This post comes from our consultant Nikki Laubenstein. More on Nikki below!
You’ve spent the time prepping for the LSAT, crafting your law school applications, and suffering through waiting for acceptances. You’ve worked through the details of your scholarship and financial aid package. You may have decided to give yourself a leg up by working with our Pre-L consultants to make sure you hit the ground running once classes start. For many, now it’s time for the real hard part—deciding which law school is right for you.
There are likely many factors you’ve been weighing: e.g., location, employment outcomes, program-specific interests, and cost. We offer another aspect of the complex law school enrollment equation as you dig into the qualities of a law school that make it your best fit—Student Affairs.
Many applicants also seek to evaluate the less quantifiable aspects of whether a law school will meet their needs and offer the quality-of-life they are looking for, but it can be difficult to know where to begin. Here, we break down some things to consider in a law school’s Student Affairs (SA) Office. This is the part of the school that concerns itself with the day-to-day life of students once they’re enrolled; it can have a sizeable impact on the quality of your experience and your overall happiness. Not all of the below categories and questions will apply to everyone, but we’ve provided this potential list to help you make your own assessment as you work to finalize your law school plans for the fall.
Law School Administrative Department Structure
Check if the Student Affairs Office is part of another department at the law school (e.g. Academic Affairs, Career Development, Registrar, Financial Aid, the Alumni Office) or if it is its own department.
- How does the SA Office collaborate and engage with these other departments
- How many student affairs staff are there?
- Is there separate staff for bar preparation?
- How does the law school prepare its students for bar passage in various states?
- Are any bar prep costs covered by the law school?
- Observe how the Office of Financial Aid functions as part of the law school.
- Do they offer programming for financial literacy/budgeting/supporting good borrowing habits, or is their main function processing?
Find out if there is dedicated staff for academic advising—this can include both staff to guide bar prep and advisors to help you discuss career paths of interest, select elective classes, and help plot out your schedule.
- Are current student “peer fellows” and/or faculty utilized to help with academic advising?
- What types of career assessment tools or curricular roadmaps are used?
- Is bar preparation incorporated over three years or focused on only during 3L year?
- Does the school offer programming for career exploration (either separately or in conjunction with the Career Development Office)?
- Who will notice if you’re struggling, and what is the process for academic warnings/probation, etc.? (Hint: look up the school’s Academic Handbook)
- Does Student Affairs coordinate with the Financial Aid Office regarding scholarship retention?
- Does the school provide academic support in addition to academic advising (e.g. Do they provide workshops on outlining or exam prep? Do they provide peer tutors? If so, can anyone access the tutors or are they only available to students with certain GPAs?)
Accommodations—Availability and Delivery
It is important to know if a law school can support your various needs.
- Do you have a physical or learning disability that requires accommodations?
- Is the law school part of a major university? If so, are accommodations coordinated at a main campus office of disability services, or is there a dedicated office or individual at the law school who will assist you?
Diversity & Inclusion
Take some time to look up a school’s newsletters, social media, or other communications to the student body.
- Do you find comfort in the tone and the information being communicated?
- Are diversity and inclusion an obvious priority for the law school?
- Is there a notable presence of (an) administrator(s) who oversees this important area for the law school? Does the administrator seem to have a student-facing presence that allows them to be an ally and advocate for students/student groups?
- What does the culture of inclusion feel like at the school?
A law school might do a lot to plan for student wellness opportunities, but they aren’t always effective or utilized by the student body.
- What does the wellness programming consist of?
- If not readily available on a school’s website, ask for a list of speakers and wellness activities.
- What is the process for referral for personal/mental health counseling, if needed? And is there a dedicated counselor at the law school, or is it part of a main campus counseling center? What does the typical wait time look like for a counseling appointment?
- Is the school’s culture such that there is an understanding of the importance of incorporating mental health and wellness into the curriculum and fabric of the law school/campus community? Or is programming just a list for the website?
- How invested do students seem in the larger campus community or in alumni networking and events?
