Bond University


Previous research has suggested that the experience of studying law reorients students toward external, extrinsic motivations and objectives, and that this orientation contributes to the high rates of psychological distress among law students. This article offers support for that thesis as well as further insight into the associations between law students’ motivations, academic expectations and levels of psychological distress. Findings from two empirical studies of students’ motivations and expectations are compared in order to identify changes that may be a result of the experience of studying law. The first study investigated the motivations and expectations of commencing students in an LLB and a JD program. The second study investigated the motivations and expectations of LLB and JD students at a point in the degree when most students would have completed at least five law subjects. The second study also assessed students’ levels of psychological distress. Although not a longitudinal study, the data point to possible differences between the motivations and expectations of commencing law students and students later in their degree. Specifically, experienced students were more likely to cite non-Intrinsic reasons for studying law and also more likely to expect their results to be in the top one-third of their cohort. Further research into these factors is suggested to test whether they are contributing to law students’ psychological distress.