In this episode of the new podcast, Path to Well-Being in Law, co-hosts Chris Newbold and Bree Buchanan enjoy a lively conversation with lawyer well-being pioneer David Jaffe.  David gives essential insight into how the well-being movement took hold in the legal profession and discusses ways in which the culture of law may finally be shifting. He also discusses the research study he co-authored regarding law students and how that data has informed significant shifts in how law schools are addressing the well-being of their students.

Transcript:

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Welcome to Episode Four of The Path to Lawyer Well-Being in Law, a podcast series, a production of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being with technical support coming from our friends at ALPS. Our goal is simple, to introduce you to cool people doing awesome work in the space of lawyer well-being, and to shine the light on the many great things happening around the country. I’m joined today by my fantastic co-host, Bree Buchanan.

BREE BUCHANAN:

Hi everybody, thanks Chris. Good to be here with you today.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Yeah, and today we’re going to dive into an area of lawyer well-being that I think is both fascinating, because it’s kind of where a lot of the cultural elements of lawyer well-being originate. We’re going to talk about law schools and the work that’s being done in law schools. We are very excited to have with us a real visionary in terms of thinking about law school culture as it relates to lawyer well-being. Bree, I’m going to have you introduce our guest, David Jaffe.

BREE BUCHANAN:

Sure, and thank you, and I appreciate the opportunity to do that because David Jaffe is one of the favorite people that I know, and so I’m delighted to have him here. David’s day job, he’s the Associate Dean of Student Affairs at the American University Washington College of Law in D.C., and I know David from the many years that he spent on the ABA’s Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs and has been a leader with that group around issues related to law students and looking at reform for law schools across the country around how they address students who are struggling with mental health issues or substance use problems, and just general well-being. He was awarded CoLAP’s Meritorious Service Award a few years ago. Near and dear to our hearts is that David was the author, the lead author, the author, on the law school section of the National Task Force Report. So he’s been in this space with us from the very, very beginning.

So David, welcome. I’m so glad you’re here with us today.

DAVID JAFFE:

Thank you, thank you Bree and Chris, thank you so much for having me today.

BREE BUCHANAN:

Yeah. And you know one of the questions that we ask everybody that’s on the podcast, because I think it’s helpful to just have the human side of this is, David, what brought you to the lawyer well-being movement? It’s so clear that you have a driving passion for this work. What drives it?

DAVID JAFFE:

It’s a great question actually, something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I think I bring it back to two elements from my own, my personal childhood and background, one of them which I’ve not shared a lot. When I was 15 years old I actually came across one of my siblings who was attempting to commit suicide, or at least thought he was at a very young age. He was 16 months younger than me, and had taken a mixture of pills in an effort to join, not through suicide but a cry for help to join one of my other siblings in a private rehab school in another state. I happened to be the one at home who found him, found him in enough time. He was taken care of and ultimately did end up at this school, and he’s now okay, thank you. But I think it’s really something that at that age had to have stuck with me.

There’s also a history of depression in my family. It goes very deep to my grandmother, with whom I was very close, and my father and a couple of other relatives. So it’s something that I’ve been sensitive in my personal life, and then through extrapolation. I look at these 100s of law students who we take in at our law school and across the country every year, and just wonder with all the myriad issues that they have facing them even prior to school, and then exacerbated by everything that they have in transitioning to law school, what they must be going through. And I think that’s just been a lot of what’s driven my desire to be available to reach out when possible and try to be some resource of assistance.

BREE BUCHANAN:

And they’re so lucky to have you, David, to have somebody in that role who really gets it and is really compassionate and feels for what they’re going through, and it’s evident in hearing you talk and the work that you do.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Yeah. David, remind me how many years you’ve been involved in higher education and in particular the law school setting.

DAVID JAFFE:

Sure. So I graduated from the Washington College of Law, where I’m presently employed, in 1993. I spent a total of three years in different positions with the school, four actually, and in 1997 I interviewed successfully for the Dean of Students job. I was the second Dean of Students that the law school had, was relatively young to have the title of Dean although it’s never been something that I’ve made a lot of in my title, but more importantly it was giving me the opportunity to work with students more on the, just on a one-on-one level. So I think I had a LinkedIn reminder today that 27 years of service with the law school.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

That’s definitely got to have provided you the context and the perspective to see obviously a lot of different changes in the law school setting over that duration of period of time.

