Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on the hot-button issues affecting K-12 schools, districts and colleges and universities. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.
For aspiring law students, the month of May means one thing: LSAT prep. Some students are drawn to a legal career by the prospect of upholding justice or effecting social change, and others by the opportunity to advance in a challenging career. Some might just like to argue. They all have something in common, though: They need learning support tailored to whatever stage of their professional journey they are in and tailored to their individual learning preferences.
They might have a hard time finding it.
A harsh environment
Admission to law school has always been a competitive affair, but lately the competition has heated up. In 2020, the applicant pool grew by 13%, the greatest year-over-year increase since 2002. While this surge appears to be subsiding, law schools still have more candidates to choose from than pre-pandemic. Moreover, applicants’ average LSAT scores at some schools have risen, putting further pressure on students to excel during testing.
After three grueling years in school, new lawyers get no chance to catch their breath. Legal professionals in the US operate in the same competitive atmosphere that pervades law schools, with top talent from all over the world vying for a slice of the country’s lucrative and expanding legal market. This is a good problem to have, as it gives the public access to high-quality legal services.
Nonetheless, to stand out and attract business, lawyers must commit to learning throughout their careers. This way, they can hone their existing skills to exquisite sharpness, acquire new skills as the field evolves and offer top-quality counsel to their clients. But this is not possible without a professional development pipeline that includes resources built to the individual legal professional’s specifications, collected in one place and curated to support them from their LSAT days until the day they retire.
The problem with legal lifelong learning today
The students who have begun their LSAT preparations have probably already run into a disappointment: The testing support offered is often disjointed, devoid of helpful context and generally uninspiring. They may be left with many questions, such as how often and for how long they should study, in what order they should tackle material and how lessons fit into their broader career.
Having taken the LSAT myself and taught other students to prepare for it, I know how fragmented and ineffective the professional support available to learners in this field at all stages can be. In law, there are resource defects that carry significant implications, given the profession’s demand on members for ever-accumulating expertise. My intuition is that over the long term, if not addressed, the lack of effective lifelong learning tools poses a threat of destabilizing the country’s legal market position altogether.
Improvements needed in professional support
Several improvements can be made to the professional support provided to aspiring lawyers and practicing lawyers to give them the professional pathway needed for the high-stakes work they do.
- Customizable content. No two people filter or absorb information in exactly the same way. The one-size-fits-all learning model often employed in the lifelong learning industry does not account for people’s unique learning patterns. Any degree of customization — such as allowing students to pick different instructors for a single course based on the communication style they find easiest to engage with — can go a long way toward reducing learning difficulties. In the same vein, offering courses both in-person and digitally, at different times of day and with multiple lesson attempts if needed, can help students navigate challenges with scheduling and performance.
- Engaging content. No one learns the same, but everyone learns better when the material covered is interesting. Too often, LSAT and professional preparation resources are dry to the point of losing effectiveness. The learners engaging with them are forced to expend energy in two directions at once: absorbing information and keeping themselves from drifting off. Interactive content crafted to achieve a balance between richness, authority and entertainment can make lessons stick better with less effort.
- Equity of access. Certain groups have historically faced disproportionate barriers to entry in the legal field. The tools provided to learners should be made with an awareness of this disparity, to avoid repeating the conditions that have contributed to it, so that legal education remains open and effective for all.
- Structure that spans the career. Expecting busy students or legal professionals to make sense of a jumbled heap of learning resources themselves is a recipe for impaired outcomes. Intentional structure should be built into legal lifelong prep content that derives from insider insight about the profession and spans the course of the typical legal career. Learning doesn’t have a finish line — users should have access to whatever tools are most useful at the particular stage of development they have attained.
Helping legal professionals thrive in the competitive environments they encounter requires a paradigm shift in the lifelong professional prep industry. Just as lawyers must evolve their knowledge continually, education resources and professional support must adapt to the features of the times and the needs of users, ensuring that the energy of our brightest legal minds does not go to waste. From the LSAT to the end of their legal practice, lawyers deserve better from their learning tools.
Matt Riley is the co-founder and CEO of Blueprint Prep, which offers lifelong professional preparation in the medical and legal industries. Riley also has had roles in the classroom teaching students pre-law preparation, law school admissions and how to succeed in law school.