September 13, 2007
External and Internal Motivations
My first-year students are starting to show signs of stress as they become overwhelmed at the faster pace in class, the increase in Legal Practice assignments, and the realization that they are behind in their reading and/or outlines. My second-year students are starting to show similar signs because they are juggling job hunts for summer job spots with studying for very difficult required courses. And, my third-years? Well, they are either so unmotivated that they have few life signs or they are totally stressed because they are worried about a job after 3L year and/or the bar exam - especially my December graduates.
When the stress hits, many students question why they are in law school and why they ever thought they wanted to be lawyers. The old certainty of August has faded into the misery of mid-September. Our conversations often re-examine their motivations for being here.
Students have to sort through their external and internal motivations for being in law school and wanting to become attorneys. External motivations, for example, may be earning lots of money, following in the footsteps of four generations of lawyers, not getting into medical school, not knowing what else to do, or having a very high LSAT score that made law school inevitable. Examples of internal motivations may be wanting to help people in specific groups (the elderly, immigrants, or others), wanting to practice a particular field of law because of an interest, having loved undergraduate courses that covered legal topics, or wanting to use law school to meet another goal (law librarian perhaps).
We know from the literature on stress that internal motivations are more sustaining in stressful situations than external motivations. If the reasons for being in law school focus on what others expect or only on outside factors, the law student has little to hold on to during this period of questioning. However, if the motivation is tied to personal goals, attributes, and values, the law student is able to find the reasons for continuing along the law school path.
By helping my law students focus on their internal motivations, they can renew their desire to be attorneys and continue in pursuit of their goals. And, for those who seem to have only external motivations, I can help them re-focus on why this path is important to them as individuals and find their own reasons for being here. Depending on the student's situation, I may refer them to the university career services for assessments to determine their best career options or I may refer them to the university counseling center for discussions.
There will be a few who discover that they really do not want to be in law school. However, if they leave law school to pursue their real desires in life, that result is not a bad one. (Amy Jarmon)
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