When selecting a law school, prospective students have many things to consider, including rankings and prestige, program specialties, and job placement rates. Another, however, is garnering a great deal of media attention in the wake of last week’s International Mental Health Day: student wellbeing and the availability of mental health support programs.
According to the Dave Nee Foundation, depression among law students is 8-9 percent prior to matriculation, then jumps to 27 percent after one semester, 34 percent after the first year, and 40 percent after three years[i]. Two studies, conducted by the American Bar Association and Yale Law School in 2014, also showed a high percentage of law students indicating that they needed psychological assistance. In the ABA Survey, 42 percent of students reported that in the past year they needed help with a mental health or emotional problem. [ii] And in the Yale Study, 70 percent of students reported experiencing mental health challenges while in law school[iii]. These studies and others like them, have increased awareness of the mental health challenges faced by both law students and the legal profession.
A report released in August 2017, by the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, made recommendations for sweeping reforms that stakeholders throughout the legal profession can make to improve well-being and ultimately the competence and dependability of the profession. Specifically, the task force calls upon law schools to[iv]:
- Create best practices for assisting students experiencing psychological distress;
- Assess law school practices and offer faculty education on promoting well-being in the classroom;
- Empower students to help fellow students in need;
- Include well-being topics in courses on professional responsibility;
- Commit resources for onsite professional counselors;
- Facilitate a confidential recovery network;
- Provide education opportunities on well-being related topics;
- Discourage alcohol-centered social events; and
- Conduct anonymous surveys related to student well-being.
The report also highlighted examples of law schools that offered programming to meet the recommendations:
- Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law: created a well-being curriculum including workshops, mindfulness and resilience courses, and meditation sessions
- Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center: established a student-volunteer program to train students on recognizing mental health problems and referring them to assistance
- American University Washington School of Law: implemented random “check-in” outreach, which invites students to a brief conversation with the Student Affairs office
As a prospective law student, you may be wondering how this information can help inform your school selection. First, we suggest that you keep the task force’s recommendations top of mind as you research schools. Let their advice guide you as you’re learning about the culture of a school and the student body. Ensure that the schools you are applying to are taking the lead in breaking down mental health stigma through informative discourse and are proactively assisting students to seek help when they encounter problems. Be sure to ask administrators and faculty how they are working to address student well-being challenges. Then gather students’ opinions on the efficacy of these actions. Are current students aware of existing resources, clubs, and programming the administrators mention? If so, how are the students engaging with the programs? And are student social and networking events promoting healthy, productive behaviors or do events center around alcohol or other potentially harmful ways to reduce stress?
Your law school experience will be pivotal. Ensure that you are selecting a school that values and promotes your wellbeing now, as much as it values your job placement.