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Lindsay Watkins
Center for Postsecondary Research

George Kuh
Center for Postsecondary Research

Nicole Roales
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Friday, January 5, 2007

Interaction with faculty, practice-based learning benefit law students

Jan. 5, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Findings from the 2006 Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) released today (Jan. 5) show that the frequency of interaction between students in law school and their professors is strongly related to numerous desirable outcomes of a legal education. The national survey also indicates that students who participate in clinical and field experiences, or who do pro bono work, report that they gain more than peers who do not participate such activities in several proficiencies, including speaking and writing, thinking critically and analytically, and solving complex real-world problems.

Surprisingly, student-faculty contact during law school has a greater impact on students' ability to think analytically and solve legal problems than the amount of time students devote to academic matters such as studying or reading, or their involvement in high-status, co-curricular activities such as moot court. In fact, student-faculty interaction is the single most influential factor linked to students developing a code of professional ethics. And, yet, one in three law students say they never discuss course concepts or ideas with their professors outside of class.

The LSSSE 2006 Report is based on information from more than 24,000 law students at 64 law schools. Titled Engaging Legal Education: Moving Beyond the Status Quo, the report gives law schools an idea of how well students are learning, along with what students put into and get out of their law school experience.

"The public expects more from us in terms of transparency and accountability," said George Kuh, the LSSSE director and Indiana University Bloomington professor of higher education. "We must be able to answer some hard questions about what happens in law school and whether different approaches to teaching and learning prepare students better for what they will face after law school."

The annual survey provides data that law schools can use to reflect on how well they are contributing to student learning, compare their performance with those of other schools, and identify policies and practices that may need attention to order to improve the quality of legal training. Key areas measured by the survey are intellectual experiences, student time usage, student satisfaction, enriching law school experiences, the climate for learning, and selected dimensions of educational, personal and professional development.

Other key findings from the 2006 report are:

  • Students who more frequently received prompt feedback on academic performance spend more time studying and preparing for class.
  • More than three quarters of all students spend no time during the week on legal pro bono work that is not part of a class assignment.
  • Students who frequently do collaborative in-class work report higher gains in speaking, writing, critical thinking and legal research skills.
  • Student dissatisfaction with job search help and career counseling increases in conjunction with the amount of their debt.
  • Students who have clinical or field experiences have clearer career goals and report being better prepared for learning on their own and working effectively with others. They also gain more in understanding people from different backgrounds and contributing to the welfare of the community.
  • Students of color are just as likely as white students to ask questions in class, to discuss assignments, ideas or career plans with professors and to receive prompt feedback.

"LSSSE presents a unique opportunity to explore systematically what is achieved -- and what can be improved -- in traditional and non-traditional areas of the curriculum," says Bryant Garth, dean of Southwestern University School of Law.

According to Lauren Robel, dean of Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington, "LSSSE provides an invaluable window into the learning-related activities of law students. It also opens a door for all law faculty interested in improving their teaching and their institution's support for learning by demonstrating what we are doing well and what we are failing to do."

"Law schools can do more to help students succeed in law school by using established teaching and learning approaches that engage students at higher levels in their learning and by clearly marking paths that students could take to get involved in activities that matter to them and their professional development," Kuh said.

The LSSSE 2006 Report is co-sponsored by the Association of American Law Schools and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The LSSSE 2006 Report, Engaging Legal Education: Moving Beyond the Status Quo, may be obtained for $10 from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement, Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, 1900 East 10th Street, Eigenmann Hall, Suite 419, Bloomington, IN 47406.