• July 29, 2014

Law Students, Particularly Women, Have Limited Contact With Faculty, Survey Finds

Although nearly half of American law students are women, they are less likely than their male classmates to ask questions in class or to discuss assignments with their professors, according to the findings of a national survey released today.

Female law students are also more likely to say they work hard out of a fear of failure or the desire to avoid being embarrassed in front of their peers.

The 2010 Law School Survey of Student Engagement was conducted by researchers at Indiana University at Bloomington's Center for Postsecondary Research and is based on feedback from nearly 25,000 students at 77 law schools in the United States and Canada. It is cosponsored by the Association of American Law Schools and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The annual survey, now in its seventh year, provides data that are intended to help law schools teach more effectively, better prepare students for their careers, and see how the learning climate at their schools stacks up against that of their peers.

The survey did not address the reasons women seemed more reluctant to speak out, but the authors hope the findings might stimulate further research.

"The gender findings were interesting and kind of disturbing," said Lindsay Watkins, project manager. "We hope this is an area that folks will find intriguing and want to follow up on."

The survey measures factors such as the amount of time students spend in educationally meaningful activities and how well they feel their schools are preparing them to handle ethical dilemmas and meet the needs of their future clients.

Judith Welch Wegner, a professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a former senior scholar with the Carnegie Foundation, said the findings should help schools explain "why students should enroll in law-school programs during an era of increasing debt and uncertainty regarding job prospects."

The report also found a disconnect between the important role students feel faculty members can play in their professional development and the amount of time most students actually spend talking with their professors.

Students reported that their interactions with faculty members had helped them gain professional skills and a personal code of ethics. However, less than a third of third-year law students—either men or women—had worked closely with their professors or frequently discussed class readings or career plans with them.

Ms. Wegner said those findings should help shape the debate over proposals, now being considered by the American Bar Association, that would allow law schools to hire more adjuncts and reduce their reliance on tenure. The ABA accredits law schools and is considering changes in its standards.

"If students want to form mentoring relationships with faculty," Ms. Wegner said, "they need people who aren't just there short-term and then are gone."

The report also says:

  • Just 53 percent of students felt prepared to deal with ethical dilemmas they might face in practice.
  • Younger students were more likely to say they were attending law school because they didn't know what else to do, while older students were more likely to say they wanted to contribute to the public good.

Comments

1. lawman11 - January 05, 2011 at 05:57 am

If the sexes are at all different, it follows that they will not be identical in all things.
As for law faculty contact, there ought to be room for the quiet student who aces exams, and for a system in which touchy-feely is not a requirement. Enough already.

2. quidditas - January 05, 2011 at 08:38 am

I tend to think faculty avoid contact with advanced degree seeking students because they KNOW most of these students, of both genders, have no futures--or, rather, not the futures they're expecting to have.

3. lawstudent - January 18, 2011 at 10:05 am

I am a female law student. This past fall, just after arriving at law school for my 1L year, I sent an email to a friend noting the troubling differences in participation I was seeing in my classes, playing out mostly along gender lines. As a graduate of Smith College, one of the few remaining women's colleges, almost never afraid to raise my hand or state my opinion, I watched, aghast, as most of the women in the classroom sat silent alongside our male peers who seemed to have no problem speaking their opinions in an open forum, unsolicited or not. Additionally, I frustratedly strained to hear many of the women who spoke reticently in soft dulcet tones when called upon by the professor. Most annoying of all, their reticence seemed to be affecting me! For the first time I found myself reluctant to raise my hand, embarrassed to call attention to myself or my ideas, even when I was fairly confident I had something valuable to contribute. This didn't last long. At Smith I learned to speak up with confidence, respect what my peers had to say, and engage with their ideas, even when they conflicted with my own. Throughout the semester I continually reminded myself and my female friends (one of whom noted that an all male study group had been formed in which the men said outright that they had asked only one "smart girl" to join and wouldn't be inviting any others) of the lesson constantly reinforced in my time at Smith. That is, our male peers don't have anything more valuable to offer in the classroom (or out of it) than we do and our participation is only restricted by the limits we set on ourselves.

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