Symposium Series #5
Posted on April 9th, 2020

Disrupting Hierarchies In Legal Education: Increasing Access By Supporting First Gen Success

Katharine Traylor Schaffzin, Dean and Professor of Law, University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law

The first-generation college students of Generation Z will challenge all of higher education, including legal education, to reconsider the delivery of education.  Fortunately, undergraduate institutions have been studying this demographic for more than a decade and there is much law schools can adopt from that research.  If supported, first-generation students can develop their unique strengths to enrich the law school environment and the legal community.  Moreover, law schools that intentionally reconsider the delivery of legal education with first-generation students in mind will likely improve learning outcomes for all students, while also faring well in recruiting Generation Z.  Studying first-generation college students and developing practices responsive to their needs could provide the prescription many law schools seek for meeting the needs of today’s students.

In Part II of this article, I discuss the varying definitions of “first-generation college student” and identify the challenges and strengths these students often embody.  In Part III, I survey the literature studying difficulties faced by first-generation college students as undergraduates and the solutions suggested to and tested by higher education.  In Part IV, I identify obstacles discouraging or preventing first-generation college graduates from enrolling and succeeding in law school.  Finally, in Part V, I suggest measures law schools can take to attract, retain, and graduate first-generation college graduates in higher numbers.

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