Reasons for Attending Law School Focus on Public Service and Opportunity to Make a Difference

Report Also Found Few First-Generation College Students Are Considering Law School

Washington, D.C. (September 20, 2018) – Public-spirited factors lead the list of reasons for considering law school among undergraduates in the United States, according to Before the JD: Undergraduate Views on Law School, a new report on student perspectives on legal education that is based on a survey by Gallup for the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). The survey found that undergraduates considering law school report their top reason is to pursue a career in politics, government, or public service. Other top factors include being passionate about the work, an opportunity to give back to society, and to advocate for social change. The ability to qualify for a high-paying job and the prestige of being a lawyer both rank lower on the list of 15 factors.

More than 22,000 college students and over 2,700 law students completed the survey which captured details on their career aspirations, sources of information and advice, and academic backgrounds. The report also explores demographic differences in survey respondents by gender, parental education, race/ethnicity, and academic achievement.

“This is the first known study in more than 50 years of undergraduate views on law school,” said Judith Areen, Executive Director of AALS. “It is our hope that this report will be useful not only to law schools and aspiring law students, but to everyone who cares about law and justice. We all have a stake in the quality of the next generation of lawyers and judges.”

Surprisingly, the survey found that more than half of law students first considered law school before college, and one-third before high school.

The report also includes important findings about first-generation college students. The connection between parental education and college enrollment has been widely recognized in higher education. According to the most recently available data from the National Center for Education Statistics, about one-third of college students nationwide are first-generation. Before the JD shows that only one-fifth of undergraduates considering law school are first-generation.

A similar gap is also evident when considering advanced degree holders. Nationwide, according to U.S. Census data, only 12 percent of individuals age 45 to 65 (typical age range of parents of college students) have an advanced degree. By contrast, Before the JD found that half of undergraduates considering law school have at least one parent with an advanced degree.

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.”

Additional highlights (PDF) from the report and ordering information can be found at www.aals.org/research.

A second report titled Beyond the Bachelor’s: Undergraduate Perspectives on Graduate and Professional Degrees, which will be jointly published by AALS, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), and Gallup later this fall, will present undergraduate views on graduate and professional education generally.

About Before the JD
Before the JD is a report based on a national survey conducted by Gallup for the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) to understand student views on law school. The project is sponsored by the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the AccessLex Institute, the American Bar Foundation, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), and the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). Fourteen major law firms and four corporate counsel offices provided additional support. The survey produced responses from 22,189 undergraduates at 25 four-year institutions whose students are likely to go on to graduate and professional school, and from 2,727 first-year students at 44 AALS member law schools.

About the AALS
The Association of American Law Schools (AALS), founded in 1900, is a nonprofit association of 179 member and 18 fee-paid law schools. Its members enroll most of the nation’s law students and produce the majority of the country’s lawyers and judges, as well as many of its lawmakers. The mission of AALS is to uphold and advance excellence in legal education. In support of this mission, AALS promotes the core values of excellence in teaching and scholarship, academic freedom, and diversity, including diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints, while seeking to improve the legal profession, to foster justice, and to serve our many communities–local, national and international.

About Gallup
Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students and citizens than any other organization in the world.