We Can Do More: Addressing Law Student Distress

Daisy Hurst Floyd, Journal of Legal Education, Volume 60, Number 1 (August 2010), available at http://www.swlaw.edu/pdfs/jle/jle601floyd.pdf.

Daisy Hurst Floyd, Dean and Professor of Law, Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law, explores law school students’ distress and law schools’ contribution to it, through anecdotal evidence gained through years of conversations with students. She explains, “Students come to us wanting to be lawyers.They want work that is meaningful, connects them to others, involves problem-solving and helping people through difficult times, and uses their talents in creative and challenging ways. Students enter with a broad view of the world and its possibilities and of their place in the world as lawyers. Not long after students enter law school, their visions narrow as a result of the structure and pedagogy of law school. The law school environment signals to students that their goals for lawyering are naïve and that they must give up those goals.”

“Some of the real difficulties for students emerge because of what we are so good at doing: teaching students to think like lawyers. The law school culture values the cognitive, rational, and analytical to the almost total exclusion of other qualities. The result is a devaluing of everything else, including emotional matters, relationships, and students’ ethical and moral values. For many students, those were the things that bave their lives meaning before they began law school. When they are devalued, students perceive that those must be given up if they are to become good lawyers.”

Dean Floyd  suggests that law schools can address many of the reasons for students’ distress. “There is much we can change,” she writes.  “First, we should value and teach the habits and skills of reflection and connection. We should urge students to take the time to develop the inner life, to know who they are and what matters to them, to consider such questions as what their places are in the world, and how to practice law consistently with their values and morals.”

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