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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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We’re Messed Up in the Head (Law Students, that is)

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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The WSJ Law Blog came across an interesting study – Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students: A Longitudinal Test of Self-Determination Theory – which noted that:

“The emotional distress of law students appears to significantly exceed that of medical students and at times approach that of psychiatric populations.” That’s the conclusion of a new study, suggesting that law school has a corrosive effect on the well-being, values and motivation of students.

Concluding –

The problem with most law schools, the authors write, is that they place little emphasis on hiring faculty members with proven records of teaching excellence. Instead, they tend to “emphasize theoretical scholarship and the teaching of legal theory, and many hire and reward faculty primarily based on scholarly potential and production,” say the authors. Observers suggest, they add, “that such priorities and processes train students to ignore their own values and moral sense, undermine students’ sense of identity and self-confidence, and create cynicism.”

All the professors I’ve had have been better teachers than the ones I’ve had anywhere else and I question why we should assume there’s a negative relationship between the ability to teach and quality of research, but obviously as a law student I’m in no position to comment on my own mental state, but I think it might have something to do with spending an inordinate amount of time over three years reading, studying, breathing nothing but law.

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Category: advice to law students, law school

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2 Responses

  1. Oz says:

    The idea that hiring law faculty based on research and writing promise rather than on “teaching ability” is nonsense sense academia everywhere hires this way. Why Law students are “less happy” than any other students has nothing to do with the faculty, it is the way the system is set up–an adversarial system.

    I guess I was lucky that as an undergrad and graduate nearly all of my profs were great teachers, but I think for the most part so are our law professors regardless of what basis they were hired on.

    Medical School may have tough academics, but the “psychological” issues in law school have to do with the curve, resulting competitiveness, and law students’ acknowledgement that grades do have a lot to do with what initial job opportunities are going to be available to them as new graduates, (The grades are not absolutely everything of course, but it is unrealistic to deny their primacy).

    However, I would say like most “psychological” issues where people are not genuinely seriously mentally ill, this is realy a product of how law students choose to process this whole experience. Seems like the author of the study was told people had to stop blaming their childhood for their unhappiness and so he had to look elsewhere.

    People forget how far they have come just to get accepted to law school. I think more than 90% of the applicants to our school don’t even get in. Every law student has at least a bachelor’s degree which most American adults don’t have.

    Besides any day that you have clean water to drink, three meals to eat, when you can walk with your own two legs, see with your own two eyes, hear with your own to ears, and type with your own ten fingers, and have at least one person in your life who loves you is a day to be greatful for.

    Like Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be”

  2. Right (write?) on Oz!

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