2024 Buckley Institute law student survey

Buckley Institute Releases First National Law Student Survey

Buckley Institute 2024 Law Student Survey on the presidential election

The Buckley Institute released its first ever law student survey, asking law students around the country to weigh in on free speech, the American legal system, and the 2024 election. The poll was conducted by Inquire, LLC and surveyed 232 law students across dozens of universities around the country. 

“Though law students overall support free speech, there is a noticeable undercurrent of censorship that America’s law schools must address,” said Buckley Institute Founder and Executive Director Lauren Noble. “It is no coincidence that the same groups that feel less pressure to self-censor are also those more willing to censor others.” 

“Perhaps most concerning for future law firms,” Noble added, “this same group of future lawyers care more about social justice than they do about delivering a favorable result for their potential clients.”  

Law Student Survey Findings

Among current law students, Joe Biden is leading the presidential race with 27%, followed by Donald Trump at 17%, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. at 16%. 28% remain undecided. Notably, Trump receives a higher portion of conservative and Republican law students (64% each) than Biden does of liberals (46%) and Democrats (44%). 

Overall, law students support free speech. 95% say the First Amendment still needs to be respected and followed rather than being outdated. By a nearly two to one margin (62% to 33%), law students also believe the First Amendment should be interpreted to extend even to speech “considered offensive or hateful by some” rather than excluding such speech. Among law students, Biden voters (49% to 41%) and Asian students (60% to 40%) were the only sub-groups in which more students believe the First Amendment should exclude hateful or offensive speech. First year students (49% to 46%), Top 16-50 law school students (48%-49%), Democrats (52% to 45%) and liberal students (49% to 45%) were the only sub-groups where support for widest protections was ahead by only single digits. 

Similarly, though law students overall opposed law students rejecting students who hold “perspectives considered by some to be offensive or disgusting” (27% don’t accept, 63% accept), Biden voters (42% don’t accept, 46% accept) and liberals (47% don’t accept, 48% accept) were the least supportive. By contrast Trump voters (2% don’t accept, 98% accept), Republicans (3% don’t accept, 97% accept), and conservatives (7% don’t accept, 90% accept) were the most likely to oppose rejecting such applicants. Moderates too opposed rejecting such students, 13% to 83%.

When it came to self-censorship, exactly half of law student survey respondents reported having been intimidated often from differing from their classmates (50%:50%). By contrast, 34% reported being intimidated often from differing from their professors; fewer than the 65% who reported not often being intimidated. 

The partisan and ideological divides were apparent here as well. Only three groups reported being often intimidated from differing from their professors: students in top 16-50 schools (51%:49%), Trump voters (56%:44%), and conservatives (52%:48%). By contrast, 80% of Biden voters and 77% of liberals reported not being intimidated by their professors.

When it came to fear of breaking with classmates, again, left-leaning students seem particularly immune to intimidation. While Trump voters (72%:28%), Republicans (71%:29%), and conservatives (75%:25%) all reported often being intimidated from differing from their classmates, no left-leaning group majority did. However, a majority of moderates (57%:43%) and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. voters (49%:47%) did report being intimidated. They were joined by a majority of students in top 16-50 schools (61%: 39%), third year students (51%:49%), white students (53%:46%), and female students (51%:48%). 

Survey Results on Law and Practice

  • 54% to 44%, American law students say the LSAT is “an unfair way to evaluate prospective law students” and it should be disregarded in the application process
  • 57% to 35%, American law students believe “the bar exam is an unfair way to determine if a prospective lawyer should be permitted to practice law” and it should be eliminated
    • Notable exceptions who opposed eliminating the bar exam were top 14 law students (54% disagree), Trump voters (42%), Republicans (46%) and Black students (54%)
  • 69% to 28%, American law students believe it is more important to ensure “that the work you do advances a more socially just and equitable legal system” rather than that “the client you represent gets a winning or favorable result”
    • Though top 14 school students (46%:46%) and male students (50%:49%) were roughly even on the question, only Trump voters (65%:32%), Republicans (54%:32%), and conservatives (59%:32%) significantly favored delivering a winning result
  • 90% of American law students said they could represent clients even if they strongly disagree with them on politics, a result that stayed fairly consistent across demographic groups

Law Students on The Supreme Court

  • 73% to 18%, American law students believe the Dobbs decision regarding abortion was based more in politics than in law, with liberals saying it was politics 93% to 4% and conservatives saying it was law 57% to 28%
  • 46% to 33%, with 22% undecided, American law students said NFIB vs Sebelius, which upheld large parts of ObamaCare, was based in politics rather than in law
    • A plurality of liberals (41% to 37%) and a majority of conservatives (71% to 18%) said the decisions was based in politics
  • 66% of American law students said the leak of the Dobbs decision was wrong and it “shatters the norms of our justice system” versus 29% who said it was “justifiable”
    • No sub-group majorities called the leak justifiable

Other Issues

  • 53% to 29%, American law students believe criminal law should give special consideration to victims of crimes over the perpetrators
    • Majorities of only liberal students (44%:39%) and Black students (45:42%) felt special consideration should be given to perpetrators because “oftentimes these people are facing difficult circumstances and systemic injustices that cause crime”
    • Otherwise, only Biden voters (39%:39%) and Democrats (41%:43%) were at or close to parity
  • 50% to 42%, American law students believe America should “recognize systemic racism in society, and support members of disadvantaged groups even at the direct expense of members of advantaged groups” rather than pursue a color-blind society
    • A majority of students in the top 16-50 schools (61%:39%), Trump (91%:3%) and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (53%:35%) voters, Republicans (84%:12%), moderates (45%:40%), conservatives (100%:0%), and male students (60%:32%) support a color-blind society. 

The law student survey was conducted of 232 law school students from April 25th to May 25th, 2024. All participants are currently enrolled in one of the 197 law schools accredited and approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).

Read the survey and methodology, survey memo, topline, and crosstabs.