Career Coaching Begins in Law School

Last week I suggested that we need a greater emphasis on the students in legal education, instead of publications and sponsorship. A positive school experience as a student will typically result in an employee who is more engaged in their profession and experiences higher levels of well-being. The reason why this is important is because law school faculty have tangible effects on the trajectory of a lawyer’s career.

A new Gallup-Purdue study has shown that a student’s experience in school matters far less than the school they went to. The study suggests that what students are doing in school and how they experience it do have a strong effect on their life and career, and most students rarely find what they need when in school.

The study defined engagement as a feeling of emotional connection with their employers and co-workers because they enjoy their work and operate in a supportive environment. Workplace engagement was flagged because it is an indicator of employee loyalty and productivity

Well-being was described as the interdependency between aspects of life both inside and outside the workplace, feeling a sense of community and having strong social bonds. Five indicators were used to measure well-being:

  • Purpose Well-Being: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social Well-Being: Having strong and supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial Well-Being: Effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community Well-Being: The sense of engagement you have with the areas where you live, liking where you live, and feeling safe and having pride in your community
  • Physical Well-Being: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis

The role of faculty has a significant impact on how engaged a student will later be in their career. Students who encountered a professor who cared about them, inspired them to learn more and provided encouragement to pursue professional goals were far more likely to be more engaged in their profession.

Engagement was also promoted by having students feel prepared for the work life outside of the school. The use of internships or applied jobs, extracurricular activities and groups, or working on long-term projects, were all effective drivers of creating this sense of preparedness.

Conversely, the amount of debt has a tremendous burden on the well-being of students. Loan debt affected every domain of well-being, and those with loans are far less likely to start their own business. School debt affects entrepreneurial activity, which is why access to justice begins with legal tuition.

The study referenced other Gallup work suggesting that those who have a strong purpose well-being are more likely to be thriving in their lives overall. We see this frequently with young lawyers, who went to law school to promote equity or defend human rights and instead find themselves pushing paper for clients and issues they do not relate to.

A connection was also identified between workplace engagement and well-being in all aspects of life. What this means is that if lawyers can feel engaged in their jobs their lives may feel more fulfilled in all other aspects. We may be approaching work-life balance the wrong way, and instead try to recalibrate or reorient workplace indicators differently, and providing better human resources and social supports within a law firm.

Schools have motivation to increase student engagement and well-being. If a graduate felt as if they were supported during their studies, they are six times more likely to have an emotional attachment to their school. Given the amount of donations and scholarships provided by law school graduates, this indicator would appear to be a key long-term driver for fundraising success.

If student satisfaction, especially in their feelings of preparedness for practice, becomes recognized as a key indicator for financial success, perhaps law schools will encourage faculty to be more supportive and provide mentorship within the schools. This can only properly happen if faculty are provided financial incentives to do so, usually in the form of greater weight in their evaluations for student involvement.

What this also means is that the future of legal education should also reflect a change in power dynamics and equal relationship. These are educators who will know their students and know what motivates them, which requires an entirely different skill set than legal research and writing for the purpose of publications. The new law professor is more of a coach than a Socratic-method interrogator.

They are career counselors, who will require as part of their jobs, to maintain close relationships with industry. Law firms and clinics will have their hands in molding these future educators, and will hopefully recognize the role they play in ensuring the next generation of lawyers get the most of their well-being and feelings of engagement in the profession.

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