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Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students: A Longitudinal Test and Extension of Self-Determination Theory


Kennon M. Sheldon


University of Missouri at Columbia - Department of Psychological Sciences

Lawrence S. Krieger


Florida State University College of Law

July 2006

FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 206

Abstract:     
Longitudinal studies suggest that law school has a corrosive effect upon the well-being (Benjamin, et al. 1986; Sheldon & Krieger, 2004) and values and motivation (Sheldon & Krieger, 2004) of students, ostensibly because of its problematic institutional culture (McKinney, 2002; Schuwerk, 2004). In a three year study of two different law schools, we applied self-determination theory's dynamic process model of thriving (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 2000) to explain such findings. Students at both schools declined in psychological need satisfaction and well-being over the three years. However, student reports of greater perceived autonomy support by faculty predicted less radical declines in need satisfaction, which in turn predicted better well-being in the third year, and also a higher GPA, better bar exam results, and more self-determined motivation for the first job after graduation. Institution-level analyses showed that although students at both schools suffered, one school was more controlling than the other, predicting greater difficulties for its students in terms of well-being, job motivation and bar passage. Implications for SDT and for legal education are discussed.

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Date posted: July 10, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Sheldon, Kennon M. and Krieger, Lawrence S., Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students: A Longitudinal Test and Extension of Self-Determination Theory (July 2006). FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 206. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=913824 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.913824

Contact Information

Kennon M. Sheldon
University of Missouri at Columbia - Department of Psychological Sciences ( email )
112 McAlester
Columbia, MO 65211
United States
Lawrence S. Krieger (Contact Author)
Florida State University College of Law ( email )
425 W. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States
850-644-7262 (Phone)
850-644-5487 (Fax)
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