TRUE STORY: Law school students don’t know about the movement to humanize legal education.

Last week I was training a group of Student Leaders: high-performing, upper-level law students selected to help 1Ls navigate their first year of law school.  I mentioned the movement to humanize legal education and asked how many were aware of it or had even heard about it.  No hands went up.

And I thought to myself, “This movement is supposed to be for them.  How can they benefit from it if they aren’t even aware that it exists?”

Stated briefly, the movement to humanize legal education seeks to examine and revise certain aspects of traditional legal education that tend to decrease the main indicators of human thriving: a general sense of well-being, connection to self and others, and connection to one’s own values, to name a few.

Stated even more briefly: the movement is trying to see if law students and lawyers can be happier, despite their choice of profession.

Larry Krieger—Professor at Florida State University College of Law and a leader in the movement—describes the movement this way:

“Humanizing Legal Education is an initiative shared by legal educators seeking to maximize the overall health, well being and career satisfaction of law students and lawyers.”  [Humanizing Law School]

While the movement, according to its goals, should ultimately benefit all members of the law school community as well as practicing lawyers, the primary intended beneficiaries are law students themselves.

So . . . shouldn’t law students be exactly the people who do know about this movement?

I am certain that there are many, many law students who are aware of the movement to humanize legal education.  But I now have at least anecdotal evidence that students at my school, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, are not aware of it.  The extent of student awareness of the movement is itself a topic for further study.

I had already resolved to start a blog about the movement to humanize law school before last week’s encounter with the Student Leaders.  But that moment pushed me to start this effort today.

For me, learning more about this movement will improve my teaching; for my students, I hope that it will improve their learning.

Is there a problem?

One of the subjects I intend to explore in this blog is the question of whether there is even a problem to be addressed by the movement.  Is the experience of legal education—and later of practicing law—in fact dehumanizing?

The American Bar Association study by Elizabeth Mertz, which I will examine at length in subsequent postings, is a valuable resource on this point.  And I intend to explore this question with respect to a specific population: DU Law students.

But for now, I simply offer the following panels from “A Coloring Book for Lawyers”:

important underpants 3 jpg

mahogany 3

Full Coloring Book

This cartoon has resonated somewhat devastatingly with every colleague with whom I have shared it.  It is, I believe, a pithy commentary on the state of the profession and the mental well-being of its practitioners.

Thank you for visiting and please come again.

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3 responses to “TRUE STORY: Law school students don’t know about the movement to humanize legal education.

  1. Wow. I think this is a really intriguing movement, certainly worthy of debate. My first thought was that the “dehumanizing” nature of law school be comparable to that of nursing school, if such a thing can be said to exist. Law, breaking the sometimes multiple sides of a debate down might even be dehumanizing on a macrocosmic level in that it chunks things into right and wrong, witness and culprit, aka dehumanizing, at least somewhat, those experiencing the situation and those analyzing the evidence. Yet, that obviously isn’t law alone, as any debate involves argumentation and logic, which at once becomes almost mathematical. Health came to mind when considering the amount of homework and long hours spend absorbing and then regurgitating (hopefully from a place of knowledge rather than short-term memory [of course this only becomes solidified after time and dealing with patients, we’d assume]), then having to perform. The dehumanization here is harder to call “dehumanizing,” because the main goal is to help/heal the patient, yet, when in school for a degree in healthcare, it seems one inevitably has to ‘dehumanize’ his patients in order to learn about them objectively. Of course, layers, too, are in school to help their clients (though some of them are driven by other means, I literally dare to say).

    I guess this is just learning anything, though, as the way we learn is to cram and compartmentalize, though to what capacity, and what tolls does it take on our selves?

    Anyway, my rant is going nowhere fast, and thus I drop that and merely say, I’m interested to see what sort of empirical evidence this movement and research regarding this movement will reveal. I’m especially interested in the newer generation vs. older generation; restructuring a failing job market vs. hubris and status maintenance. Moreover, the older generations who go back to law school when everything else fails: their motivations and levels of depression? And those factors compared to the kids coming right out of high school/college who have never dreamed of any other direction in which to go other than law school?

    I’m certain law school has always been a place of cut-throat competition, and I only wonder how much uglier and more vicious its become in the last few years, and how that affects the students’ well-beings.

    Thank you for creating this blog. There are so many thoughts that come to mind as I contemplate the lives of students and the system of education as we know it.

    • susannahpollvogt

      Thank you for your comment McKenzie. I think your comparison between the legal and medical professions is quite apt. Of course “they say” that the best doctors are those with poor bedside manner. What if this were true? What if, by humanizing legal education, we somehow reduced the ability of attorneys to objectively assess a situation and advocate for a client? This is one of the questions I hope to explore.

  2. When I was a legal secretary, my mentor at my law firm shared this coloring book with me. I still have the copy she gave me. “Color my underpants important” is a stroke of genius.

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