What Law Students Want From Law Schools On Wellness

Getting a law student to speak openly about mental health is difficult.  There is, however, a forum in which they tend to be very candid and blunt on a variety of topics.  It is the Reddit Law School Forum. I spend a lot of time there because I can see what law students are really thinking without filter on the topic of wellness.  It is anonymous.  I put a simple question to the forum:

How Can We Better Support Law School Wellness?”(I made it clear the responses would be used for an article. No anonymity was compromised)

Here are the unedited responses. I hope all law school administrators will look at these comments and evaluate how they apply to your school. In the law schools I have spoken at, I know that many of these suggestions are already part of the wellness plan. How about your school?

  1. “I think C&F (Character & Fitness) causes a lot of anxiety for people with mental health troubles. When you have to report seeking help or a diagnosis of mental health for review by a committee of strangers, it may seem better to self-treat or simply not seek health care.”

 

  1. “It’s not true that schools can’t take measures to minimize the anxieties students experience in relation to C&F. For instance, schools can provide a confidential means for students to inquire what facts should or should not be revealed, guidance on how to accurately disclose relevant incidents, or recommendation to counseling services so that the person has someone to talk to about either anxiety related to C&F or the incidents in their past that warrant disclosure, to name a few.”

 

  1. “Would love if my University (with an endowment over 10 billion) actually invested in mental health care. Telling new students in September that the next available appointment is in November is disgusting.”

 

  1. “Don’t schedule the Mental Health Day activities on top of a mandatory 1L info session. We were all too busy for Mental Health Day.”

 

  1. “Law school administrators need to fight to make counseling easily accessible for students. I knew a lot of students going to school far from home who couldn’t find a private provider covered by their insurance. I also knew too many people who were dealing with mental health issues in the first place because they felt overwhelmed — trying to find a covered provider only added to their anxiety. At my large university, counseling was available from the university health system, but students were limited to a certain number of visits a semester. Med students, thanks to advocacy by their administrators, are the only group on campus that gets unlimited visits. Law students should have the same type of deal.”

 

  1. “Law schools need to encourage students to define what success means FOR THEM early on. Not everyone will make law review or moot court or book a class. That’s ok. Not everyone needs those things to do what they want to do. But when you’re in the thick of it — especially fall semester of 2L year when it feels like everyone is getting sorted all the time (journals, moot court, OCI) — it feels like those traditional markers of success are THE ONLY things that”

 

  1. “Law school administrators are never going to fight for something that does not directly increase profit or prestige.”

 

  1. “An onsite therapist would help, with potentially one mandatory, one-hour meeting during fall of 1L.”
  • “I could get behind one mandatory meeting. The problem you’ll run into, unfortunately, is staffing. My school’s mental health center is already understaffed. I think this is a great idea, though.”
  • “I completely agree. I think this is more idealistic than realistic. I started therapy after I lost my dad during Spring 2L finals. While my therapist helped guide me through that loss, the lessons she conveyed greatly assisted me with stress management and anxiety during my 3L year.”
  • “We don’t have mandatory sessions, but we have an on-site therapist with walk-in hours and appointments. She also has a J.D. from a T14 so she has a good reference point for understanding students.”

 

  1. “There seems to be a focus on students with good grades, the top 25% got invited to a dinner with the dean and to me, that seems like it creates an elitist mentality which makes me think they don’t really care about you if you don’t have high grades, and I’ve always been an average student. It really makes me feel even more depressed by it.”
  • “Same at my school, but we are located in a very small and insular market so add to this a focus on students whose parents/close family were donating alumni. I don’t think the administration of my school cared at all about reaching out to first generation students, but instead spent all their focus on the students that already had professional connections and a sense of what to expect from law school due to their families. That was something I wasn’t prepared for at all going into law school, and weighed on me a lot 1L year on top of all the other stress I was facing.”

 

  1. “I don’t even think my campus has anything like that. I think that’s a good first step — studying the absence of a facility/resource like that on the actual law campus. Maybe look at the distance between the law school resource and the facility (if any) on the main campus, and how far away it is.”

 

  1. “Encourage the wellness branches of law schools to plan with and even push back against faculty. Obviously, law school is hard, but there were a few weeks in 1L where there were major things due across multiple classes, combined with short notice assignments and other fuckery. The overall workload doesn’t feel that problematic, more just the way it is organized. I’m not a mind reader, but it felt like there was a certain amount of hazing/reveling in the glory of work attitude about those 16-hour-days-for-weeks periods from the faculty.”

 

  1. “Student-focused initiatives are nice of course, but if you don’t address the actual academic culture, then law schools will just continue talking out of both sides of their mouth. Maybe these conversations already happen behind the scenes, I don’t know. Just my thoughts.”

 

  1. “I think that this is beyond the scope of law schools to effectively manage. It’s an industry problem that just happens to start in law school. My school has really high employment rates, and three therapists who have open drop in hours in the law school building (in addition to the ability to make an appointment with the counseling center across the street). I still had multiple friends who had mental break downs in law school, and one who attempted suicide. Other than the one who attempted suicide, they were all median students with Biglaw jobs lined up after graduation and they all got their initial treatment at school. Having treatment so close is helpful, but it didn’t prevent the problem.”

 

  1. “Making it accessible, for one. My school hired a counselor during my 2L year and apparently there was a lot of outreach to the 1Ls, but I never found out how to even schedule an appointment, or if there would be a cost. Also, I know the check-in process is with a student in an office with several other functions, so it was pretty likely that if you went in there, you’d be seen. That’s a deterrent for law students, who are generally bad at admitting they need help.”

 

  1. “The other downside is that the hours are limited: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. That might be do-able as a 1L, but my 2L and 3L years I was working/clerking and often not on campus during those hours. So for me, the service was basically unavailable. On a side note, one weekend a girl at the school was attacked (I was the one to find her). It would have been really helpful to have someone with counseling skills on hand for her, but the weekend security guard was useless and only succeeded in making her even more uncomfortable than she already was.”

 

  1. “But even if law schools address this better, it’s an industry problem. Most of us are still going into the world of billable hours, unreasonable expectations, and never-ending debt. Law school was hard, but I think it’s going to feel like an oasis when I get my first job.”

 

  1. “Our school just started a mental health student alliance of sorts. We have on-campus counselors, but we share them with other schools in the university system, and they are stretched very thin. I think the med school has their own in-house dedicated staff position for student wellness — we are pushing for something similar at the law school.”

 

  1. “Make sure people actually want to become lawyers and are not just bypassing the real world by attending law school. When they bypass the real world for something they don’t actually like, their hole gets deeper and harder to get out of.”

 

  1. “It’s pointless unless practice changes as well.”

 

  1. “The only thing you can do is support students with food and supplies, to take stress out of day to day activities to ensure they are well prepared. My school stopped letting LSOs use SBA fund to supply food at events, and it has (anecdotally) led to a lack of attendance at LSO events, which is pretty sad.”

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.

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