Law students report exhaustion, anxiety, food insecurity amid pandemic

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The Brooklyn Law School in New York City, U.S. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Survey of 13,000 law students highlights COVID-19 impacts
  • Most students still satisfied with their law school experience

(Reuters) - The COVID-19 pandemic has left many law students struggling to pay their bills and buy food, feeling less connected to their classmates and teachers, and experiencing more anxiety and loneliness.

Those findings come from the latest Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), an annual survey of student satisfaction and legal education trends. Researchers collected data from 13,000 law students across the country in the spring of 2021, making it among the first large-scale studies of how law students experienced the pandemic.

The vast majority of respondents, 78%, rated their educational experience as either “good” or “excellent,” down just 3% from both 2019 and 2020, according the LSSSE report, titled “The COVID Crisis in Legal Education.” But many students reported concerns about meeting their basic needs, spending less time with classmates and advisors, and experiencing depression and anxiety.

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The data show that students of color felt the pandemic impacts more deeply than their white classmates. Among Latino law students, 71% reported increased concerns about their ability to pay their bills, compared to 60% of white students. That figure was 68% and 66% among Black and Asian American students, respectively. Minority students were also more likely than white students to report that COVID-19 interfered with their academic success.

LSSSE director and Southwestern Law School professor Meera Deo said the results shocked her.

“I recognized that our students were struggling,” Deo said. “But I certainly had no idea that over half of our students of color were dealing with food insecurity. Or that two-thirds were concerned about paying their bills. How do we expect our students to excel at law school when they are worried about eviction?”

The vast majority of law students, 91%, reported that the pandemic resulted in at least “some” increase in their mental or emotional exhaustion, with 49% reporting it did so “very much.” And 85% of the surveyed law students said they suffered through depression that interfered with their daily functioning during the past year.

“These problems are persistent,” Deo said. “They were here before the pandemic. They will be here whenever the pandemic ends — maybe not to the degree we see now. But hopefully the report will serve as a wake-up call, to recognize that we need to do more to support our students.”

Read more:

'Most stressful time of my career': Law deans reflect on pandemic

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com