How LSSSE Informs Best Practices in Legal Education

Chad C. Christensen and Meera E. Deo

The Law School Survey of Student Engagement is based on decades of empirical research on effective educational practices showing that the more engaged students are, the better their academic and professional outcomes.[1] Since 2004, LSSSE has conducted an annual survey of law students in partnership with law schools across the country.[2] Survey results provide an opportunity for schools to better understand their student population and for LSSSE staff to document, reflect on, and influence trends in legal education.[3]

The LSSSE survey items were created out of best practices in teaching and learning; as such, they align well with Roy Stuckey’s Best Practices for Legal Education and the Carnegie Foundation’s Educating Lawyers – two publications that serve as foundational works of this blog.

For this post, we focus on best practice concepts described by Stuckey in his book and highlighted in Chapter 4, “Best Practices for Delivering Instruction, Generally”.  These recommendations come from Section C, which urges professors to “Create and Maintain Effective and Healthy Teaching and Learning Environments” by adherence to three principles:

  • Have High Expectations
  • Foster a Supportive Environment
  • Encourage Collaboration

Have High Expectations

Two questions on the LSSSE survey focus on high expectations and academic rigor.  The first asks students how often they worked harder than they thought they could to meet faculty members’ standards or expectations.  In 2019, 59% of law students frequently[4] worked harder than they thought they could to meet faculty standards or expectations, reflecting an increase since 2012 (52%). This positive trend indicates that students are being challenged in more meaningful ways than they were in the past and working hard to meet the high expectations of their professors.  

Another LSSSE question asks students to report the extent to which their exams have challenged them to do their best work.  For this question a score of five or higher on a seven-point Likert-scale indicates significant challenge.[5] In 2019, over 90% of LSSSE respondents indicated they were being challenged by exams in class. 

Taken together, this LSSSE data indicate that teachers are demanding a lot of their students, meeting Stuckey’s first suggestion to have high expectations. Students are also working hard and producing their best work to meet the challenges their professors put before them.

Foster a Supportive Environment

Creating a positive and supportive learning environment is critical to student success.[6]  A key component to this is student-faculty interaction – the ways and frequency with which faculty connect and interact with students in and out of the classroom.  Law students report overwhelmingly positive relationships with faculty.  In 2019, over three-fourths (76%) of students reported strong positive relationships with faculty.[7] Furthermore, 91% believed their instructors care about their learning and success in law school and 82% considered at least one instructor a mentor whom they could approach for advice or guidance.

Thus, faculty are creating supportive environments in class and effectively conveying their support to students.[8]

Encourage Collaboration

Teamwork and collaboration also are critical to student learning and the development of important professional skills for effective lawyering.[9]  It is important for students to engage with both faculty and classmates. Though students report positive relationships with faculty, LSSSE data reveal that law students are not collaborating with faculty as often as they could. A majority of students work with faculty on activities other than coursework, although a full 46% never do so.  Even more troubling, almost a quarter (23%) of law students report never having conversations with faculty outside of class. 

Surprisingly, students work with peers at even lower rates than they collaborate with faculty.  Only a quarter (24%) of law students report frequently[10] working with students on projects during class. One-third (33%) frequently work with classmates outside of class, again showing room for improvement.

When considering best practices in legal education, there is much to learn from Stuckey’s suggestions. And faculty have learned! LSSSE data reveal that students are working hard to meet their professors’ high expectations. Faculty also are succeeding in fostering a supportive classroom environment, as measured by overwhelmingly positive student-faculty interactions. However, professors can do more to promote teamwork and collaboration both inside and outside of class and both with students and amongst students themselves.


[1] More information on LSSSE is available at: https://lssse.indiana.edu/.

[2] To participate in the LSSSE survey, please contact the authors of this post or visit: https://lssse.indiana.edu/register.

[3] For instance, LSSSE Reports have shared trends regarding Diversity & Exclusion, The Cost of Women’s Success, and the ways in which Relationships Matter. For more information on LSSSE Reports, see https://lssse.indiana.edu/annual-results.

[4] This frequency includes respondents choosing “Very often” or “Often”.  

[5] Response options for this question range from 1 (“Very little”) to  7 (“Very much”).

[6] Stuckey, R. T. (2007). Best practices for legal education: A vision and a road map. Clinical Legal Education Association. P.87; Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE bulletin, 3, 7.; Wawrose, Susan, A More Human Place: Using Core Counseling Skills to Transform Faculty-Student Relationships (May 1, 2019). 55 Willamette L. Rev. 133 (2018), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3088008 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3088008

[7] These strong positive relationships are represented by a score of five or higher on a seven-point Likert scale.

[8] Women of color faculty, who typically carry more of the student services load than their colleagues, should be recognized for this work as it has clear implications for student outcomes and institutional success. Meera E. Deo, Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia (2019).

[9] Hamilton, N. W. (2014). Empirical research on the core competencies needed to practice law: WHAT do clients, new lawyers, and legal employers tell us?. The Bar Examiner, September, 14-34; Hamilton, N. W. (2019). Fostering and Assessing Law Student Teamwork and Team Leadership Skills. Hofstra Law Review, Forthcoming.

[10] This frequency includes respondents choosing “Very often” or “Often”.

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