A post on the Law Skills Prof Blog entitled “Social networking skills help students earn better grades according to recent LSSSE report” just caught my eye. The post reports briefly the findings of the 2012 Law School Survey of Student Engagement, full report here, on levels of student satisfaction with law school based on a survey of nearly 26,000 students in 81 US law schools. It won’t have escaped notice that law schools have been taking a battering of late with critics lining up to take pot shots from all angles. The LSSSE’s Director, Carole Silver of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research puts it thus:
“US law schools might look back on the 2011-2012 academic year as their annus horribilis. Law schools have been under siege on various fronts, from criticisms for what they teach and fail to teach, to challenges to the accuracy and completeness of reporting employment and application statistics, and critiques of their financial structures. Adding to the uncertainty surrounding the future of law schools has been news of declining applications, reductions in class sizes, and the growing disparity between rising tuition and decreasing job opportunities. Taken together, one might well conclude that law schools are failing in much of what they attempt, including educating their students.”
From my standpoint as someone who did not come through the US legal education system but who is working within it, much of the criticism of law schools that Professor Silver describes seems to be well founded. In similar vein, I find Professor Brian Tamanaha’s diagnosis of how we got here and what is wrong with the present model for the most part instructive and persuasive. Things clearly have to change and the sooner the better.
Against this background, the survey findings make interesting, perhaps even counterintuitive, reading. 79% of the students who responded reported that their educational experience at law school was either excellent or good and nearly three quarters reported that they would either definitely or probably attend the same school if they could start over again.
Of particular interest to me are the findings that student satisfaction is positively related to student interaction with faculty and peer interaction. In other words, students who report high levels of interaction with faculty and peers are likely to be satisfied with their law school experience as a whole. This suggests that we should be moving increasingly towards a much more collaborative model of legal education with a significantly greater emphasis on faculty mentoring alongside faculty instruction and on small group collaborative learning. It’s a move I would welcome.
I’d be interested in hearing from students and other readers what you think.