DAVID JAFFE:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I think we, I’m sure we’ll talk more about this, but I think that we’ve seen an evolution of sorts, and unfortunately and fortunately in the same breath, around mental health and well-being. I think it’s one that’s really only taken hold probably the last five, maybe no more than seven years. But again, to the good, I think law schools generally are trending in the right direction in that regard.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

That’s exciting to hear. Let’s go back a little bit and let’s talk about the Suffering in Silence study. Obviously that was a precursor to the Path to Lawyer Well-Being report, and lay the evidence based challenges that I think we’re both seeing in the profession in one respect but in the law schools specifically in that particular study. I’d just be curious on why did you do the study, and how did it come about?

DAVID JAFFE:

Sure. I got lucky to a large degree. I had been thinking a lot about the fact that we did not have a lot of data around the issues that those of us who’ve worked on the front lines with students perceived to be the case, around well-being, mental health, substance use, help seeking behaviors, things of that nature. I don’t remember who it was but somebody put me in touch with a fellow traveler, Jerry Organ, who’s a law professor at St. Thomas and somebody who does a lot of work around data for the American Bar Association. Jerry and I were introduced via email from a third party, and funny enough I think we spent about two years, maybe longer, working together towards building the survey and the idea without ever having met each other in person. I think it was some conference subsequent that we finally had a chance to meet and exchange hugs and catch up.

Jerry was interested in the same thing I was. We believe anecdotally that there’s significant issues around law student well-being. We don’t have the data. The only survey that had been out at that time was in AALS, Association of American Law School survey dating back to 1993, so it’s actually the time that I had graduated law school. That survey was limited to some degree. It hadn’t really addressed prescription drugs. It hadn’t looked at help seeking behaviors as well. So we wanted to have information. For me the discussion was always the important part, but data’s important, particularly for individuals who may not believe that the issues are actually ripe or actually out there, and so we wanted to have the backing and then be able to use that as a foundation to say, “Okay, now what do we do?”

So the survey came about in 2014. We surveyed 15 law schools, 3500 students, had just over 3,000 responses, and the numbers by and large confirmed a lot of what those who were working already with students noticed to be the case, that there was more drinking than anybody would, if not have anticipated, anybody wanted to see in law students. Use of prescription drugs without a prescription in more significant numbers than anybody would have hoped for. Positive screening for depression, around anxiety, particularly around anxiety fairly significant numbers. I think we screened 37% positive for anxiety.

Then again in the same breath that although a significant number of the students who responded to the survey, over 80%, indicated that they would seek a health professional if they felt they had an issue around alcohol or drug use or mental health, only 4% had indicated actually having seen somebody and those [inaudible], the numbers just don’t match up. It wouldn’t make sense if you were acknowledging in one breath the significant numbers that students were drinking and binge drinking and using drugs and everything else yet not getting help for it.

And that had just turned us quickly to some of the other numbers, which were around the help seeking behavior, that between, depending on whether you were looking at substance use or mental health, between 40 to 50% of the respondents said that they felt that they were more likely to get admitted to the bar if they kept their problem hidden. So [inaudible] when you take all these numbers together that they’re acknowledging in one breath that they probably needed help based upon their use in different areas, but that they weren’t getting the help and the presumption is that they weren’t getting the help because they were afraid they were either going to have a job implication or that their character and fitness were going to impede them and they were not going to be admitted to the jurisdiction that they sought to get admitted to after three or four years of hard study and tuition payments and everything else.

BREE BUCHANAN:

Absolutely, and you know I shared in that first episode about, I started having emerging mental health issues in my first year of law school, and I can remember, I mean no way would I have ever gone to anybody and asked for help.

DAVID JAFFE:

Yeah. Right.

BREE BUCHANAN:

I really felt like I had to completely put out this image of being on top of everything and couldn’t show any chink in the armor, so to speak. I got the opportunity to go back to that same law school and teach a clinical program 20 years later and I’ll tell you, it’s the same attitudes. Not much had changed at that time, but hopefully some things are changing now. [crosstalk]

DAVID JAFFE:

It’s hard, Bree. It’s really, you think about these individuals and regardless of the law school where you’re working or assisting students, these students were skimmed from the top of undergrads or even if they were out for a few years, the top colleges from across the country. They all want to be competitive, oftentimes with themselves, sometimes with the sacrifice of classmates, which is another challenge. But they also, as a general rule, those students tend to be type A. They feel they’ve got everything under control and they can handle everything, and this whole notion of, a stigma of needing to have things under control really, really gets in the way of these students seeking help.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

David, the study came out in 2016, right? So we’re four years removed from the study. Do you have a sense of how things have shifted with law students since the study was done? Do you have a general feeling for if we’re doing better, are we worse, are we about the same? What do your instincts tell you?

