Wellness and Law: Reforming Legal Education to Support Student Wellness

Abstract

No one goes to law school with the expectation that their mental health and overall well-being will be significantly compromised during those three years. But, for a substantial number of law students, it is. It does not have to be this way.

This is not a typical law review article. It cannot afford to be. Most law students begin law school as reasonably happy and well-adjusted people. We must ask, what is it about law school that contributes to the disproportionate decline in student wellness? The answer to that question is complex because many of the very factors that make good lawyers also contribute to their mental health challenges.

This paper contains a blueprint, borne out of experience, of how to reimagine legal education with a focus on wellness. This goes beyond a general call to action, but rather presents concrete actions that faculty, law administrators, and students themselves can take to effectively manage the stresses inherent in law school and the legal profession. These changes will be long-term and will profoundly impact the well-being of not only legal practitioners, but the very practice of law itself. There will be resistance, but making this transition is crucial. We know that when law students first enter law school their psychological profile is similar to that of the general public, but their depression rates increase drastically across three years of legal education. Lawyers have the dubious distinction of being the most frequently depressed professionals in the U.S., and the legal profession ranks among the highest in incidence of suicide by occupation.

Two recent and major events have exacerbated this already dire landscape of wellness dysfunction: COVID-19 and widespread protests associated with the quest for racial justice. For students who managed their addiction recovery or mental health challenges in part by having the structure and accountability of a classroom setting and nearby counseling services, social distancing threatens those means of coping. Then the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others ignited a wave protests that likely caused some law students to experience race-based and other types of trauma. The absence of a culture of wellness in law schools may lead law students to endure these added traumas in silence.

As other movements have found national and global recognition recently, it is time for a wellness crusade in legal education. Just as movements have galvanized the public to demand action on issues of racial injustice, gender equality, and climate change, so the legal profession must take steps to comprehensively address the wellness crisis spanning the lecture halls to practice. Just as America must be willing to undergo an honest reckoning and radical reforms in order to evolve into a more just and equitable society, law schools and the legal profession must undergo foundational changes in order to graduate healthy and whole students. The reforms outlined in this article not only reimagine the law school experience for thousands of law students, but they would, over time, lead to a qualitative change in the delivery of legal services themselves. The legal profession, indeed our lives, literally depend on it.

Jackson, Janet Thompson, Wellness and Law: Reforming Legal Education to Support Student Wellness (February 15, 2021). Howard Law Journal, Vol. 65, No. 1, 2021,

Available at SSRN

Recognizing Another Black Barrier: The LSAT Contributes to the Diversity Gap in the Legal Profession

Abstract

Imagine working your entire life with the purpose of building the house of your dreams. The ability to pursue this “calling” has been granted through your tremendous hard-work and dedication to your craft. In fact, building this dream home has been the final culmination of all that you have worked towards over the past several years. Now imagine, you have successfully built the foundation of the house, and began to lay the pipeline for the plumbing. Just as the plumbing was coming together, there was one exact piece that was missing, a coupling, which would be required to connect the pipes. Since pipelines are the heartbeat of all functionality within a house, without the coupling, the incomplete plumbing may diminish the potential of all that your dream house was meant to become. Thus, hindering the dream.

Similarly to a person that has a dream of becoming a lawyer. The ability to pursue this calling would be directed through the education pipeline. After obtaining an Undergraduate degree through tremendous amount of hard-work and dedication, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), a coupling to the next education pipeline, is required for applicants to take when applying to law school. But, what if the LSAT is a faulty coupling that presents a major leak in the education pipeline? This standardize test has revealed years of racial bias from the disturbing score gaps between white and minority applicants. The LSAT has shown to have test biases within the questions that appear in the form of language interpretation, which contains culturally stereotypic language, situations, and structural components. As a result of these biases, there has been a disproportionate amount of lower scores by minorities, which hinders the chances of being accepted into law school. Thus, presenting a leak in the education pipeline that disconnects minorities from achieving their dreams of practicing law.

