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Author Topic: INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL  (Read 109413 times)

lgn

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INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL
« on: November 23, 2005, 10:25:56 PM »
By Lindsey Miller

There is much anecdotal basis for concern about the collective distress and unhappiness of law students and lawyers. This anecdotal evidence is confirmed by many empirical studies. At the University of Arizona, a study of students entering law school showed that they had essentially normal psychological markers; by the first year, those markers had shifted to major psychological distress, and the negative changes continued through law school and the students' early careers. The students had higher rates of clinical depression, with an incidence of 20-40%. A study conducted by the author and a psychologist confirmed these findings. Another study showed that law students have 8 to 15 times the rate of clinically elevated anxiety, hostility, depression, and other symptoms compared to the general population.

Research on lawyers shows similar results. A 1990 John Hopkins study showed that lawyers ranked highest of 104 occupational groups for incidence of major depression. Lawyers have the fifth-highest incidence of suicide and 5 to 15 times the normal incidence of clinical psychological distress, including high levels of substance abuse.

This isn't a common topic of discussion at law schools, despite awareness of the problem. Some typical reactions from law schools include:

1) It's just as bad in med school: Research shows it isn't as bad in med school. Even if it were, this does not mean we should not address the problem. This is just a form of denial in order to avoid confronting the problem.

2)People come to law school that way: The studies quoted above show that this is not the case.

3)It's not my job/I'm not trained for this/The problem needs more study/It isn't that bad/It's always been that way/It's the nature of the business/That's the way the world is: These statements do not justify ignoring serious problems. They merely deflect and minimize the problem, denying its existence in order to continue normal operations without grappling with unpleasant realities. Law professors often lecture their students on professional ethics, civility, and other professional obligations. At the same time, they are ignoring their own obligations to try prevent or alleviate the distress of their students.

It is inherently unpleasant to reflect on these issues; law professors may feel they are undermining their own enterprise or creating unwanted anxiety if the problem is openly acknowledged. Further, professors are unclear on the causes of, and solutions to, the problem. Professors are not trained for these kind of discussions, particularly the non-rational, non-analytical nature of the matters. Professors may feel put upon as well; they are merely reproducing the kind of legal education they received and for which they evidently had great aptitude. As a result few Faculties address the issue at all. The pervasiveness of the problem and of institutional denial of it indicates that it is the tenets and beliefs at the core of our educational culture which would be threatened by an open examination of the problem. These beliefs include:

1) The top-ten percent tenet: The belief that success in law school is demonstrated solely by high grades, appointments to law review, etc.

2) The contingent-worth problem: The belief that one's personal worth, the opinions of teachers and potential employers, and therefore one's happiness and security in life depend on one's place in the academic hierarchy. Although academic rankings are present in all educational settings, in law school these considerations dominate collective thinking and become identified with personal worth.

3) The American dream: The belief that financial affluence, influence, recognition and other external symbols of achievement are what is good in life, and that academic success in law school will lead to these things.

4) Thinking "like a lawyer": Defining people primarily according to their legal rights, and trying to understand, prevent and resolve problems by applying legal rules to those rights, usually in a zero-sum manner. This involves close inspection of words and writing to look for defects in an adversary's position or which may create future problems for a client. It is fundamentally negative, critical, pessimistic, and depersonalizing. This method of thinking is conveyed and understood in law schools as a new and superior way of thinking, not a strictly limited legal tool.

These beliefs and thought processes have an atomistic worldview and a zero-sum message about life. Nothing much matters beyond winning or losing, and there is always a loser for each winner. The message for law students is to work very, very hard; excel in the competition for grades and honors; to feel good about accomplishments; get the respect of peers and teachers; get a desirable job; and be successful. As a result, fatigue and anxiety replaces initial enthusiasm, particularly leading up to the point of the posting of first-term grades.

