By Azin Abedian • September 15, 2016•Writers in Residence, Careers, Legal Academia, Law School, Other Law School Issues, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life
It’s the first day of law school. We take our seats sharply at 8:45 am to partake in our first ever law school lecture. Contracts. With stadium seating and an established and intimidating Professor wearing a three-piece suit standing before us, we await what would likely be a profound and mind-altering lecture of the law. All the meanwhile, all I could think was...please don’t call on me. Silence erupts as class begins. In a loud, strong, deep, booming voice we hear "Ms. Hailey Hardwick, please rise and give the class the case holdings for Hadley v Baxendale, including the issue, rule, and court analysis". Dumbfounded by the question at hand, Hailey, my now friend of 8 years, but at the time my new acquaintance, shot up out of her seat. With a trembling voice, Hailey stood up and presented the information that was called upon. This was my first earth shattering experience of being so-called "1L".
For 3 years thereafter, my classmates and I endured the well- known, nerve-wrecking teaching method, best known as the Socratic Method. At all class times, we were expected to be prepared to be called upon at random and take opposing positions of a case and argue them, to answer legal questions and have our positions be challenged, or to explain the legal analysis of a case and how we agreed or disagreed with the presented positions. They were training us to think sharply, on our feet, and to state our legal conclusions with poise and confidence, all the meanwhile maintaining the highest level of professionalism. We were being trained to be lawyers.
Although law schools around the nation believe in this well-established and long-held teaching practice, the impact of the Socratic Method coupled with the voluminous course loads that law students acquire, and the effects it has on the brain, has begun to be widely revealed and considered. The stress of being liable for reading vast amounts of legal text, being prepared to speak at all times, and not knowing where you stand in a class until you have taken the single final exam, impacts the neurological pathways in the brains of these "baby lawyers". Studies illustrate that this constant state of stress on the brain actually creates new neurological pathways in the brain where law students and attorneys alike begin developing never have been seen before symptoms of nervousness, depression, and anxiety. While It is no secret that practicing lawyers have high rates of substance abuse, depression, and suicide, these rates have been increasing, and beginning to affect the quality of life of many people in the legal arena throughout the world.
Surprisingly enough, law schools are not backing down or altering the long-held teaching method, but have taken a new stance on combating some of the pressures that law students face. Law schools around the country, are adopting wellness resource departments and are offering courses such as Contemplative Lawyering and Mindful Meditation. These practices are training students on how to take 10 minutes, breathe, and refocus their energy and mind. The practice generally begins in a quiet space, seated, either on the floor or in a chair. Once seated in a comfortable position, the practice instructs you to close your eyes and complete a full body scan. The body scan involves conducting a thorough external and internal evaluation from head to toe. It suggests the student focus on areas where you may be carrying stress or muscle tightness in the body, acknowledging it, and releasing it. It is the practice of taking a bird’s eye view of your mind and body and being aware of the state of your being. The mindfulness meditation practice speaks to a balanced life and a quiet space in the mind.
The mindfulness practice focuses on creating a calm, stable, and focused mind which is quite the opposite of the nervous, stressed brain that the practice and study of law creates. Many complain they are too busy to find the time in their hectic days to sit for 10 minutes. However, evidence suggests that adopting a contemplative practice such as mindful meditation can help attorneys with their practice of law and assist law students in their coursework by enhancing their level of focus, and reducing levels of mental anguish. The results translate to a more effective lawyer and higher bar passage rates for law schools. The ultimate goal of these practices is to become a more balanced and healthy law student and lawyer.
Although certain procedures and practices in the legal profession may seem ancient and outdated, it instills optimism in the future of the legal profession to know that the law is moving towards improving and fostering a modern approach and skill set to assist law students and attorneys in coping with the stress, depression, and similar challenges.
Grab a pillow, take a seat, and take a breath. Happy lawyering. Namaste!
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