Does law school change your personality? (3 ways)

This blog post aims to answer the question, “Does law school change your personality?” and explores what happens in law school and how it affects the personality of law students to help understand the answer. 

Does law school change your personality?

Yes, law school might change your personality in the following 3 ways –

  • Subjective well-being and intrinsic motivation decreased. 
  • Positive affect and life satisfaction decreased, while negative affect, depression, and physical symptomology increased. 
  • Law school might lead to detrimental changes in student incentives and ideals.

What are these 3 ways in which law school changes your personality?

Subjective well-being and intrinsic motivation decreased. 

Over the course of a law student’s career, researchers looked at changes in subjective well-being (SWB), motivation, and values. In study 1, law students started with greater levels of SWB than a reference group of undergraduates, but their SWB had fallen by the conclusion of the first year. 

These shifts were linked to declines in intrinsic motivation across the board in the first year, as well as increases in appearance values and decreases in community service values.

High grades predicted shifts in career preferences towards “lucrative” and higher-stress law careers, and away from “service”-oriented and potentially more satisfying law careers. 

Over the course of the second and third years of law school, the decreases continued. The fundamental results were repeated in Study 2 using a different sample of first-year law students from different law schools. There was a discussion on the implications for law education and the legal profession.

The goal of this study was to conceptually duplicate previous studies that showed incoming law students’ well-being deteriorating and depression rising (Benjamin et al., 1986). 

Furthermore, the study sought to provide fresh insight into the possible reasons for any observed changes in well-being, as previous research had mostly concentrated on reporting or recording negative change rather than utilising theory to explain it (Dammeyer & Nunez, 1999). 

The researchers used measures from the self-determination theory of optimum motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1991, 2000) to see if students’ motives or values shifted negatively over their first year of law school (Krieger, 1998).

The study projected that movements away from intrinsic motives and values and toward more extrinsic motives and values may occur in the sample, in line with the concerns of numerous legal academics about excessive performance and grading demands in legal education. 

To summarise the findings of the first study: Preliminary results found that at time 1, law students had greater SWB and intrinsic values than the comparator sample (advanced undergraduates). These findings show that, at first, law students are generally “normal,” rather than a particularly miserable or materialistic group.

A second preliminary study revealed that the law student sample’s time 1 self-determined goal and intrinsic values were positively connected with their time 1 SWB. These cross-sectional results show that the law students are similar to previous SDT (Self-Determination Theory) study samples. 

Positive affect and life satisfaction decreased, while negative affect, depression, and physical symptomology increased. 

From the beginning to the conclusion of their first year of law school, students showed big drops in positive affect and life satisfaction, as well as large increases in negative affect, depression, and physical symptomology, according to a third preliminary analysis. 

These findings show that these law students were similar to previous law student groups in terms of diminishing SWB (Benjamin et al., 1986).

What was the source of the sudden drop in happiness during the first year? Although the answer to this issue is undoubtedly multi-factorial, the data gathered from motivation and value measurements point to several possibilities. 

In order to test the first basic hypothesis, the researchers discovered that students’ endorsement of intrinsic values decreased throughout the first year, with a shift away from community service values and toward appearance and image values.

Law school might lead to detrimental changes in student incentives and ideals.

Furthermore, at the end of the year, students felt less self-determined in their law school goals, pursuing them more for the sake of pleasing or impressing others rather than for the sake of pleasure and enjoyment. 

These two studies back up the theory that law school might lead to detrimental changes in student incentives and ideals. The second key hypothesis test discovered substantial correlations between changes in motivation and values and changes in SWB, supporting the idea that motivational changes might help explain SWB alterations.

Of fact, given correlational data, causation cannot be determined conclusively. In study 1, the researchers ran numerous sets of extra analysis.  The first set of tests looked at the consistency of the time 1/time 2 shifts over two subsequent survey sessions. 

The study discovered that neither the losses in SWB nor the losses in relative intrinsic value orientation returned at time 3 or time 4: that is, there were no significant changes in these measures from time 2 to time 3 or from time 3 to time 4.

The second set of supplemental analysis looked at factors that influence GPA. Even after adjusting for each student’s LSAT score, these findings demonstrated that good motivation predicted higher grade accomplishment throughout the first semester of law school (which was also significant).

This discovery is in line with a lot of earlier self-determination theory research, which shows that when individuals behave for intrinsic and self-determined motives, they act more consistently, flexibly, creatively, and successfully (Ryan et al., 1996; Deci & Ryan, 2000).

The latter result, however, had a potential irony: the third set of supplementary analyses revealed that students with high first-semester grade-point averages exhibited significant shifts toward high-stress, money-oriented legal career preferences, as well as significant shifts away from more service-oriented career preferences. 

