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

50 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2006  

Kennon M. Sheldon

University of Missouri at Columbia - Department of Psychological Sciences

Lawrence S. Krieger

Florida State University College of Law

Date Written: July 2006

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.

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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=913824 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.913824

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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