How law schools address mental health: programs and resources

Attending law school is an opportunity to study one of the most respected and difficult occupations in the United States. However, studying law may be difficult and exhausting. This is because, in addition to the sheer amount of information that you must memorize, you must also impress your professors and secure internship opportunities. This is why in order to be accepted into the law school you must be extremely hardworking and talented, but that also means that you will be placed in the company of equally talented and hardworking students. 

During Lawrina’s webinar ‘Lawyer’s Mental Health: How To Stay Calm Under Stress’, speakers Olga V. Mack, Julian Sarafian, Pamela DeNeuve, and Jolene Blackbourn discussed the mental health issues that exist among legal practitioners. Specifically, they talked about how hard it is for lawyers to speak up about their struggle and pay enough attention to their mental health in the competitive environment of the legal sphere.

‘There is a lot of shame and stigma surrounding mental health in law, not only among lawyers in law schools, but across the board. It is, generally, because of the training in law schools that leads to this competitive nature, to feeling that they need to be the best, perfectionism. And a lot of lawyers learn how to survive by using tranquilizers, prescriptions and alcohol to be able to go through it.’

Pamela DeNeuve 
Lawyer & Law Firm Strategist at DeNeuve & Associates

Here at Lawrina, we decided to look into the current model for training at law schools in the US. We also talked with students to find out how law schools are addressing mental health and which programs and resources they provide to students.

Do mental health issues start at law schools?

For a long time, mental health was not first on the list of the things people were concerned about in their professional or educational lives. However little it was talked about, mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, or addictions, still existed. And the statistics are here to prove it.

For instance, recent research from the Dave Lee Foundation provided scary statistics about depression and suicide in law schools:

  • Prior to taking up their law degree, depression rates among prospective students are between 8 and10 percent, equalling that of the general public. However, after one semester, the rate of depression increased to 27%, and to a staggering 34% after two semesters – 1 in 3 students!
  • A greater proportion of law students experience stress than the attendees of other professional programts. A whopping  96% of law students expressed that they were under stress, compared to 70% of medical school students.

‘I can certainly say that law school is stressful, and some students get burnt out. While I don’t know how many actually suffer from depression and addictions (since they usually keep that private), it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a few that did.’ 

Deborah Teslyar
Student at Brooklyn Law School

Another survey, with the telling name pf ‘Suffering in Silence’, conducted by Jerome M. Organ, David B. Jaffe, and Katherine M. Bender polled 3,000 law students and found that 21% of the participants (1 in every 4) had serious thoughts about suicide in their lifetime. Moreover, 6% of those polled had considered suicide in the last 12 months prior to the survey.

‘In the United States, [mental health awareness] is not as prevalent as it should be. There are speakers that are going to certain schools and they are talking about lawyers’ well-being. The Lawyers’ Well-being Report also included law students where the percentage of incidents of alcoholism and so forth was higher than the numbers for practicing lawyers.’

Pamela DeNeuve 
Lawyer & Law Firm Strategist at DeNeuve & Associates

There is no way that law schools can ignore the statistics that show that nearly all students experience stress, especially since this often leads to the more serious problems. Law Technology Today listed the most common mental health challenges law students face:

  1. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  2. Alcohol and substance abuse
  3. Anxiety
  4. Depression

Iin his research ‘Resisting the Psychological Effects of Law School’, Will Pasley, a UC Hastings NLG Graduate suggested that the environment at law school, with its competitiveness, isolation, and self-esteem roller-coaster could be a key factor.

The extent of this research has begun to result in action from law schools.

‘Law schools are being more proactive with regard to changing and providing resources to young lawyers, not on a large scale but to a degree. They have young lawyers associations and mentoring programs where aspiring lawyers or students of law schools are able to get help and support.’

Pamela DeNeuve 
Lawyer & Law Firm Strategist at DeNeuve & Associates

Law schools and their mental health initiatives

We decided to look through the resources and programs that U.S. law schools provide in support of their students’ mental health.

‘Some law schools are starting to provide meditation in the classroom. If you are a pre-law student, you might want to put that on your list when you are comparing law schools.’

Jolene Blackbourn
California attorney and the host of The Legal Learning Podcast

Stanford Law School

‘We have a decent focus on student wellbeing and there is a lot of programming for de-stress, such as yoga, playing with puppies, and other social activities. Stanford also recently hired a therapist dedicated to meeting only with law students, on top of the other mental health resources available on campus.’

David Cremins
Student at Stanford Law School

As David mentioned, Stanford Law School has a wide range of resources for students. The school makes an effort to approach every dimension of mental health, including various sport activities, coaching to teach students healthy eating habits, the Stanford Sleep Health Medicine Center, various academic-based wellness courses, and various groups and workshops for students’ connection and collaboration.

Brooklyn Law School

‘My school offers virtual meditation sessions to help students manage their stress. They also offer remote therapy services with a counselor.’

Deborah Teslyar
Student at Brooklyn Law School

Brooklyn Law School also offers yoga classes, a Wellness Week, and wellness initiatives from different student organizations. Many students at Brooklyn Law School choose to participate in sport activities to benefit their mental health, such as jogging, tennis, or softball. 

AU Washington School of Law

At the American University School of Law, students have access to various mental health resources through the wellness page of the school’s website. The School of Law offers free therapy sessions with a mental health therapist, a 24/7 crisis center which students can reach out to gain immediate help and support, and group therapy sessions and training for students who are expressing suicidal thinking. These are only a few of the programs students can access to take care of their mental health. Beyond these resources, the school also gives students the opportunity to attend yoga classes, relaxing events like outdoor movie nights, French toast dinners, the semiannual puppy day, and activities, such as cornhole or croquet.

The Washington School of Law also participated in the American Bar Association’s podcast “The Path to Law Student Well-Being”, highlighting some of their efforts. The podcast is still available on the association’s website.

Also read:Lawyer’s Mental Health: 5 Ways to Get on the Right Track

Communications about mental health have become significantly more popular over the past few years, demonstrating how conscious and att...

Michigan Law

University of Michigan’s Law School also joined the ABA’s mental health initiative – Well-Being Pledge and Campaign. The university itself has a separate website dedicated to support and improve students’ mental health – Campus Mind Works. Here, students can find support groups, tools, resources, event calendars, and helpful tips on how to maintain a healthy mind and body during their studies.

Conclusions

More and more, Law schools are realizing the importance of mental health and are taking serious action towards ensuring their students are happy and healthy while studying law. Students are taking notice and appreciate their efforts.

‘I don’t have much experience working in legal settings, but in general I think law practices can learn from other industries that happy employees do better work and stay longer at their jobs. Therefore, initiatives such as letting people maintain a healthy work-life balance, taking time at work to reflect on team dynamics, and social planning can pay dividends.’

David Cremins
Student at Stanford Law School

While a lot of programs and initiatives already exist, there is still much that can and should be done.

‘The stress about exams is not great for mental health. I think law schools could ease students into their curriculum by providing more exam practice throughout the semester so that students do not have to prepare for the final exam completely on their own.’

Deborah Teslyar
Student at Brooklyn Law School

Studying law has been and continues to be a serious trigger for mental health issues among students. But, with time and efforts made, we are on a way to improving the situation for law students, and the law profession as a whole.

Article by Mariia Synytska

Mariia Synytska is Content Lead at Lawrina, a legal portal that projects innovation in law. Mariia manages the content on the website, takes interviews with lawyers and law experts, and looks for the interesting topics for Lawrina's audience. If you would like to be a blogger for Lawrina, you can contact Mariia for all the details via email m.synytska@lawrina.com.

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