As a result, while students who started with intrinsic motives and values tended to do well academically, their high performance may have had some detrimental consequences, in that they tended to gravitate toward more profitable, high-prestige job preferences.

The values often associated with such occupations, according to SDT (Schiltz, 1999), are likely to lead to decreasing health, SWB, and career satisfaction over time. 

Two unexpected outcomes from Study 1 are worth mentioning. Over the first year, the sample as a whole shifted away from rewarding professional endorsement. Given the emphasis on external benefits (grades, high income, and prominent professions) in many law school settings, the opposite outcome was predicted. 

This sample-wide shift might be due to the fact that the average student GPA was a C, which was significantly lower than the GPAs attained by these high-achieving university students before law school.

The majority of students below the top of the grade curve may have become discouraged about their chances of obtaining lucrative positions immediately after law school as a result of this perceived failure, whereas students who performed better may have felt more capable of conforming to the prevailing values regarding prestige and high-paying careers (in fact, the higher-paying law firms do primarily recruit from the top of each law school class).

The correlational analyses provided in research 1 supported the latter notion, demonstrating that students with higher grades did, in fact, gravitate toward more profitable legal employment (while those with lower grades shifted in the opposite direction). This concept, on the other hand, clearly demands more research. 

The second unexpected finding in study 1 was that, while the authors had expected a continued shift away from intrinsic and toward extrinsic values between times 2 and 3, they discovered that between the end of the first year and the middle of the second year, virtually all types of valuing had decreased, a pattern that was maintained at time 4.

This data, however, appears to be consistent with previous reports of law-student disengagement in their second and third years of school (Fines, 1997; Anonymous, 1998; Glesner, 1991; Granfield, 1992; Gulati, Sander, & Sockloskie, 2001), as well as a general “numbing” of values and emotions by overly analytical legal processes (Fines, 1997; Anonymous, 1998; Glesner, 1991; Granfield, 1992; Gulati, Sander (Sells, 1994). 

The data also appears to support the cliché that attorneys “have no principles,” i.e., that they are hired guns who would advocate any stance that pays well.

Obviously, further research is needed on this subject. Study 2, which focused on a group of first-year law students from a different law school, confirmed nearly all of the key findings of study 1: students showed negative changes in every measure of happiness, as well as negative changes in perceived self-determination, or the “why” of motivation. In addition, the appearance values of LS2 pupils increased significantly.

The research 2 sample, on the other hand, did not show a substantial decline in community value. The inability to reproduce the impact reported in the LS1 sample might be due to the fact that students in the LS2 sample were substantially older on average than those in the LS1 group, and many were part-time students, according to the authors. 

As a result, the LS2 students were more stable and well-integrated into the larger society, allowing them to escape the community’s decrease in values.

The presence of an obligatory grade curve at LS1 may have had a more detrimental influence on the sample’s values, as such curves promote rivalry over collaboration and community (Fines, 1997). 

Certainly, further research is needed, but despite the numerous obvious variations in the schools, the consistency of the other results between the two samples (including a total lack of sample-by-time interactions) supports the generalizability of the overall pattern.

Conclusion – 

This blog post attempted to answer the question, “Does law school change your personality?” and reviewed what happens in the law school and how it affects the personality of the law students to help determine if law school changes your personality. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.

References –

How did law school change you? Quora. (n.d.). Retrieved from  https://www.quora.com/How-did-law-school-change-you 

How has law school changed your personality? Reddit. (n.d.). Retrieved from 

Sheldon, K. M. & Krieger, L.S. Does Legal Education have Undermining Effects on Law Students? Evaluating Changes in Motivation, Values, and Well-Being. (2004). Retrieved from 

https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.555.7527&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Does Law School Change a Person? (2005, March 21). Retrieved from 

https://www.legalunderground.com/2005/03/amorality.html

Pasley, W. Resisting the Psychological Effects of Law School. (n.d.). Retrieved from 

https://www.nlg.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Resisting-the-Psychological-Effects-of-Law-School.pdf

Squire, J. Does law school change your personality? (2022, March 31).  Retrieved from 

https://process-of-change.com/q/7657038

What It Takes To Be a Top Law Student. Enjuris Editors. (n.d.). Retrieved from 

https://www.enjuris.com/students/qualities-of-successful-law-students.html

Mack, O. V. & Bloom, K. Lawyers As Leaders: Is Your Personality Too Legal? (2017, June 12). Retrieved from 

https://abovethelaw.com/2017/06/lawyers-as-leaders-is-your-personality-too-legal/

5 Qualities that Make a Great Law Student. BARBRI Law Preview. (2000, January 7). Retrieved from 

https://lawpreview.barbri.com/5-qualities-make-great-law-student/

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