The overall impact of this is isolating and threatening. The winners of the 'grades-race' feel a boost to their sense of personal worth, confidence and security, and feel valued in the institutional culture. They are then driven to maintain these feelings by reproducing their victories. The 'losers' have a diminished sense of personal worth, confidence and security. On top of this, the emphasis on 'thinking like a lawyer' discourages students from being themselves they inhibit the expression or consideration of ideals, values and personal beliefs, and lose sight of the potential satisfaction arising from cooperation and win-win situations, resulting in a diminishing of enthusiasm and sense of relevance.

Ultimately, law school constructs teach students to put aside their personal life and health, and accept persistent discomfort, angst, isolation and depression as the price for becoming a lawyer. Similar constructs seem to drive law students when they become lawyers, in the contest for status, recognition, and higher salaries, regardless of the personal cost. Studies have shown that over 1/3 of lawyers reported 'clinical distress' in the area of interpersonal sensitivity, measures of self-esteem, and security based on the need to compare oneself to others, a rate 15 times that of the general population. As well, one of the largest maladaptive shifts in first year law is an increasing concern for image and appearance. At the same time, research shows that neither high grades nor high salaries mitigate general depression and distress in law students and lawyers, respectively. In other words, the top grades and salaries so emphasized in law school do not improve one's likelihood to be happy.

lgn

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Re: INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL
« Reply #1 on: November 23, 2005, 10:26:10 PM »
A recent study of well-being and satisfaction showed that universal psychological needs include self-esteem, relatedness to others, authenticity, competence and security. Security is a foundational need without it, the other universal needs become impossible to satisfy. As well, empirical studies show that one's motivational style (the "why") and what one's goals and values are (the "what") can predict positive or negative mental well-being. Classic humanism sees people as striving to be their best and to improve their society; psychological dissatisfaction results from any impediments to personal and social integration. This has been confirmed by studies that show that goals such as money, power or image do not produce life satisfaction these 'extrinsic goals' don't produce a good life and may undermine it. Students who identified money, image or influence as being important for life satisfaction consistently scored the lowest well-being in the study, while students identifying intrinsic goals such as personal growth, intimacy and community integration experienced higher well-being. The content of one's goals can affect the degree to which the universal psychological needs are met: intrinsic goals maximize one's opportunity to fulfill these needs, while extrinsic goals tend to replace or distract from the pursuit of satisfying goals and thus fulfillment of needs.

These studies raise clear implications for legal education and culture. If the law "success" paradigm is focused on grades, external recognition, money or position, tension and insecurity result, thus minimizing the satisfaction and well-being of law students and lawyers. As well, the drive for external goals supplants drives for growth, actualization, intimacy and community. Anxiety and depression is thus likely to result, since, regardless of how successful you are under this paradigm, internal satisfaction will never be achieved. The longitudinal study of first year law students conducted by the author and Kennon Sheldon confirms these conclusions. Arriving first-years had healthier well-being, values and motives than other undergraduates; within 6 months, there were marked decreases in well-being and life-satisfaction, with marked increases in depression, negative affect, and physical symptoms. Overall motivation and valuing patterns shifted to extrinsic factors such as appearance and image, and away from altruism and community orientation.

These findings also refute the suggestion that the problems of law students is a result of self-selection, since the group began healthier, happier and with more optimal motivations. As well, students who performed the best according to the law school 'success' paradigm i.e. had the highest grades immediately shifted away from service-oriented to lucrative, high-status career choices, even those who initially had the healthier, more intrinsic goals than other law students.

