Why go to law school? Most go to help others

Maybe you've heard the news about applications to law schools going up. The spike — about 8 percent — was something of a big deal because for years previously, the opposite was happening.

From 2010 to 2015, applications fell nearly 40 percent. Picture an anvil dropping. That pretty much sums it up. 

To find out why, the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) spearheaded a survey of more than 22,000 undergraduate students. It recently released a report on the findings called, "Beyond the J.D.: Undergraduate Views on Law School."

What is found is that public-spirit motivations was the top reason students gave for considering a J.D. Forty-four percent said that were inclined to go because they saw it as a pathway to career in politics, government, or public service. By comparison, just six percent of respondents pursuing other graduate degrees did so for that reason.

Earnings potential did not score as high. It landed at fifth, with 31 percent naming it as one of three factors out of 15 to get a J.D.

Money was on their mind in other ways, however. Concerns over the cost of law school and the impact on life/work balance were the most often reasons that students gave when it came to not pursuing a law degree.

Those reasons may be why so few students are considering law in comparison to those considering other advanced degrees. For instance, 63 percent are considering a master’s in arts or sciences. More than a third are pondering a PhD, while 23 percent are considering an MBA. Only 15 percent were considering a J.D., slightly above the 14 percent for an M.D.

The report on the Gallup-conducted survey was done not to find out the reasons for the drop. The AALS hopes the report can help schools to develop courses and programs to better cater to students.

“This is the first known study in more than 50 years of undergraduate views on law school,” said Judith Areen, executive director of AALS. “It is our hope that this report will be useful not only to law schools and aspiring law students, but to everyone who cares about law and justice.”

Going to law school is something that many students consider even before entering undergrad, the survey showed. Fifty-five percent considered so before going to college, while nearly one-third thought about it even before high school. Women were more inclined to do so earlier than men.

When it comes to pursuing a graduate degree, most students — at 60 percent — reach out to their family members for advice, the survey found.  College professors and staff were second at 50 percent.