Law School

UNC Kenan Flagler Provides Alumni with Strategies to Avoid Post-MBA Burnout

Earlier this month, the Financial Times published an article on workplace wellbeing and burnout. The article included the results of a reader survey on how employers support employees’ mental health. Two-thirds said that their work had a somewhat to extremely negative effect on their health. Forty-four percent said that they did not think their organization took mental health seriously and half said that they either didn’t know where at work to go or had nowhere to go if they needed support. While the survey respondents were self-selecting, the results show a significant issue with employer support of mental health, including stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression.

 The article warns us that the problem runs across sectors, but may be particularly relevant to graduates of law, business, and medical schools; the authors note that “Fields such as law, finance, and consulting seem particularly prone to intense, demanding workplace cultures, but the issue affects people in all sectors. One doctor dies by suicide every day in the US.” Similarly, Blind, an anonymous social app for tech employees, surveyed its users in May 2018 and 57 percent of the 11, 487 respondents said that they were burned out. Only five of the 30 tech companies represented had an employee burnout rate below 50 percent, and 16 of the companies had a burnout rate higher than the average (57 percent). Later surveys, also by Blind, found that 52 percent of tech workers responded that they do not have a “healthy work environment” and that 39 percent of tech workers said they were depressed.

The FT survey also found that reasons behind burnout clustered into four themes: overwork, cultural stigma, pressure from the top, and fear of being penalized. The article suggested that many experts point to an epidemic of overwork resulting from the common expectation that employees be available and responsive to client needs 24/7. “In his book, Dying for a Paycheck, Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer posits that this crisis is getting worse over time, amid stagnating wage growth and an increasing reliance on the gig economy. ‘We are on a path that is completely unsustainable,’ Pfeffer says. ‘The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] tells you that chronic illness is 86 percent of the $2.7tn US healthcare spend. Many come from stress-related behaviours. If you’re going to solve the healthcare cost crisis, a piece of that solution has to go through the workplace.’”

In an acknowledgment of the intense positions that many post-MBA graduates find themselves in, Robert Goldberg, an affiliate UNC Kenan-Flagler faculty member, recently led an interactive session for UNC alumni to build awareness of and strategies for preventing burnout.

First, Goldberg encouraged alumni to explore various “energy zones” which, described below, he adapted from The Power of Full Engagement (Loehr & Schwartz, 2003).

  • Performance zone: Passionate, enthusiastic, engaged, optimistic, alive, challenged, and absorbed

  • Survival zone: Anxious, impatient, angry, irritable, defensive, fearful, and frustrated

  • Burnout zone: Hopeless, exhausted, sad, discouraged, lost, empty, worried, and depleted

  • Recovery zone: Calm, peaceful, grateful, relaxed, receptive, relieved, rested, and renewed

Goldberg said that to stay in the performance zone, you must enter the recovery zone before you enter burnout. As such, those in intense professions may need to spend time recovering every working day. This can be done using various energy management techniques, including physical (stepping away from the desk at regular intervals), mental (prioritizing competing demands), emotional (feeling valued and appreciated), and spiritual (connecting work to higher purpose). 

Finally, Goldberg addressed the importance of “personal resilience” to maintain strong performance, defining resilience as “the ability to become strong, healthy, and successful after something bad happens.”

Goldberg shared the following five factors, summarized below, for building resilience capability:

  • Perspective: Take some space to view a situation, accepting the negative aspects and finding opportunities. “Recognize what can be changed and what can’t.”

  • Emotional intelligence: Become present in your emotions and name what you’re feeling. Don’t feel guilt or shame over the emotions that you experience, but give yourself time and space to process them.

  • Purpose, values, strengths: Be aware of the purpose that you find in your work, and how it relates to your larger moral compass. Use this awareness to stay centered during chaotic times.

  • Connections: Form relationships with your friends and colleagues and give and receive support from this network.

  • Managing physical energy: Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat well, and have hobbies and activities to engage in apart from your work.

Graduate students, particularly within business, law, and medical school, may want to consider incorporating these strategies into their lives now. Building healthy and sustainable stress management habits, within the hectic graduate school environment, will be good preparation for managing career stress, avoiding burnout, and maintaining wellness in the future.