DAVID JAFFE:

It’s a great question. I’ll start with a tease. Jerry and I are fortunate to have received a grant opportunity, and we’re going to be updating that survey. We’re surveying again next spring, in 2021, and so we’re going to have yet another opportunity to really see the hard numbers and see if we’ve made some significant changes or potentially slid back since that survey and that time. What I would suggest, and although I’m very proud of the survey and a lot of the results from it, I don’t want to give all of the credit to that. I think that Jerry and I should also mention Kate Bender from the Dave Nee Foundation who co-wrote the article with us after the survey came out, or the results of the survey came out.

I think that the law schools have been trending, maybe in part from results of the survey but just in part from being more aware of the importance of the issues, have been trending towards being more proactive than we have been. I had used the number five, seven years prior to this conversation, and what I mean by that is that we were at a time where, orientation for example, we would be told by senior administrators informally or formally that the last thing we should be talking about are issues around mental health and stress and anxiety. We’re welcoming an entering class, and then boom they’re going to get hit right between the eyes with this notion that it’s going to be a really, really different experience, and next thing you know we’re scaring them away to another school, as if we were the only law school that had an issue around these challenges.

That conversation has given way towards issues or conversations around well-being, around meditation and mindfulness and yoga and other outlets and seeking help when needed, as really being front and center orientations at I would say a good many law schools around the country. So we’re not only not afraid of it anymore, but rather than being in this kind of reactive posture where we wait for a student to come and either be referred by a faculty member or just realize that they’re desperately sinking and really come to somebody for help at the last minute, we’re doing more proactive outreach. We’re saying from the beginning in the orientation, in the materials, through reminders of mindfulness meditation sessions or yoga sessions or whatever else it is, that we understand that students are going through these issues and we want to try to head them off, and then of course also be there should despite our best efforts some of the issues continue to make the work and the challenges difficult for our students.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

I’m curious how you, to the extent possible, how do you measure success of what you’ve been doing relative to how you want to create an evolving culture in the law school that obviously prepares them for maybe greater vulnerability and greater willingness to let faculty know when they’re in those challenging spots, or perhaps fostering a more collaborative and maybe less of a competitive environment?

DAVID JAFFE:

It’s a great question. I think it’s one thing that we, I would say for myself in our student affairs office, we probably struggle with a little bit. Metrics seem to be coming more and more important for schools, the ability to report outcomes of what they’re doing in various ways. One way one can do it is to, how many students are dropping in your office, how many students are you meeting with one on one? In theory around well-being you could mark it by the number of students who are coming to a meditation session. But it’s tricky, because you can argue two sides. If fewer students are coming to your office for help, then you could suggest that or imply that the work that you’ve done in orientation are causing students to, in a good way, to maybe seek help maybe with family or private counseling or things like that or maybe doing meditation on their own, and they’re actually taking better care of themselves.

On the other hand, if numbers are increasing of students coming in to you, you could also argue that you’ve gotten word out about it, that you are a positive resource without judgment, without question, and so the students have found the credibility in your office and the comfort level and they’re coming to you maybe at a time that they would be afraid, you know the Dean of Students has a job to report me to a character and fitness and to the bar, and so if I go and get help I might just be putting my death sentence out there for admission to the bar later on. So the short answer, I don’t have an ideal one, Chris. I think, I simply feel that if one keeps beating the drum of the context and the conversation around this just being important and doing what you need to for yourself when you can, and seeking help when you feel like this is getting out of control, you’ve just got to trust that the students are responding to you and are getting help when they need, either with you or again through other individuals.

BREE BUCHANAN:

David, I know during your tenure as a leader of the law school committee of CoLAP, there was a study published by Jordana Confino that really looked at what was going on with law schools across the country and adopting well-being initiatives, and this was written within the last couple of years. Can you share some of the most promising practices or things that impressed you that are going on right now across the country that we might entice some of the law schools to adopt?

DAVID JAFFE:

Sure. Jordana’s article was terrific, and as you said it did kind of follow a survey that several individuals had worked on in just trying to get a sense of … Some of it was following our survey, but again some of it was just a general sense of we know you as law schools are doing better work or looking to increase your efforts in regard to what is working, what is not working. I would say if I wanted to tease out one, and forgive me, I don’t recall if the numbers were as solid on this as I’d like to see them, but I actually think our faculty, faculty across the board, law faculty across the board that is, have the perhaps best opportunity to have a positive input and a positive effect on our students around these issues.

What I mean by that is that despite those of us as Dean of Students who like to kind of wear this badge of honor of being on the front line with law students, we’re technically not. We do get to see the law students at orientation, at least for those Deans of Students who run orientation. In my case I’m one of them. But once school gets started the students are really, they’re beholden to their classes and their faculty and vice versa. One of the parts of the article that had come out was, again, I think it was, there were definitely examples of faculty leading the way but I think it was more of a suggestion that we do a deeper dive in that regard.