There are several attitudes and educational practices that can be reviewed to identify those which most negatively affect students. First, the predilection to work students exceptionally hard: consistently long hours of high-demand work drain personal resources and encourage students to ignore biological needs. Instead of preparing students for their professional obligations, it teaches students to accept constant stress as part of a law career. Once so taught, students are likely to make choices that continue that stress in their careers. Second, the contingent-worth and top-ten percent paradigms create tension by generating insecurity about future employment, competition between peers, a sense that one's worth is only as good as one's transcript and resume, and that, regardless of the rhetoric of professionalism, that personal character, values, ideals and intentions are irrelevant in the practice of law. Schools with a mandatory or strongly suggested grading curve aggravate this effect by creating the impression that the institution is pitting students against each other. Third, traditional teaching methods and overreliance on objective analysis promotes isolation of students from professors and each other, and encourages the abandonment of personal values and instincts in order to "think like a lawyer". Law students get the message that what they believe, at their core, is irrelevant and inappropriate in legal discourse. It is possible to teach in a way that complements, rather than supplants, a student's senses of self, values and beliefs.

As we think through the implications of declining happiness, psychological health and social consciousness in students and the profession, we must allocate resources and time to preventing or alleviating these problems. We need to identify individual and institutional practices that tend to undermine basic needs and values in order to amend them, and to ask what can be done to promote the basic universal psychological needs in students, how intrinsic motivation can be supported when teaching legal fundamentals, and how optimal human values in students can be promoted.

One direct approach to breaking institutional inertia is to publish empirical studies on the subject, which often dumbfounds faculty and students. Objective quantification of what you already know can have a powerful effect. After clarifying the need for attention to the problem, an overview of possible solutions is necessary. People need to realize that the American dream and the extrinsic goals of money, power and status are failed approaches to happiness; being true to oneself, helping others, maintaining close relationships and creating community are effective ways of creating a positive life experience.

Teachers must first reflect on their own experiences for fundamental needs, internal motivations, and intrinsic goal pursuits. Such experiences should be providing most of their life satisfaction, and this personal perspective will give confidence to professors in raising the topic with students. Students aware of the research findings will be able to make informed choices about priorities, careers, and the distribution of time in law school, and later, in their careers. As the creators of the legal profession, professors have an obligation to broaden the institutional service mission to include at least scientific research relating to the health, happiness and life satisfaction of students. They need to remind students that thinking 'like a lawyer' is a fundamentally negative worldview, though a useful tool. If applied generally in life, it will have undermining effects.

jimmyjohn

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Re: INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL
« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2005, 10:31:57 PM »
yawn

eloisa

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Re: INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL
« Reply #3 on: November 23, 2005, 11:23:39 PM »
This is something that far too few law students, let alone faculty or administrations, are willing to confront.  Law school is an incredibly isolating and agonizingly depressing place.  That's true no matter where you go.

We need to reclaim our own happiness.

jimmyjohn

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Re: INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL
« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2005, 11:47:28 PM »
1) The top-ten percent tenet: The belief that success in law school is demonstrated solely by high grades, appointments to law review, etc.

2) The contingent-worth problem: The belief that one's personal worth, the opinions of teachers and potential employers, and therefore one's happiness and security in life depend on one's place in the academic hierarchy. Although academic rankings are present in all educational settings, in law school these considerations dominate collective thinking and become identified with personal worth.

Make some friends, sit back and laugh at your classmates' stupidity when they're freaking out.

Maybe law schools should teach people to stop being pussies. That would be another way to stop this phenomenon you speak of.

Trust me, if you don't worry about numbers 1 and 2, you will be fine.  Law students take themselves too seriously; consequently they take the entire system too seriously and it spirals into whatever problems they have.  I'm a believer in the theory that it's not just the law, it's the people drawn into the law that helps to contribute to the higher incidence of depression, anxiety, etc.   

Jumboshrimps

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Re: INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL
« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2005, 10:59:30 AM »
I actually think these numbers are encouraging. Over half of law students and lawyers are NOT depressed or suicidal. Sounds fairly unalarming to me.

Besides, what's the take-home message here? Should we labor to make the study and practice of law like baking a f*king cake so that every backwoods Tom, male private part, and Oprah can practice law? Would that serve clients well?

It's hard and stressful for a reason. LAW IS IMPORTANT TO OUR SOCIETY! We have to get it right.