Because of COVID-19, the Law School Admission Council is offering the LSAT online, remotely proctored in place of being in-person. This unexpected change should bring discussion in today’s society about the overreliance on LSAT performance. Institutions should develop new and equitable means to evaluate an applicant’s ability to do well in law school, without disproportionately excluding minorities. Without admission modifications, minorities will continue to remain at a disadvantage when applying to law school.

McDuffie, Shaniqua Lynee McDuffie, Recognizing Another Black Barrier: The LSAT Contributes to the Diversity Gap in the Legal Profession (April 9, 2021).

Read the full article on SSRN.

Educating Antiracist Lawyers: The Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws Program at Dickinson Law

Abstract

The year 2020 has forced us, as a nation, to recognize painful realities about systemic racism in our country and our legal system. The fallacies in our founding documents and the vestiges of our slave past are so woven into our national culture that they became hard to see except for those who suffered their daily indignities, hardships, and fears. As legal educators, we must face the role we have played in helping build the machinery of structural racism by supplying generation after generation of those who maintain that machinery and prosper within it. In this critical moment of our country’s history, we, as legal educators, must train and prepare a generation of lawyers to once and for all complete the work of the Civil Rights Movement and purge what remains of racism from our legal system – to build better safeguards to ensure that all of us, everyone, has the equal protection of the laws promised by the 14th Amendment of our Constitution.

This article is one of three interdependent articles authored by Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff. These articles are meant to be read together to chart the vision and implementation for building an Antiracist law school and providing a template for an Antiracist legal academy and legal profession. This first article, Danielle Conway, Bekah Saidman-Krauss, and Rebecca Schreiber, “Building an Antiracist Law School: Inclusivity in Admissions and Retention of Diverse Students—Leadership Determines DEI Success” can be downloaded on from SSRN. The third in this series is Amy Gaudion, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: an Administrator’s View on Adopting an Anti-Racist Curriculum.”

As educators, we must recognize our unique opportunity and important responsibility to combat racism in our educational mission. We must do more than transfer legal knowledge and skills to our students. We must cultivate within them, a principled, enduring commitment to work for true equality over the course of their careers and practice law in a way that promotes equal treatment of all. To do this we must reconsider not only what we teach, but how we teach it.

This essay sets out one possibility. It describes the Race and Equal Protection of the Laws program at Penn State Dickinson Law. This innovative program draws from Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy to develop an educational approach with the objective of transforming how our students see their place and role in our evolving, flawed democracy. It incorporates the work of Critical Race Theory to help students understand the root causes of systemic racism and why the landmark decisions of the Civil Rights Movement have not realized their potential to change the lived experience of Blacks and people of Color. It adapts principles of Shared Praxis, an approach to teaching grounded in Critical Pedagogy that guides students to a deepening consciousness of the problem, explores with them sources of law and justice that can be brought to bear, and invites them to develop their own carefully considered response as law students and as lawyers.
During this yearlong course, students will learn and work as co-investigators with faculty members and other students to better understand the relationship between race and different areas of the law including housing, health care, criminal justice, democracy, capitalism and education.

Groome, Dermot, Educating Antiracist Lawyers: The Race and the Equal Protection of the Laws Program at Dickinson Law (March 5, 2021). Rutgers Race and the Law Review, Forthcoming.

Read the full article on SSRN.

The Future of Legal Education in the 21st Century

Abstract

Technological progress will continue to fundamentally alter how we relate to each other and to our work, necessarily shaping the future of legal education. In considering its future direction, this article contemplates various perspectives regarding the purpose of legal education, and the pressures that may be brought to bear on pedagogical practices as a result of current and emerging technologies. Situating these considerations within the broader commentary regarding the future of work and the role of human beings in an age of automation, this article argues that the nature and type of skills taught to future lawyers, as well as the substantive knowledge relevant in the 21st century, will depend upon the irreducible value of human beings to the law and legal processes. Tasks that require creativity, complex reasoning or social intelligence (such as the ability to negotiate complex social relationships effectively) will remain the province of human beings. This must inform and shape legal education. Consequently, this article argues that the future of legal education is one that recognizes lawyers will increasingly be required to attain a broad, liberal education enabling interdisciplinary insights, creativity and social intelligence.