Our faculty are held in such esteem by their students, particularly the entering students who are kind of seeing them for the first time and learning from them in these various subject areas. The opportunity for the faculty to, what’s the phrase, to step away from the sage on the stage and just kind of be an assistant on the side. Not to stop doing what they’re doing in teaching, but to take a minute in class, every now and then, even starting classes, with a very brief breathing exercise, but also taking a break every couple of weeks and acknowledging, “I know that you’re hitting a peak point of the semester right now, that you’re doing your legal writing class and that you’re taking a midterm and this and that.” Checking with the students. “Are you doing okay?” Reminding them that they’ve accomplished so much just by getting to law school, and reminding them that they have very much the right to be where they are and that they’re going to graduate and not going to be- [inaudible]

BREE BUCHANAN:

Oh dear.

DAVID JAFFE:

Having a dog bark in support of that, I will take 100% of the time. [inaudible] So I think that’s one of the big areas. I know that Jordana’s survey had also pointed out that a lot of the wellness programming again are areas, depending on your school and what’s working best for you, was definitely another area where we were seeing wellness committees that invited students in to discuss what was going to work best and then giving way to these meditation sessions or yoga sessions or running clubs or just giving an opportunity for students to gather together to talk, and ideally to kind of give way to more open conversation about how they could be supporting each other.

BREE BUCHANAN:

One of the things that’s really golden is if you have a faculty member who will actually share his or her experience, maybe with depression or anxiety over the course of their career.

DAVID JAFFE:

100%.

BREE BUCHANAN:

That does so much to bring down the stigma that’s around this and just makes it okay for people to start talking about it. When you can talk about it, then you can ask for help for it, and that’s so critical.

DAVID JAFFE:

That’s right. And we all have it, and that’s the thing. And I try to share with students and say, occasionally I’ll share the stories that I shared here in the podcast and go into a little more depth, but I’ll also say, these things don’t change. Some of our students are older and married, but you graduate from law school, you get married, you’re dealing with raising a family, with a spouse or a significant other, buying a house, jobs and things like that. The stressors continue, so it’s may be peaking to a degree in law school for students but they don’t go away, and so the real question is, what do we do about getting help while we can, while we’re in a support network where others can be helping us so that we can come out the other side and be as healthy as we can.

BREE BUCHANAN:

So David, you’ve been really central to some policy initiatives that have the potential to make real change in this area, and I want you to have the chance to talk about this. One of them is around the character and fitness questions that states ask law students and has such a chilling effect on law students’ willingness to ask for help. Tell us about what your work is in that area.

DAVID JAFFE:

Sure. I [inaudible] an incredible component to the issue, and chilling effect is exactly the right phrase, Bree. There’s again a much deeper dive. For those who are interested I would just encourage them to either reach out to any of us or to look up, Louisiana, I think they probably list it as Consent Decree in 2014, but basically there was a determination back in 2014 that a number, well that the State of Louisiana in that case was using their questions on their character and fitness portion of the bar application that were invasive and violative of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA, that they were asking questions that could not or should not be asked. And so a decision was made to force through the decree to soften those questions, but if the determination was that they were being made only in that state because the suit was there and not federal and not across the board.

Some other states indeed who were already well addressing mental health questions or not having them at all. A couple of other states saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to make some changes. But there are still a decent number of states, four or five or six that would be described as extremely invasive, and then maybe scaling down to another 10 or 12, maybe even 15 or so. And these are states that are just asking questions that most typically is kind of the, did you ever? I mean they’re asking questions about a student’s health and background that really don’t have a place in the current reflection of the character or the fitness of that applicant to study law. There may be issues that occurred that were well dealt with a number of years ago, and yet the question is opening it up again and causing a student to potentially disgorge information of a very personal nature, and also potentially re traumatize when these students have been through significant issues.

I’ve worked with some others. I’ve worked with Janet Stearns, who’s my counterpart and friend at Miami’s Law School. We have written an article recently about it, and even on the heels of that, we think, and some other things that were going on. We’ve seen a couple of states even in this calendar year who have rethought their questions, New York somewhat famously, and although they had cited to our article but to their credit they had been at work at it for a while. But they actually chose to modify their questions significantly after about a year, maybe a year and a half of a working group. And we still hope, because that’s still fairly current and New York is such a significant bar, that we may see, and we’ve indeed heard from a couple of states since that decision came down, from a couple of states and their working groups that have been asking, “What information do you have, what can you provide us, because there’s some of us who would like to see some of those changes implemented in our states as well.”

