Does legal education have undermining effects on law students? Evaluating changes in motivation, values, and well-being

Behav Sci Law. 2004;22(2):261-86. doi: 10.1002/bsl.582.


We evaluated changes in subjective well-being (SWB), motivation, and values occurring over the law-student career. In study 1, law students began with levels of SWB higher than a comparison sample of undergraduates, but by the end of the first year their SWB had plummeted. These changes were correlated with the sample-wide decreases in intrinsic motivation over the first year, and were also correlated with increases in appearance values and decreases in community service values. Those with the most intrinsic motivations attained the highest grades, but, ironically, high grades in turn predicted shifts in career preferences towards "lucrative" and higher-stress law careers, and away from "service"-oriented and potentially more satisfying law careers. The declines persisted over the second and third years of law school. In study 2, the basic effects were replicated for a different sample of first-year students at a different law school. Implications for legal education and the legal profession are discussed.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Career Choice*
  • Florida
  • Humans
  • Lawyers / education*
  • Motivation*
  • Self-Assessment
  • Social Values*
  • Students / psychology*