Goldsworthy, Daniel, The Future of Legal Education in the 21st Century (2020). (2020) 41(1) Adelaide Law Review 243.

Read the full article on SSRN.

Building an Antiracist Law School: Inclusivity in Admissions and Retention of Diverse Students—Leadership Determines DEI Success

Abstract

Structural problems, such as institutional racism and bias, require structural solutions. White people in the legal academy are only now reckoning with the reality of systemic racism within our hallowed halls, an insidiousness that many People of Color in the legal academy have always known. Yes, racism and bias are pervasive in our teaching, learning, service, and leadership environments.

This article is one of three interdependent articles authored by Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff. These articles are meant to be read together to chart the vision and implementation for building an Antiracist law school and providing a template for an Antiracist legal academy and legal profession. The other two articles in the trilogy are: Amy Gaudion, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: an Administrator’s View on Adopting an Antiracist Curriculum;” and Dermot Groome, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: Educating Antiracist Lawyers.”

This reckoning is the result of the intersecting crises of a global pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting Black and Brown people; a full-throated social movement demanding racial equality following 2020’s cascade of murders of, among others, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd; and a presidential election in which voter suppression was on full display, and a then sitting president’s apocryphal untruths regarding the election process sped up the need to address systemic inequities hampering the legal academy’s ability to transform legal education to truly deliver on its vision to promote the rule of law and equal justice for all.

During these cataclysmic events, the faculty and staff of Penn State Dickinson Law exercised leadership by leaning into the hydra-headed economic, social, and political storm of 2020 to declare unanimously their intention to act and implement Antiracist teaching and learning methods at the law school. Faculty and Staff did not anticipate the resonance that these actions would have on colleagues—including students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni—in the legal academy.

Our positions as faculty and staff in the legal academy and as attorneys in the legal profession are inherently ones requiring us to exercise leadership. In the legal profession, the defining aspects of leadership are heightened by duty, accountability, and a sworn obligation to act equitably, transparently, and with integrity. It was integrity that motivated Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff to take such an unprecedented, yet necessary position against systemic racism and bias, not just for the institution but for the academy and for the profession.

Penn State Dickinson Law acknowledged its obligation to embrace leadership that promotes equality and justice for all as well as the special obligation to train the next generation of leaders to do more and to do better. In service to the ongoing commitment to eradicate racism and bias, Penn State Dickinson Law is immersed in the work of constructing an Antiracist law school.

Conway, Danielle M. and Saidman-Krauss, Bekah and Schreiber, Rebecca, Building an Antiracist Law School: Inclusivity in Admissions and Retention of Diverse Students—Leadership Determines DEI Success (March 13, 2021). Rutgers Race and the Law Review, Forthcoming.

Read the full article on SSRN.

Event: There is More Than One Way: Re-Imagining the Pathway Post Secondary Education

July; 30, 2021

Online

The goal of pipeline programs is to ultimately increase diversity within the legal profession. But is it time to re-evaluate the path toward that goal. This program will feature presentations from the California Community College Pathway to Law Initiative and Indiana University McKinney School of Law who will discuss their innovative programs for increasing post-secondary interest in, and preparation for, law school.

Legal Services Board releases options on ongoing competence

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has published anew report on ongoing competence in the legal services sector. Confirming that it plans to develop this thinking further and consult on how competence can be assured over the course of a lawyer’s career. In the report the LSB points out that whilst legal regulators have comprehensive measures on entry into the profession, however there are few checks to ensure that competence is maintained.

The report was produced following the call for evidence that was carried out in 2020. It has been compiled using extensive discussions with stakeholders across and outside the legal services sector. It also considers approaches taken in other sectors such as financial services, aviation, healthcare, engineering and teaching, which generally have more systematic ongoing competence checks.

From its research, the LSB has concluded that most consumers mistakenly assume that lawyers are subject to regular formal checks. It has suggested that this leads to a misalignment between the current practice and what the public expects. This is why the decision has been made that ensuring legal professionals’ ongoing competence is vital to ensuring consumers’ trust and confidence in the sector. The LSB’s view is that this would also help consumers avoid harm from poor quality legal services.