And the argument just simply, maybe I should have started with this, is if the students were more and more savvy about looking ahead about what their future may be and what they have to do, they’re looking on line. They see what the questions are. And if we’re able to respond, or if their jurisdiction is able to respond, to say, “We’re not going to ask questions around mental health,” or the question we’re [inaudible] asking is have you, if it’s an issue that is maybe within the last two or three years, have you been receiving treatment for it, and if you have then we’re going to be okay with that. Well that’s going to allow those students, to go back to the bulk of our conversation this far, to actually get the help they need while in law school so that they can sail through with flying colors on that application and go on to lead healthy, not only professional lives as lawyers but personal lives as well.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Great. I think that’s a great time for us to take our break, and we’ll talk about some more of these policy initiatives that are currently being pushed by CoLAP.

DAVID JAFFE:

Sounds great.

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BREE BUCHANAN:

All right, welcome back everybody. We have David Jaffe with us today and we’re talking about some really exciting policy initiatives that David has been at the forefront of, and these are things that can be game changers, really, around well-being for law students. What I wanted to, I can’t miss out on asking you about, David, is your efforts to convince the ABA’s law school accreditation committee to make some changes for what law schools are required to do around this. Can you talk a little bit about what your, I guess, I don’t want to say lobbying but that’s what it basically comes down to, efforts in this area?

DAVID JAFFE:

Sure, advocacy, definitely. Thanks, that’s a great question. So one of the areas that we, and again a number of individuals who are interested in this would like to see more of an emphasis on, is some kind of formalized or required training around substance use and mental health awareness while in law school. Every law school is part of this. So the ABA accredits law schools, it’s either every seven years or might be every 10 years now. You have to go through a process of self-evaluation and then sharing that information, and there are a lot of steps and questions around standards that have to be complied with.

One of the ongoing requirements towards the completion of the degree is that students take a course in legal ethics or professional responsibility, it’s more often called, and while recognizing that a number of those courses will fold in because of the nature of the topic, professional responsibility, a session may be an hour or something like that around substance use, mental health education and awareness. Oftentimes a lawyer assistance program director is brought in, maybe a volunteer to tell his or her story, and they’re very engaging conversations when they’re held.

So it’s there informally, but informally is a relevant term. No professor is required to write that into their professional responsibility textbook or case book and no faculty member is required to teach it as part of their overall assessment in that class. Since that’s the most obvious class we’ve focused on that in a proposal to the ABA where we suggest it or at least suggest it generally, that substance use, mental health, at a minimum, two hours during a student’s three or four years of education, is devoted towards that topic with the suggestion that a professional responsibility course would be the most logical place, that the ABA could be free to simply say that the requirement is there.

In theory you could do it as part of orientation, you could do it prior to that although I think it would be a little bit too early, I think we’d want students to transition and get settled in and then appreciate some of the nuances and some of the things that might be affecting them before they hear this information. But we really feel that trying to build atop this informal approach and those faculty and those who do write these course books to fold it in, that we have a formal adoption so that schools are really compelled to work in an area that quite frankly they ought to be doing regardless.

BREE BUCHANAN:

Terrific. That’s just a brilliant approach.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Yeah. David, you’ve also been very involved in the law school mental health day for law schools. I think last year it was in October, which I think is not coincidence, that you plan that in the first six to eight weeks of the semester, and I’d be curious on your thoughts around that particular mental health day and what the plans look like for 2020.

DAVID JAFFE:

Sure, thanks for that. So prior to, it might have been two years ago, mental health day was being held in the third week in March, and it was a somewhat artificial date and time that had been selected. A group of us had gotten together and said, “You know, it’s way too late in the day to be having these conversations, right? You’re at the end of the academic year. Why not push something up?” And so there was a determination and some advocacy to move it. It was actually a fairly easy lift, in credit to the ABA law student division, which is oftentimes very helpful in publicizing events that are going on around it. So we moved it to October 10th, which coincides with Global Mental Health Day as well. We’ve occasionally had to … Well, we’ve only done it a couple years but we try to avoid a Saturday or sometimes even a Friday where law students are starting to check out for the weekend.

What we tried to do is bring some [inaudible] leaders. The last couple of years we’ve done some national broadcasting and invited schools to, through a webinar, to attend live, to ask questions live, and have them anchored at a school. We’re looking to finalize the plans for this coming October, but I would say the part that I’m most excited about and I do hope it comes together, because it’s probably a long time in coming, is that I believe the law student division is going to play an even increasingly prominent role in the event or quite frankly series of events. We may do a couple of presentations over a few days this year, and we hope that one of them will be led by the law student division and students themselves, because they really, there’s never a better moment or an opportunity than a student working peer to peer with other students around these issues.

