billable hours. There is a
lot of isolation because the
environment is so competitive and people tend
to work as individuals and
not necessarily in groups.
That can be a factor in
depression and anxiety. We
want to dispel those myths
associated with mental health. We want to teach them
to recognize signs and symptoms so that they will be
able to talk to that person. It doesn’t have to take men-
tal health professionals only to recognize when some-
one is in need. Our objective is always to create a safe
place for law students and raise awareness about these
issues and direct them to resources to help them.”
She says some students are reluctant to seek help
because they worry that it might come back to haunt
them when they fill out the character and mental
fitness portion of the bar application. Last August,
the U.S. Justice Department reached a settlement
agreement with the Louisiana Supreme Court. The
department found that Louisiana based its bar admis-
sions process on mental health diagnosis rather than
David Jaffe, associate dean of student affairs at
American University’s Washington College of Law,
says that in recent years the college has worked harder
at preparing students mentally for the challenges and
realities of law school.
“I like to say we’re doing a slightly better job than in
orientations of the past,” Jaffe says. “We try to say law
school brings in a whole new set of different factors.
We tell them, ‘You are all at the top of your game.
You’re all high achievers, but there are new stress-
ors that will come, like a new language, the Socratic
method, the competitive nature of looking for employ-
ment opportunities, and, for a number of students,
tuition.’ We’re saying a little bit of stress is good, but
when that stress is taking over, you need to say some-
thing. And you need to know that you’re not the only
student coming to us.”
Jaffe says the college has launched a general well-
ness initiative that includes a variety of ongoing activ-
ities, including meditation sessions and yoga classes.
During finals week last fall, administrators had a few
people bring puppies into the college’s main lobby to
socialize with the students.
“We’re trying to send a message to take the edge
off,” says Jaffe. “We say that at an absolute minimum,
they should have an outlet outside of law school.”
In addition to a university counselor, the school
uses student volunteers, peers students can contact
online for assistance. A student volunteer at the
college, who asked to be identified only as Nick, says
few students take advantage of the online assistance
programs. He thinks that may be in part because the
level of denial is high.
Katherine Bender, program director of the Dave
Nee Foundation, says many law professors are re-eval-uating their teaching methods.
“They are starting to ask ‘How can we teach law
differently so the students can be engaged and get
called on and not get ridiculed in front of their peers?’”
says Bender, who visits many law schools each year to
do workshops on mental illness and awareness.
Focus more on the whole rather
than a part
Larry Kreiger, a law professor at Florida State University, who has written extensively about happiness and
mental health in the law profession, says law schools
should work harder at educating students about sources of happiness and depression. He believes too much
emphasis is placed on GPAs and law review.
The GPA is important for getting you interviews for
your first job, he says.
“But after you have your first job, it’s going to be
completely irrelevant,” he says. “On your second job
they’re asking you how well you did on your first job.
The people who interview you who mostly care about
your GPA will offer you a job that won’t make you hap-
py. If they’re working 80 hours a week, they’re going to
make you work 80 hours a week, too.”
He says the happiest lawyers are not the ones who
make the most money but those who are driven by a
firm belief in what they do.
“I know lots of lawyers in little practices who are
helping regular middle-class people and are very happy,”
he says. ■
LEKAN OGUNTOYINBO ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance
journalist based in Columbia, Mo.
Some students are reluctant to seek help
because they worry that it might come
back to haunt them when they fill out the
character and mental fitness portion of
the bar application.
—RACHEL BARRETT, executive director of the
Dave Nee Foundation