Law School Students Still Not Receiving Adequate Mental Health Support

Forty percent of recent law school graduates say that their school is not doing enough to support students’ mental health and assist students struggling with the stress and pressure of law school. An additional 31 percent do not know, while only 29 percent answered favorably, saying that they feel their school is doing enough. This is according to the Kaplan Bar Review survey results released earlier this month, which include data gathered from over 300 recent law school graduates. Despite the well-documented struggles that law students face and the recommendations for sweeping reforms put out by the American Bar Association in August 2017, there have been few noted improvements. Tammi Rice, vice president, Kaplan Bar Review commented on the survey results saying, “What students are telling us is that law schools need to do a better job of providing the kinds of services that they need for self-care, and also communicating how those services can help them. This is an important conversation to have. We have to conquer the stigma traditionally associated with mental health, particularly in the legal community… May, in particular, can be an emotionally taxing month in the life of law school graduates, as it is when they begin preparing to take the July bar exam…”

 The Kaplan Bar Review survey also asked students for their opinions on the state bar examiners’ ability to inquire about past mental health and addiction issues. Seventy-four percent of students were opposed to the bar examiners’ application asking if the applicant has ever been treated for a mental health issue. At 61 percent, there were fewer, but still a strong majority who were opposed to the bar application asking about past treatment for a substance abuse issue.

 These high numbers were no surprise in the wake of last year’s successful movement to update the mental health questioning on the Virginia Bar application. Law school students, who saw the questioning as a barrier to getting treatment because of the stigma, organized and sent letters to the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners, who were examining the mental health questions. After receiving a recommendation from a Supreme Court of Virginia committee coupled with “valuable input” from lawyers, judges, law school deans, and students, the bar has—as of January 1, 2019—eliminated the question asking applicants to disclose past mental health treatment. The board also edited another question to focus on conduct and behavior. “Knowing that the students who hope to one day join the Virginia Bar will not have to experience fear of ramifications for disclosing any treatment they sought during law school on their bar applications is a wonderful thing,” said Catherine Woodcock, last year’s Student Bar Association president at Washington and Lee University. “The more we normalize and encourage sound mental health and wellness, the better we will be as a profession.” In January, the Michigan Supreme Court also gave notice that it is studying “whether questions regarding mental health should be included on the personal affidavit that is part of the application for the Michigan Bar Examination, and if so, what form those questions should take.”

Law schools and legal professionals still have considerable ground to cover in increasing awareness of mental health needs within the profession. However, kicking off this month, is “Minds Over Matters,” a year-long deep dive into the mental health and well-being of law professionals by Law.com and its affiliate professionals. This site and its affiliate ALM partners, which cover a wide-ranging scope of legal topics are looking to “more deeply cover stress, depression, addiction, and other mental health issues affecting the legal profession. We aim to create a place for open dialogue, to shine a light on these issues that have so long been stigmatized, and to hold the profession accountable to work toward change. With ALM’s broad coverage of the legal profession, we think we are uniquely situated to address these issues.”

All prospective law students, recent law graduates, and legal professionals should stay abreast of these trends and follow the work showcased on law.com. Prospective law students will want to be conversant on these issues for interviews and as they consider the cultural fit of various law school programs. Current students and recent law graduates will want to educate themselves on how to begin cultivating their own wellbeing despite the stress of law school and their upcoming professional lives. These groups may also want to look out for opportunities to engage with and make changes within their own state’s board of bar examiners. As seen in Virginia, a group of engaged students can make a difference.

12 New York Law Schools See Decrease in Bar Pass Rates

For first-time test takers in July 2018, the New York State Bar pass rate decreased at 12 of 15 New York law schools compared to July 2017. The decreases ranged from a minor 1.6 percentage points at Cornell to 16.2 percentage points at Touro. Nine of the programs’ pass rates fell below the statewide rate of 83 percent, which also decreased by three points from 2017. Graduates from just three New York law schools, NYU, Columbia, and Albany, increased their pass rate.

When asked about the pass rates by representatives from the New York Law Journal, law school deans spoke about the programs they are implementing to support students taking the bar, as well as interventions they’ve put in place for students perceived to be at-risk for failure.