We like to stay the law students are getting younger each year. Obviously it’s a joke as we age each year and still dedicate ourselves to doing this work, but when they stop and they see that they’re, listen to their law students and the issues that their law students are facing and going through, it’s then when they can really say, that’s me, and it’s really nice to hear, for some of them for the first time, I’m not the only one going through this.

That’s another area we probably should touch on at least lightly as well. We have students who believe, particularly when they’re transitioning into school and feeling the crush of the Socratic method and the new language and the reading and everything else, that they’re the only one who’s going through whatever it is that they’re going through. I’ve seen so many times when I’ve finally had an opportunity to counsel one of these students, when I will look them in the eye and say, “You know, you’re not the only one this week, or sometimes the only one today, who’s come to my office from these issues,” and you almost can see the burden kind of lighten from their shoulders, that they’re like, “Oh my god, I’m so happy to hear that because I really thought I was the only one who was afraid to be called on or the only one who wasn’t getting what was going on in class and everything else.”

So coming back to mental health day, our hope is that there’ll be at least one session that could be led by some of the student leaders and [inaudible] leaders, and really speak directly to students about some of these issues and inspire them to get help if that’s an issue or to become leaders in their own right at their other schools across the country, and just kind of tentacle this out so that we’re building on these wellness programs wherever and whenever we can.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

David, one of the things that I think is interesting as we look into the future a little bit is, I’m concerned that there’s just, a lot of folks who go into law school, go through law school and then ultimately, there’s a failure in expectations of what practicing law is like relative to what their expectations were before they came into law school. It’s an expectations gap that I think ultimately, you get through law school, you’ve got all this student debt. You maybe take a job that you didn’t anticipate taking, and then you kind of move yourself through a profession in which maybe you don’t love what you’re doing, and if you can’t find professional satisfaction some of these other coping mechanisms then kind of creep in. I’d be curious on your thoughts on what law schools can do to maybe better establish what practicing law is actually like, and when to do that in the law school setting, and whether you believe that there is some notion of an expectations gap.

DAVID JAFFE:

That’s a very thoughtful question, Chris. Let me take a stab at that. I’m going to back up a little bit. I don’t disagree with anything that you said but I’m going to take maybe a step back prior to law school. I’ve had some really helpful conversations with the counselor who’s assigned to our law students through the university’s counseling center, and although we have an absolute agreement that she cannot share any specific information about law students with me, we do have an ongoing agreement that if there are any kind of threads or issues in the aggregate that are worth sharing, maybe there’s a faculty member who seems to be affecting a group of students or something going on at the school, that she absolutely can share it, and time and again when we’ve sat down what she has said to me, Chris, is that by and large the issues that the students are bringing forward in law school are not law school related.

They’re issues that, these kind of deep seated issues that law students have not addressed prior to coming to law school. Family issues, maybe unresolved. Personal issues. There may be issues around self-confidence and imposter syndrome and things like that, but also any issues around relationships, and maybe some diagnoses of depression and things like that as well. But things that students have not come to grips with, and then they get to law school and it’s this jarring transition to start with, and then at the back end, and it’s really, you know three years is a, even four years for evening students, it’s a blink of an eye at the end of the day, and the student who has not sought the opportunity to work through some of these issues, which are now of course being exacerbated by the tuition and the potential prospects for employment and looking for those jobs and looking for summer opportunities and dealing with the debt and making new friends and transitioning, all these things are coming to a head.

And so the student who’s not dealing with it at all is simply, they’re not sailing through typically. They’re struggling. But then all these issues are presenting themselves again in the work force, inclusive potentially of this kind of gap which is, I haven’t been able to focus on myself, let alone on what I ought to be learning while I’m in law school to make myself a better lawyer, and to have an appreciation for what it is that I want to do.

I think the other part to your question in terms of the gap, and it all relates to well-being at the end. But I think the better job a law school is doing, not only around counseling students individually, collectively, but also providing some kind of experiential, solid experiential education or opportunities, variety of opportunities for education prior to the student getting out, is only going to serve the student well. And by that I simply mean whether it’s a clinical program where a student’s able to work as attorney student, attorneys for a year under the supervision of one of our faculty or even attorneys who are in practice, or even externships or internships where the students are going out into the field and working under the tutelage of a lawyer or a judge or a set of lawyers, and really gaining a sense, one, that it may be a subject area that they thought they were interested in and it ultimately turns them off, but they still have an opportunity to pivot and move in another direction; two, to gain some of those professional skills.

