Alternative Justifications for Law School Academic Support Programs: Self-Determination Theory, Autonomy Support, and Humanizing the Law School

Document Type

Law Review Article

Publication Date



academic success programs


"This Article examines a problem that exists in law school academic support programs. While many schools now include extensive academic support opportunities within their curricula, some schools make the choice that more modest investments in these programs are warranted. Obviously, funding such programs is expensive, and law school administrations understandably are reticent to finance such endeavors absent guarantees of results. As such, scholars have attempted to prove, empirically, that law school academic support programs (ASPs) lead to demonstrable results in terms of improvements in student performance in law school and on the bar exam. Setting aside that important project, I suggest that other justifications exist for committing to academic support other than GPA and bar passage.

"My thesis is two-fold. First, I contend that ASPs help law schools satisfy conditions of 'self-determination theory' and, relatedly, provide 'autonomy support.' Self-determination theory, roughly, is a meta-theory of educational motivation that contends that optimal learning occurs when students perceive competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Autonomy support, in turn, asserts that educators must provide choice, rationale-provision, and perspective-taking in order to support students' learning. As such, if an ASP enhances self-determination and autonomy support, it will provide an increased likelihood of real learning.

"Second, I argue that ASPs contribute to the 'law school humanizing' movement. By providing a source of encouragement and assistance in an environment too often devoid of significant positive support, ASPs can leave students feeling that their law school actually cares whether they succeed. For those in academia who believe that providing a more humane law school environment is an admirable and worthwhile goal, this Article will serve to prove that ASPs do assist to providing that environment. This Article analyzes exactly how the methods of ASP fulfill the goals of the humanizing movement, provide self-determination, and lead to an increase in perceived autonomy support in students. The piece concludes that more schools should adopt or expand ASPs, and it introduces an empirical study (which I shall publish in a subsequent piece) testing the dual theses of this Article."