In its role as the oversight regulator, the LSB has a statutory duty to assist in developing regulatory standards in the legal sector. In the report, the LSB explains that it will proceed to develop and consult on new expectations for regulators, noting that these proposals are likely to encompass high-level expectations that legal regulators should:

  • set out the standards of competence that legal professionals should meet at the point of entry and throughout their careers; and
  • have mechanisms in place to:
    • identify legal professionals who are failing to meet those standards;
    • identify areas of increased risk to consumers;
    • respond when legal professionals fall short of the standards of competence;
    • provide appropriate protection when there is an increased risk of harm to consumers.

Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Sector, said:

‘Public trust and confidence are integral to the credibility of the legal services sector, and consumers need to know that their lawyers have the necessary, up-to-date skills, knowledge and attributes to help them with their legal problems. Many people assume that legal professionals are subject to ongoing formal reviews of their competence, but there are, in fact, very few routine checks once a lawyer has qualified. Legal regulators typically do not have systems or processes in place to identify or respond to concerns about competence. This is unusual and out of step with other professions which routinely adopt tools to ensure ongoing competence to promote public trust and confidence, and protect consumers from harm. We need to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society, which includes ensuring lawyers remain competent throughout their careers. This will help increase trust in legal services, raise standards and improve access to justice.’

Read the full report here, or the LSBs comments here.

Legal Skills: Making a Real Change in Nigerian Legal Education

Abstract

The hallmark of legal education is the transfer and acquisition of knowledge of legal theories and skills. The purpose of this chapter is to examine those legal skills that are crucial to both the study and practice of law. This chapter argues that legal education in Nigeria is confronted with a crisis that can be attributed to the non-teaching of functional legal skills to initiates of the legal profession, on the assumption that such skills would naturally be learned by law students on entering the legal profession. It calls for a transformational change in the teaching approach in Nigerian legal education, from the present asymmetric approach of teaching law to one that is integrative and comprehensive in nature and capable of producing functional lawyers.

Solomon, Ekokoi, Legal Skills: Making a Real Change in Nigerian Legal Education (February 3, 2020). Legal pedagogy,

Read the full article on SSRN.

Canadian Law Schools Must Do Their Part to Help Combat Climate Change

The intensifying physical and socio-economic effects of climate change, mainstreamed by political debates and scientific evidence on anthropogenic disruptions to the global climate system, have motivated changing legislation, regulation, litigation, and institutions. But legal education is not keeping up; climate change has not yet been taught well and broadly in Canadian law schools. While a few schools have offered climate law courses, the majority have not done so in any systematic way. The unprecedentedly expanding demands from youth and students for aggressive climate action should call the attention of law schools to the roles they should play in combatting climate change.

Chen, Ling, Canadian Law Schools Must Do Their Part to Help Combat Climate Change (January 6, 2020). Policy Options (February 18, 2020),

Read the full article on SSRN.

National Conference of Bar Examiners testing taskforce recommendations for next generation of bar exams

The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) testing taskforce has released preliminary recommendations as to what it feels that the next generation of bar examinations should look like. As part of its examination process, the NCBE is committed to periodic content review and design, in order to ensure high-quality licensing and examinations. The recommendations are a culmination of a 3-year study which included stakeholder interviews, and ongoing market analysis, in order to ensure lawyer competencies were being tested and were adequate for an evolving legal profession.

Based on their extensive research, the Task Force has made some high-level decisions about the content and the design for the next generation of the bar examination. Those decisions are founded on the principle that the purpose of the bar exam is designed “to protect the public by helping to ensure that those who are newly licensed possess the minimum knowledge and skills to perform activities typically required of an entry-level lawyer.”

The preliminary recommendations specify the use of an integrated examination that measures both knowledge and skills through a mix of item formats. The exam will be offered two times per year as a summative event and delivered by computer. Compensatory scoring will be used to produce a single combined score for making admission decisions.