Because where a lot of these students, they’re coming right out of undergrad and really they may not have ever worked at all and if they did, they’re more of the kind of run of the mill retail positions and whatnot, but not something that really immerses you in the day to day, the exchange, the thoughtful thinking, the analysis, the professionalism that needs to be brought. And if you’re not having those experiences in school then Chris, I absolutely agree, you find yourself in the profession potentially in a position that was not something that you thought you wanted to do or knew anything about, and you’re unhappy. And there’s [inaudible] to do that. We only get a limited period of time to enjoy what we’re doing in living, and if we’re not making positive selections about it we’re bringing ourselves down, we’re bringing down our colleagues, those around us, and again, this is the time around family formation, relationships and all, and those aren’t going to work well either if you’re not grounded in what it is you expect of yourself and what’s making you happy on a daily basis.

BREE BUCHANAN:

Absolutely. And David I can really tell that you, like we said at the very beginning, I think, visionary. You think about all of these issues so deeply. So let me just ask in our last question, where do you stand today looking forward and for our students? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Do you think things are going to get better for students, and what do you base that on if that’s the case or otherwise?

DAVID JAFFE:

Short answer, long answer. As this podcast is being recorded, we’re living in the middle of this pandemic, or if somebody’s optimistic maybe a third of the way out, who knows. There are a number of us who are extremely concerned as we head into an academic year of where our students are going to be mental health wise. Social isolation is just the number one attack or deterrent towards well-being, and so while we’re trying to make all this progress at law schools all of a sudden we’re in this remote environment where we’re staring at screens and looking desperately for other opportunities to engage, and this is going to be with us for a while. For most of us, at least the fall semester, we don’t know about the year ahead.

So short term we’re going to have to be looking at those issues. I’ll also mention here that we’re dealing with some professional licensure issues about the ability or the inability to counsel across state lines, and so if we have students at a school who are not at a school physically but are now living in another state and taking classes remotely, we in many instances cannot provide them the counseling and the counseling services that we would normally be able to do when they were in person, so that is a significant challenge. There is some legislation out there that I’m tracking and others are following that we hope will continue to relax some of the provisions that were initially relaxed in some states in the immediate aftermath of COVID in March.

Long term though, and again I hope it’s a long term, a short long term or a short, short term where this kind of challenges go we start to have, I think we’re trending towards the good. I think what we’re finding, and we should give some credits to the law students as well. We’re finding law students who are coming to law school, I want to say a little more self-aware. Maybe not, not self-aware and immediately well as a result of self-aware, but self-aware and comfortable enough that there are issues that they need to acknowledge to get better. I feel like there have been more open ended conversations. We’ve been running orientation for about five weeks now for this year’s entering class and we’ve seen some really healthy conversations. We’ve received a lot of props in emails after some of our address your stress and mental health sessions during orientation, that students are really opened up and really appreciated them.

So I think the generation of students may be more willing on the one hand to be more open about these issues, and in turn probably more insistent that law schools are looking to address these issues. I know in my school our students formed a mental health alliance and they were pushing us around a number of issues. Are we providing enough counseling sessions? Are the referrals appropriate if we run out of our sessions? Can we make the intake a little bit easier? On and on.

And so I think the respectful, kind of gentle pounding on the table for, almost coming back to us and saying, “Hey, if Dean of Students, you’re telling us that we need to be taking better care of ourselves, then we’re going to turn around and say here are the things that you as law schools need to be doing to support it.” And I think this is all going to coalesce in, I don’t know how many years. I want to say three years, maybe five years as we’re having this conversation, that I don’t think we’re going to turn ourselves entirely out of jobs around mental health but I think that our students are going to be taking even more and more of a look at themselves and making these requests of law schools, and I think we’re going to be heading in the right direction. So I’m pretty optimistic, looking ahead.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

David, do you find that that’s generational in nature or societal in nature, or what do you think are some of the drivers that are kind of positioning us for that optimism?

DAVID JAFFE:

You know, I used to say, when I was growing up and probably a couple of generations around then, if a principal or the teacher called you in as parents and said, “We think there’s a behavioral issue or something that’s going on with your child,” you would look at that adult and say, “How dare you accuse my child of that,” and look to sue the school or take them out or go somewhere else. The pendulum then I think swung for a period of time where, and I don’t mean to blame parents here but I think the notion was, if my child through medication can be achieving and overachieving, as the pendulum kind of swung to the other way. Whatever you can to do help my child, that’s great. I’ll do it, let’s go for it.

And I don’t know exactly where that pendulum is right now, but I think it’s some settling in the middle of a combination where students are students, when they’re younger, prior to being law students, are being perhaps better diagnosed, again perhaps a little bit more self-aware. Maybe the parents now are a little bit more aware of knowing what to look for and what to avoid. So I think we’re growing up a little bit healthier as families in that regard, and so I would say it’s a little bit generational and maybe also a little bit societal. I mean there’s just, wherever you turn there’s just a push around well-being and wellness. And sometimes it’s a push back against some of the challenges that we’re facing around [inaudible] news and society and things like that, and so folks are looking for better answers. It can be really sobering and depressing if you’re just constantly looking at negative breaking news and natural disasters and the epidemic we’re living in and things of that nature.

