Identifying Predictors of Law Student Life Satisfaction

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

Insights & Tips

  • Smaller, more diverse schools most conducive to life satisfaction
  • Correlation with more discussion in classrooms
  • Correlation with connection and sense of community

The following is an excerpt from Nisha C. Gottfredson et al., Identifying Predictors of Law Student Life Satisfaction, 58 J. Legal Educ.
520 (Dec. 2008).

Compared to the U.S. population, law students are at greater risk for stress-related health disorders. However, law students have the potential to experience a high degree of meaningful engagement with their work, to feel a sense of community involvement and support, and to feel proud of their achievements. Based on prior well-being research, it was predicted that engagement, social support, and perceptions of academic success would relate to enhanced satisfaction with life for a national sample of law students. Findings from a multilevel regression analysis revealed that smaller, more diverse law schools with higher quality instruction and class discussion were most conducive to life satisfaction. Students who felt supported by their academic and home communities and students who were academically successful were the most satisfied with their lives.

Participants:
National data were collected from law students by a multisite, interdisciplinary team of researchers working on the Educational Diversity Project (EDP) study during law school orientation in Fall 2004, and student participants were again contacted in Spring 2007, as they were expected to be completing law school.

Scale:
The study utilized the Five-Item Satisfaction with Life scale, including items:

  1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal
  2. The conditions in my life are excellent
  3. I am satisfied with my life
  4. So far I have gotten the important things I want in life
  5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing

Measures:

  • Life satisfaction
  • School characteristic
  • Individual demographic characteristics and personality
  • Social support
  • Perceived academic efficacy
  • Engagement with/meaningfulness of course material

Results:

  • Students who attended more racially diverse schools were significantly more satisfied with their lives, while students attending larger schools had less life satisfaction.
  • Older students reported being less satisfied than younger students.
  • Males reported being less satisfied than females.
  • Students who had relatively higher family income during childhood had higher life satisfaction.
  • Extraverted law students reported more life satisfaction than introverted law students.
  • Students who reported positive relationships with faculty reported significantly greater life satisfaction.
  • Students with higher LSAT scores were significantly less satisfied than students with lower LSAT scores.
  • Student-reported perceived quality of instruction and quality of class discussion were positively related to life satisfaction.

Discussion:
The most satisfied law students were those who experienced an appropriate level of challenge, consistent with the concept of “flow.” An optimally functioning individual would succeed academically (contributing to greater self-efficacy) and would have a sense of engagement with their school and with their work. Perceived academic success in law school positively related to life satisfaction, but LSAT scores slightly negatively related to life satisfaction. This discrepancy suggests that one’s ability level, as assessed by standardized admissions tests, does not predict life satisfaction but instead, the rewards gained through hard work and engagement with the material predicts life satisfaction.

Conclusion:
This finding suggests that racially diverse environments, combined with academic challenge, give rise to positive perceptions of one’s own satisfaction. This study could not determine whether satisfied students choose racially diverse environments or whether the racially diverse environments contribute to a student’s perceived life satisfaction. Future research could further investigate this relationship.

School climate matters. A more supportive atmosphere with positive student-student and student-faculty relationships, and a more diverse student body, leads to higher levels of student satisfaction. Such supportive environments will also reduce the possibility that students encounter microaggressions (everyday experiences of implicit or explicit discrimination).

It is also important that students perceive their class discussions and lectures as being high quality. Students who attend smaller schools are more satisfied than those attending larger schools. This may be due to a combination of factors, including a sense of community and support, and perceived quality of classes. Reducing class size, while potentially costly, might attenuate some of the differences in satisfaction levels across students in small and large schools.

Table 3
Predictors of Life Satisfaction
Variable Domain Estimate SE
School Characteristics
Racial Diversity                                                .49       .19
Enrollment                                                       -.09       .07
Private Sector                                                   .04       .05
Percent Admitted                                           -.04      .33
Individual Demographic Characteristics and Personality
Age                                                                                     -.26     .04
Female                                                                .19      .04
Relative Childhood Income                          .02      .02
Self Confidence in Social Situations          .13         .02
Emotional Stability                                          .11         .02
Openness to Experience                               -.01       .00
African American                                            -.23       .11
Asian American                                                 .14        .08
Mexican/Hispanic                                           -.01       .10
Multiracial                                                            .00       .08
Social Support
Marriage/Cohabitation                                   .31          .04
Biological Father Present                               .23          .07
Quality of Friendships Developed               .02          .02
Quality of Faculty Relationships                  .03          .02
Academic Success/Self-efficacy
LSAT                                                                                     -.15        .04
Baseline Expected Rank                                  .00       .02
Expectation to Pass Bar                                   .07         .02
Academic Struggle                                            -.21        .05
Engagement with Material/Meaningfulness
Quality of Class Discussions                          .04         .03
Quality of Instruction                                       .11           .03
Extracurricular Options                                  .01         .02

 

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