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
Date Written: July 2006
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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