"The faculty and I have been implementing extensive reforms involving changes in the classroom, curriculum and culture of the school. We expect these changes to be reflected favorably in future results. Some of the changes are still being implemented. We intend to accelerate their implementation effective immediately. We will be re-examining in minutest detail everything we do, in and outside of the classroom, to assure that the continued implementation of reforms, from evidence-based teaching to curricular reform, is successful." Harry Ballan, dean of Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center

“As dean, my leadership approach is to think in terms of a multi-year strategic plan, and one of my very highest priorities remains to increase and maintain the bar passage rate. We have also had many successes across all areas of the law school in just these last two years — job placement, building enhancements, our medical-legal partnership and veterans clinic—and I believe that we have a comprehensive Raising the Bar program and an extensive plan in place for future bar successes,” Gail Prudenti, dean of the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University

 "I won’t be satisfied with Cornell’s performance until we achieve a 100% pass rate.  And we have taken steps to provide academic support to law students we perceive to be at risk for failing the bar." Eduardo M. Peñalver, dean, Cornell Law School. 

Take-aways for Current and Prospective Law School Students--

For current students:

  • Speak with recent graduates of your law school to find out how prepared they felt taking the bar exam. Ask how they would have changed their preparation method and if they have recommendations to share.

  • When interviewing with firms, find out how they support associates who are taking the bar. Also, take advantage of your summer position to speak with new full-time hires who are preparing for the bar to learn from their experiences.

  • Familiarize yourself with programs your school offers and seek outside programming, if necessary, to ensure you will be prepared. The American Bar Association bar prep page includes resources and discounts for bar prep courses.

For prospective students:

  • During the school-selection process, be sure to consider the bar pass rate. Past bar pass rates are available from the Internet Legal Research Group and are included as a small component in the U.S. News and World Report Law School Rankings.

  • When you visit or communicate with program representatives, ask how they currently assist third year students and graduates in preparing for the exam and what new initiatives they may be implementing.

Selecting a Law School that Values Student Well-Being

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.

 

 


[i] http://www.daveneefoundation.org/scholarship/lawyers-and-depression/

[ii] http://www.ncbex.org/pdfviewer/?file=%2Fassets%2Fmedia_files%2FBar-Examiner%2Fissues%2F2015-December%2FBE-Dec2015-HelpingLawStudents.pdf

[iii] https://law.yale.edu/system/files/falling_through_the_cracks_120614.pdf

[iv] http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/files/lawyer-well-being-report.pdf

The GMAT V. The GRE: Which Test is Best for You?

For the past two years, respondents to the AIGAC MBA Applicant Survey have reported that the standardized test is the most challenging component of the MBA application. While there is no way to completely defray the stress associated with the GMAT or GRE (the top 50 business schools accept both), it is helpful to think critically about which one will provide you the best opportunity for success.

At Apply Point, we generally make the following recommendations:

You might prefer the GMAT if:

  • Your strengths are quantitative, analytical
  • You are adept at interpreting data presented in charts, tables, and text to solve problems
  • You know that you want to attend an MBA, or business-related program, such as a MS Finance.

You might prefer the GRE if:

  • Your strengths are verbal, writing
  • You want to keep your graduate school options open. The GRE is accepted at most graduate programs, including a couple of law schools.

In Kaplan’s 2016 Survey of Business School Admissions Officers, 26 percent of admissions officers reported that those submitting a GMAT score have an admissions advantage over those who submit a GRE score. However, 73 percent said that neither exam has an advantage. In 2014, Harvard Business School’s Admission Director shared that the school looks carefully at the score components in combination with the student’s transcript and resume. As such, prospective students should use the test strategically to fill in any “gaps” or answer open questions that may stem from their transcript and/or work experience. For example, an applicant with an undergraduate degree and work experience in finance may need to bolster their application with strong verbal scores, while a communications major will want to demonstrate his/her ability to handle the rigors of the quantitative coursework in the MBA by providing a strong quantitative score on the GMAT/GRE.

Above all, an applicant should take the test they feel most comfortable with and are most likely to succeed on. Taking a diagnostic exam of each is a good place to start.