- How engaged does the law school community seem to be in wellness initiatives? Do faculty participate? Is there a wellness-focused student organization?
- Beyond mental health counseling, what types of additional well-being resources/services does the school provide (e.g., gym access/discounts, meditation app subscriptions, etc.)?
A lot can be learned by digging into a law school’s student-centered extracurricular opportunities.
- Is there a Student Bar Association (SBA) student group that governs the law school student body?
- Do they report/function through the Office of Student Affairs or directly to the Dean of the law school? How present is the Dean of the law school?
- Does the Student Organization section of the school’s website appear to be up-to-date with current activities and e-Boards with current and relevant contact information listed?
- How are students’ viewpoints and concerns heard by the law school?
Much learning happens outside of the classroom.
- Is there a physical space that is just for students?
- Where do students “hang out” that is away from administrators and faculty (e.g., student lounge, locker room, café, student commons)?
- Do student organizations have their own space?
As consultants, we’ve seen clients admitted to their “dream school,” only to be disappointed at admitted student day when no one from Student Affairs or Career Development spoke. Or a student considering transferring because their current law school doesn’t meet their accommodations, wellness initiatives, or personal counseling needs. However, many of us remember being administrators of our Admissions Offices, working hard with colleagues to plan for and advertise relevant speakers, and then having only a handful of students participate.
- What is/are the law school’s mode(s) of communication?
- Ask current student group leaders if the school effectively communicates when there are wellness activities available, and ask about student participation!
Just because a law school is considered “elite” or costs a great deal to attend does not automatically mean that it has the best student resources. Per the above considerations, it also does not mean you will thrive there—academically, personally, physically, or emotionally. There are some useful ways to compare one law school to another (we share a few below). These tools may be useful for many factors, but it will likely take more personal digging—using such questions as above—to find out how a law school’s resources, administrative structure, student space, and culture really match your needs.
→ Spivey’s My Rank Tool: My Rank | Rank (myrankbyspivey.com)
→ Law School Transparency/LawHub: Compare law schools | Law School Transparency
→ AccessLex: Analytix by AccessLex | AccessLex
→ Jordana Confino’s podcast: Podcast: Reducing Stress & Increasing Happiness as a Student & Applicant | Spivey Consulting
Admissions Offices are often individualized, high-touch, and detailed operations aimed at recruiting the next best class each year. However, upon enrollment, when Admissions hands off the class to Student Affairs, there can be a letdown of that feeling of support and guidance. As a new law student, you will need to be able to advocate for yourself and not be afraid to ask questions to help you succeed. Start by learning as much as you can about the law school environments of the schools you are considering!
Nikki Laubenstein worked in law school admissions for nearly 18 years, most recently as Assistant Dean for Enrollment Management at Syracuse University College of Law. In this role, she managed the admissions and financial aid offices and enrollment for the J.D. and LL.M. programs. Nikki oversaw all admissions and merit scholarship decisions and supervised the faculty admissions committee process. She directed marketing and data analytics, negotiated financial aid awards, conducted interviews, and met with prospective students to discuss law and joint degree program opportunities. She has participated on numerous panels and at workshops providing strategies for students to strengthen their applications. Nikki also served as an academic and career counselor with a focus on pre-law advising at Syracuse’s College of Arts & Sciences. She is a member of Spivey Consulting’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee and has volunteered her time for various pre-law organizations, including serving as a sponsor for the Southwest BLSA Region and as a career volunteer with OnPoint for College.
Nikki earned a B.A. in psychology and a M.S. and C.A.S. in counseling. She began her career working in a high school counseling office, where she developed a passion for advising students on college admissions and career development. A former college student-athlete, Nikki’s studies included a focus in sports psychology. She enjoys using this background to help her students with time management, goal setting, and motivation.
Central New York has a lot to offer, and Nikki likes hiking, skiing, and any outdoor activity (as long as it’s not too cold)! She now spends most of her spare time attending sporting events for her two children.