A new report has shed light on what today’s law school students value, and what they’re missing in their legal education. Perhaps not surprisingly, they value work-life balance and mentoring programs; more surprisingly, a majority feel they are not being adequately educated in the practicalities of a legal practice.
Vancouver’s fSquared Marketing undertook a survey last fall of law students in universities across Canada. Last week it released the report, Law Student Survey 2018: The Mindset of the Millennial Law Student, which analyzed the responses of 234 respondents from 20 Canadian law schools.
“The part [of the survey results] that surprised me the most was, in this day and age, how little law students seem to feel prepared for the business of law,” Lynn Foley, CEO of fSquared Marketing, told Legal Feeds. “To see that 66 per cent of students felt they were not prepared at all was a little shocking.“
When asked whether their law school was providing them with adequate training in the business of law — for example, how to pitch to and attract clients, price services, or manage a practice — two-thirds of law students surveyed responded “not at all.”
Law firms may need to pick up some of the slack here, Foley suggests. Her law-firm clients are working on helping young lawyers brand their own personal practice, for example.
And work-life balance was identified as "very important" or "important" to 85 per cent of the respondents. “We’ve only scratched the surface” of this issue, says Foley. “It’s important for firms to understand what that means to millennial lawyers. It’s understanding what appeals to them, what they feel is valuable.”
This may mean following in the steps of one law-firm client, which puts a lawyer’s pro bono hours against their billable targets. “There are firms that try to figure out the balance for their younger lawyers, who want to give back,” even if their pro bono work doesn’t make money for the firm,” Foley adds. “As this generation is moving their way up, we’ll see how that works out when they’re partners.”
Other key takeaways from the survey were:
- The most popular method of researching law firms for summer positions was visiting firm websites, followed by discussions with peers and mentors; 93 per cent of students visited firms’ websites in researching their employment opportunities, and many made their application choices based in part on how well they liked those websites
- 85 per cent of students judged mentorship programs to be “important” or “very important”
- Formal training programs at firms (e.g., in business development, marketing, and the business of law in general) were considered more important than regular social events
- Support staff at firms was ranked as more important than the latest technology
- Survey respondents did not put a lot of stock in a firm’s social media presence (only 12 per cent found it was “important” for a firm to have a strong social media presence while 60 per cent said it was “not important”)
Lisa Cumming is a recent Toronto journalism school graduate who is now in her first year of law studies at the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. She agrees with some of the survey findings of her fellow Canadian law students, although she is studying law in the United States and expects to practise there eventually.
“I definitely looked at websites” of firms and organizations in preparing applications for legal summer jobs, she says; websites can also indicate, for example, whether a firm or organization will hire first-year students. And while she appreciates those employers who offer mentoring to their summer students, she says that her school, Penn State Law, already has “really good opportunities” for mentoring, as law students are all assigned mentors who are graduates of the university and practising lawyers.
Nor does Cumming feel shortchanged in being prepared for the business of law, between her school mentor to advise her and the academic program that is offered by Penn State Law. “I do feel that my school is providing adequate training” in emerging technologies in legal practice, for example. Although she hasn’t worked her way through all the business-of-law offerings yet, she will soon start, and “it seems like [Penn State Law is] doing a great job.”
As for work-life balance, Cumming anticipates making sacrifices in this area while she’s starting out. “I feel that one day I will have a work-life balance,” she says, “but I’m also willing to work as hard as I can to get where I want to be, so that we can start to ask for work-life balance” further down the road.
In aiming to attract the right candidates, says Foley, the lesson for law firms and other organizations is to position themselves well online, and not simply rely on law-school recruitment offices. (One student profiled in the survey report cited her frustration with a Canada-wide firm’s website, which she called “hard to navigate” and “not intuitive.”)
“They need to look at how they’re positioning the firm itself, and the programs in-house to support law school students and new lawyers,” she says, as well as offering necessary training in both technical and legal skills.
Also, “the rumoured millennial [focus on] balance,” Foley says, is seen in these survey results, in which a quarter of respondents deemed opportunities for bonus compensation to be “not important,” with another 38 per cent describing it as “somewhat important” and just 14 per cent ranking it as “very important.” As well, more respondents favoured a lower starting salary along with a lower expectation of billable hours.
“Money isn’t the most important thing to them,” says Foley.