So sometimes the best response is simply to say, “I’m not going to be that person. I’m waking up every morning and eating my Wheaties and getting my exercise in and taking care of myself, and then through my own well-being I’m looking for others to do the same.” And in some, you know it is that kind of village analogy. It’s going to take all of us. But I think we’re, even going back to the faculty, I think as we see, not to criticize older faculty but as we see faculty who are coming through law schools where they saw some of this well-being support, they’re looking to mimic that because they realize that they were served well and they want to make sure that they’re paying that forward with their students as they’re receiving them in their classes and their experiential learning and everything else. So I think it’s a combination, Chris, of a lot of those things, and again I think if we continue to sound the importance of this and continue to work in various areas, it should only continue to improve.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

All right. I think that’s going to be fascinating to watch over the next decade, how your graduates also come into the practice of law with better expectations as to the work life balance, and how that will play into talent acquisition by law firms and what law students ultimately are looking for out of their professional, the professional part of their journey and how that balances with their personal side. Because I think the days of Saturday Sunday working and all that, you know again, some firms are going to require it, but I think it’s going to be very interesting that I think folks are coming into law school with better sense of what they want, and it’ll be interesting to see kind of a clash of generations of partners and hires and how that ultimately evolves into the law firm culture within the profession generally. [crosstalk]

BREE BUCHANAN:

It’s like a podcast episode.

DAVID JAFFE:

I think it’s an excellent observation, and I would just respond to that briefly to say that I know that I have met with students, when they’ve asked, you know maybe students in recovery, students who are feeling a little more confident about themselves and they say, “What can I do to contribute?” And I say, “Well, this is going to be a really big ask, but your next interview, your set of interviews, you ought to ask about what that law firm is doing around well-being,” because the more often they hear that the more they realize that that is going to have to be the next leverage point. And if you start to fall behind as a law firm you’re going to have quality associates who are not interested in working there because they’re not seeing it.

Now it’s putting a lot on the law students of course to ask, but if you’re [inaudible] the right law students who are getting six, eight, 10, 15, 20 call backs for interviews, they’re going to have the pick of the litter. So why not ask that question and force the hand of the firms. And you’re absolutely right, Chris, the law firms are going to have to … Some of them are doing it, to be fair, but their going to have to make some critical decisions around these issues in the coming years.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Well, David, our time’s coming to a close. I want to obviously thank you for being a visionary in the law school space. Bree and I do a lot of work working with our state task forces around the country, and invariably one of the subgroups that they create within their task force is law schools, right, because I think everyone appreciates that the law school is the headwater of, the training ground for the next generation of lawyers to come into our profession, and there’s critically important work issues suggested.

There’s a lot of issues before they even come into law school, but in terms of their introduction into the law space and the legal culture, it starts in law school, right? And there’s just so many important things happening there that sets the tone for their journey into the profession, that we can’t thank you enough for the work and the leadership that you’ve done within the law student culture. I know that there’s a lot of uphill battles still to face, but I think that we all share in your optimism that there’s real positive things happening in that space that I think bodes well for the culture shift that we’re trying to engineer within the profession generally.

DAVID JAFFE:

I really, I appreciate this opportunity, and the two of you have been incredible thought leaders in the legal profession and the work with the task force and everything to come, so I thank you both in turn and again for granting me an opportunity just to have this conversation. Thanks so much.

BREE BUCHANAN:

Thank you, David.

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Awesome. Yeah, thank you, and we’ll be back in two weeks. Our next guest will be Judge David Shaheed out of Indiana. Judge Shaheed is a real thought leader in terms of bringing the nexus between well-being and the judicial sector of the legal profession, serving in a number of different capacity and leadership roles. I’m really looking forward to that podcast, because the judge element of well-being in law I think is a critical part that’s oftentimes overlooked. So we’ll be excited to get into the weeds with Judge Shaheed in a couple of weeks. So thank you for joining us for Episode Four. Thank you, David, and we’ll be back in a couple weeks.

David Jaffe is Associate Dean of Student Affairs at American University, Washington College of Law. He is co-author of the 2016 national law student study, Suffering in Silence, and a number of other publications on law student well-being. He serves on the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) as co-chair of the Law School Assistance Committee, and in 2015, he received the CoLAP Meritorious Service Award in recognition of his commitment to improving the lives of law students.

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