...or perhaps there's some pill a drug company could come up with to treat "law-itis." Then we could all medicate the stress right out of this thing. Just think, we'd all go to court happy as *&^% to be representing some fat f*ck who beat his baby to death when he was on PCP. It'd be like a family reunion every time the *&^% hit the fan. We'd be all hugging and blowing sunshine up each others' asses.

How bout a refill on my prescription, doc?

"Dark side of law school," my ass. Take responsibility for your own emotions, or get the f*ck out. We're privileged to be here. Every one of us.

19guy

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Re: INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL
« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2005, 01:46:39 PM »
"I actually think these numbers are encouraging. Over half of law students and lawyers are NOT depressed or suicidal. Sounds fairly unalarming to me."

Are you crazy? Only the skewed perpective of a law student could lead to that conclusion." Unalarming because at leat a half are not depressed. Jesus.

"It's hard and stressful for a reason. LAW IS IMPORTANT TO OUR SOCIETY! We have to get it right."

Most of it isn't important. Society would get along just fine with much much less lawyering. But anyway, medicine is pretty damn important and med school doesn't do the same thing to students. Same for science training, etc. Legal education is so badly in need of reform it's ridiculous. Any other profession would have made massive changes by now, but somehow law just plods along. I mean, the first year design has been the same for how long? Well thank goodness that unlike every other form of education, law got it completely right the first time, eliminating the need for change.

dft

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Re: INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL
« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2005, 04:32:42 PM »
interesting thread

Jumboshrimps

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Re: INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL
« Reply #8 on: November 25, 2005, 04:53:56 PM »
I apologize for the tone of my last post. Too much coffee and law. d**mn I love coffee with my law.

It's unfortunate that so many law students and lawyers hate it so much. However, I point to a fundamentally different explanation than that the system itself is to blame. Americans all want to be the biggest, baddest, and best in life. All 300,000,000 or so of us. Traditionally that means you become a doctor or a lawyer. This has resulted in an influx of unqualified and unequiped people going into the field of law (and probably, god help us, medicine as well), which requires a rather unorthidox way of thinking. This has been fueled by the shift away from on-the-job lawyer training (which now only exists in California) and the ABA's accredidation of way too many law schools. 


Bottom line- there are too many depressed lawyers because there are too many lawyers. If our culture valued the skills of a plumber and payed them like lawyers, there would be too many d**mn plumbers, and most of them would be dissatisfied and depressed. After all, who wants to deal with stinky pipes?

Negotiation, problem-solving, and analytical reasoning are the filthy pipes of the law. This type of work is not for everyone, yet a disproportional amount of people take the plunge. This helps no one. Most of all, it doesn't help lawyers.

You say too many depressed lawyers. I say most lawyers are plumbers trapped in lawyers' bodies.

family values

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Re: INSTITUTIONAL DENIAL ABOUT THE DARK SIDE OF LAW SCHOOL
« Reply #9 on: November 26, 2005, 05:03:56 PM »
Quote
"I actually think these numbers are encouraging. Over half of law students and lawyers are NOT depressed or suicidal. Sounds fairly unalarming to me."

Are you crazy? Only the skewed perpective of a law student could lead to that conclusion." Unalarming because at leat a half are not depressed. Jesus.

Quote
"It's hard and stressful for a reason. LAW IS IMPORTANT TO OUR SOCIETY! We have to get it right."

Most of it isn't important. Society would get along just fine with much much less lawyering. But anyway, medicine is pretty d a m n important and med school doesn't do the same thing to students. Same for science training, etc. Legal education is so badly in need of reform it's ridiculous. Any other profession would have made massive changes by now, but somehow law just plods along. I mean, the first year design has been the same for how long? Well thank goodness that unlike every other form of education, law got it completely right the first time, eliminating the need for change.

Amen 19guy! jumboshrimps must have really gone crazy!