Jacob S. Walker and Alf Pratt, Communications; Eileen Crane, Pre-law Advisor
The researchers aimed to establish a set of criteria for judging the environments at various law schools, and then apply these criteria to five national law schools. The students specifically examined the academic and social environments at each school as they relate to a Latter-Day Saint family. A review of the literature on married graduate students suggests areas of importance to the student’s family. An email survey was used to assess housing availability, transportation, community activities, ward activity and support, crime, faculty support, and financial aid. The results of the survey are presented and compared with other rankings of law schools and their environments. Strengths and weaknesses of each law school and its environment were discussed. No single law school was found to achieve consistently higher ranking than others in every aspect of the survey and rankings; thus the researchers conclude that a decision between different law schools must be made on a personal level. Each student must weigh their options and determine the relative importance of each factor to their own circumstances.
As previously mentioned, the results presented here are clearly not statistically conclusive, yet they provide a snapshot of student family experiences at five major law schools (Harvard, Duke, NYU, Chicago, and BYU). As the Latter-Day Saint community (and especially the community of married Latter-Day Saints) at each school is relatively small, the number of respondents in most cases represented a significant proportion of the population. Extreme caution was exercised in deriving any general understanding of the law school environment without a careful consideration of the limitations of the study. This having been said, some interesting comparisons can be made between schools.
Among the law schools surveyed, a strong sense of community was immediately apparent at Chicago and Harvard. Respondents from both schools were eager to encourage BYU applicants to their schools and offered further assistance through established Latter-Day Saint student organizations. Learning of our difficulty in finding the email addresses for BYU graduates at Harvard, the president of the LDSSA at the school forwarded the survey to all the Latter-Day Saint students he knew, and offered any further assistance we might need. At Chicago, participants emphasized the relationships they had developed with other Latter-Day Saint students and their families, and the opportunities offered through the ward for service and fellowship. At NYU, the clear emphasis was on the wealth of opportunity offered by life in the “Big Apple,” as survey participants were enthusiastic about “roller-blading in Central Park,” and attending “opera, street fairs and parades.” The placement opportunities were also listed as an advantage at NYU. For Duke students, the greatest strengths seemed to be found in a more suburban campus setting, where excellent housing was relatively inexpensive and lifestyles leisurely. The low rate of response from BYU students was surprising, and a number of interpretations are possible. Although more surveys were sent to BYU students than to students of any other school, only two students responded. This represents a response rate of approximately 10%, in contrast with a rate of about 75% for most other schools. It is possible that BYU law school students do not experience the same sense of community with other Latter-Day Saint students, simply because they are in the majority. They do not have the same incentive to recruit other Latter-Day Saint students to participate in ward functions, etc. It could also be that BYU graduates assumed that an undergraduate living in Provo should already be familiar with the environment for his family.
In general, the student responses from all institutions were positive regarding their studies and law school environments. Very few students expressed negative perceptions of their law school or living conditions; most seemed satisfied with the decision they had made to attend a specific school. The areas in which students’ praise was limited were thus especially obvious, and will be noted in the detailed reports that follow.
On a personal level, the experience of conducting this investigation has been highly rewarding and useful in terms of the information gathered. We would suggest that other pre-law students contact many current law school students at the law schools they are considering in order to discover all they can about the schools. A formal survey is not necessary for this type of information gathering, but some organized format is useful. We would recommend that students carefully consider what information will be most beneficial to them, perhaps by initially conducting detailed personal interviews with current law students they know well or reviewing what information is already available in publications. Law school students and administrators are typically very busy, and appreciate questions that have been well developed and posed as simply as possible.
This study has been limited by time, by the law schools initially selected by the researchers, by the items of specific interest to the researchers, and by the availability of email addresses for the law schools surveyed. For students wishing to duplicate or expand upon our work, we would suggest allotting a greater time period (perhaps two semesters) to the study to allow for IRB approval, identifying survey participants, developing the survey instrument, and actually conducting the survey. Our positive experience with the response from the president of the LDSSA at Harvard suggests that this would be a useful avenue to pursue at other schools. Rather than limiting the study to BYU graduates, we would suggest expanding the pool of participants to include all Latter-Day Saint students. The contact information for these students should be available through the relevant student organization at each law school, or even through the student ward.
The value of this study may be expressed in terms of the benefits to the two students who conducted the study and the benefits that will be received by prospective law students who review the information presented here. Our personal experience has been very positive, as we feel we now have a more broad understanding of the aspects involved in a consideration of the environment for students and their families at law schools. We hope that these same advantages will be available to other pre-law students, and that they will be empowered by our experience to conduct similar investigations. In the process, we expect that students will make better-informed decisions about which law school to attend, and ultimately achieve an increased level of satisfaction at their chosen law school.