Friday, January 14, 2011

Are you happy?

This is related to the AALS 2011 theme of happier, healthier law students. For the past year, I have been brainstorming ways I can measure the success of my pre-law office at UConn. This is something of a challenge because of my background in ASP. Thinking about how to measure my success working with pre-legal education led me to some realizations about ASP. The questions traditionally asked of a pre-law office are questions that I don't think measure success.

1) Is there an increase in the number of students attending tier 1/top 100 schools?

Well, that question diminishes the value of scholarships. Anyone who has worked with law students know that debt can make life miserable. Many students I work with were accepted by tier 1/top 100 law schools, but choose less debt over more prestige.

2) How many of your students receive scholarships?

This question is the inverse of the previous question. I had a handful of students receive scholarships, but choose to go to their dream school. I can't fault these students. They are primarily super-achievers who spent 4 years attending public school so they can minimize their debt and attend their dream law school. 

3) What is the yield rate on applications?

Well, that depends on the student. Some of my students are risk takers, and only applied to their reach schools, because they would rather attend a dream law school or no school at all. I have other students who applied to 20+ law schools because they needed the safety of multiple options.  Students decide how many schools to apply to based on their motivation to become an attorney. It's all very individual. 

4) Are more students now applying to or attending law school since the pre-law office opened?

As an ASPer, this question makes me cringe. I have no desire to push more students into law school. I want to help the right students find the right law school to meet their personal goals. No one would think of pushing students into medical school; we know that being a doctor is a calling as well as a profession. No one would dream of pushing a student into medical school if she didn't know what doctors did on a daily basis. Law should be approached in the same way. Students should go to law school because law is a calling, and they should understand the demands and pressure of the field before they choose law school. 

Which leads me to what I really want to know...after my students begin law school, are they happy with their decision? Is there additional or different information they wish I had shared with them? Do they feel that UConn helped prepare them for the rigors of law school? Do they feel as if they were an educated consumer when comparing law schools?  I want to know about quality, not quantity.  The challenge, like measuring the success of an ASP office, is that quality is hard to measure. 

The most meaningful feedback I have received has come over the past couple of weeks, thank you letters and emails from students who are just starting their law school career.  The most important piece of information they can share with me is whether they are happy. I don't mean the in-the-moment happy that tends to slip away over the course of the first semester of law school, but happiness that is born of making the right decisions. 

One of the hardest parts of ASP is counseling students out of law school. The law students who didn't know what they were getting into, had no idea what law school would entail, and realize that a law degree will not get them what they were searching for broke my heart as an ASPer, and many times, the student's pain was wholly unnecessary. My goal is to minimize the number of students who wind up in ASP offices feeling like they made a mistake, or that they were totally unprepared for law school.  Effective pre-law planning and pre-legal education won't eliminate the need for ASP offices, but it should minimize the pain associated with law school.  By knowing some of the reasons why law students fail, I hope to empower pre-law students with the right information, experiences, and foundation. 

I am encouraged when I attend ASP conferences and hear from other ASPers that work with pre-law offices, not to sell their school, but to share information with the people responsible for students before they reach law school.  Both pre-law and ASP offices would be enriched by the sharing of information about how to help law students make the best choices before they get to orientation. (RCF)

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