SWLAW Blog | Faculty Features

Meera E. Deo

November 20, 2023

Prof. Meera E. Deo Leads Pioneering LSSSE Report on First-Generation Law Students' Experiences

Meera E. Deo, J.D., Ph.D.,  Director of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) and faculty member at Southwestern Law School, has spearheaded a detailed study examining the experiences and obstacles faced by first-generation law students. The 2023 LSSSE report is titled "Focus on First-Generation Students." Encompassing over 13,000 responses from students across 75 law schools, the report reveals critical insights into the experiences of first-generation law students, who make up 26% of the LSSSE respondents.

The report communicates the unique challenges and commendable perseverance of these students. “Highlighting first-gen students in this year’s LSSSE Annual Report is a distinct pleasure,” says Prof. Deo. “These students, facing unique challenges due to their parents not graduating from college, demonstrate tremendous grit and determination in their journey toward success in legal education. Our findings underscore the need for law schools to offer more robust support to first-gen students.”

Key findings of the report include:

  • Demographics: First-gen students are more likely to be students of color, women, older, and part-time students. Notably, 53% of Latinx and 36% of Black respondents are first-gen, compared to 21% of White respondents. Additionally, 28% of women are first-gen students, surpassing the 24% of men. More than half (54%) of first-gen students are over 25 years old, highlighting an older demographic compared to 44% of their non-first-gen counterparts.

  • Student Debt: Financial challenges are more pronounced among first-gen students, with only 12% expecting to graduate without law school debt, significantly lower than the 24% among non-first-gen students. Over one-third (35%) of first-gen students anticipate accruing over $120,000 in student debt, a stark contrast to the 23% of their peers.

  • Time Usage: First-gen students often bear additional familial responsibilities, with 44% caring for dependents in their households. They are also more likely to be employed during law school and work more hours than non-first-gen students. Despite these challenges, they dedicate more hours to studying each week than their counterparts.

  • Law School Engagement: These students demonstrate a strong work ethic, with 63% often working harder than they thought possible, slightly higher than the 59% of non-first-gen students. However, they are less likely to engage in co-curricular activities, with 37% never participating in law school-sponsored activities, compared to 31% of non-first-gen students. Yet, 33% of first-gen students always come to class fully prepared, matching the proportion of their less burdened non-first-gen peers.

The full "Focus on First-Generation Students" report is available on the LSSSE website.

About LSSSE: As part of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, LSSSE has been a provider of research products and services centered on the study of the law student experience since 2004. Through our consulting services, we help law schools maximize the usefulness of their survey data and their assessment activities. Through our research functions, we are a source of macro-level, empirical information about the law student experience.