Robin Oaks, Professor at The Colleges of Law recently taught a course that aimed to change the way lawyers approach the profession and their daily lives. Although “Wellness and Lawyering Competence”, is not a new concept in the legal profession, it is slowly gaining acceptance.
Some attorneys might be reluctant to admit they need support and self-care in a profession that demands confidence and certainty. In law school, cultural norms favor collaboration over competition, which can be carried into practice. This reality is further complicated by the stigma attorneys feel about seeking out emotional, physical, and cognitive support. The Colleges of Law encourage collaboration over competition and hope to change the narrative around mental health and wellbeing in the field.
The American Bar Association weighs in
Recognizing the difficulties facing the profession, American Bar Association (ABA), created a task force to address “Lawyer Well-Being.” The report was published in 2017. It identified five areas for focus.
- Understanding the role that each attorney can play in reducing toxic levels in the profession
- It is time to get rid of the stigma that comes with asking for help
- It is important to stress that a lawyer’s responsibility of competence includes well-being.
- Lawyer well-being education for judges and lawyers
- Positive steps taken to improve the practice of law and instill greater wellbeing in the profession
Oaks believes that her class is more than just reducing stress. The ABA report focuses primarily on mitigating negative factors that affect lawyer well-being. Oaks believes that well-being is an ongoing process in which lawyers aim to thrive in every aspect of their lives, including occupational, intellectual and spiritual.
Change the conversation
The ABA report’s findings and recommendations gave the impetus to members of the legal profession, to make a commitment to wellness. Forward-looking law schools like The Colleges of Law are leading the charge. Oaks states that Oaks sees it as part and parcel of creating a whole-lawyer paradigm. Oaks says, “I created this course to help law student function at their best with energy & peak performance, as well as promote wellness and foster well being.” It’s about reimagining what it means for a competent lawyer professional. Oaks’ insight into wellness was a result of her own personal health problems. She was exposed to environmental toxins 15 years into her career. Oaks researched the latest neuroscience and medicine to find a cure for her condition. Oaks also changed her legal practice to concentrate on workplace mediations, workplace conflict resolution, workplace investigations, and a parallel career as a well being coach for professionals.
The Colleges of Law offer a holistic approach to law.
Jackie Gardina, the dean of The Colleges of Law was approached by Oaks about the course. She found a passionate ally in her cause for lawyer well-being. Gardina agreed that it was time to add the elective course to their curriculum. Oaks states that the Colleges of Law have been a leader. The course consisted of 10 three-hour sessions and weekly assignments. Weekly assignments focused on evidence-based practice, landmark research on lawyer wellbeing, positive psychology, mindfulness, financial well-being, and competency. Many prominent lawyers stressed the importance of being healthy and encouraging well-being to have a fulfilling, fulfilling, and happy career.
Lawyer wellness “imperative for future profession”
Students were overwhelmingly positive about the course. Many students said that the course had changed their lives. “I wish I had this course my first year in law school. One student said, “What a difference it would have made.” Many people said that they were open to this new paradigm. The course changed the way they saw stress and made it easier for them to be in control of their bodies and minds. Another student pointed out that there is a stigma attached to self-help in the legal profession. However, asking for help is vital for human growth. Although law students learn the skills of argumentation and persuasion they don’t learn how to manage stress. A cohort of students agreed that attorney health courses should be an integral part of every law school. One student said, “The fact the legal profession is substantially suffering due to a lack in wellness and competence makes it imperative that the class be included in every law school.” It remains to be seen how many schools will open their curricula to include this subject matter, but The Colleges of Law has laid the foundation for others to follow.
The path to success
Oaks states, “I created and launched this course with a hope that it wouldn’t be about remembering information but rather about transformation.” “If it empowers, inspires, and opens minds to new possibilities that contribute towards wellness and well-being of those on the path to lawyering, then I’m happy.”