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Thesis

Beyond “law school sucks”: Law student views on stress and solutions

20 July 2012

Abstract

Law school is commonly thought to be an intensely stressful graduate program and law students are known to experience high levels of stress and psychiatric distress. A growing body of literature demonstrates that despite entering law school with mental and emotional health profiles comparable to the general population, students experience dramatically increased rates of depression, anxiety, and hostility within the first semester. These elevated levels of distress have been shown to last throughout law school and beyond graduation, and are likely a significant reason for the refrain commonly heard from law students that “law school sucks.” Solutions designed to address law student mental health are wide-ranging and numerous. Yet no published empirical studies have investigated the views of law students on the issue—the issue of how to get beyond “law school sucks.” The present study aims to fill this gap in the literature by presenting results from national survey of first, second, and third year law students on perceptions of law school stress and the utility of programs designed to help law students manage stress (N = 110). It also provides data on resource utilization and explores possible barriers to student use of services. Findings indicate high levels of overall perceived stress across students in all three years of law school. Notable stressors included finding employment and managing the cost of law school, competition for grades, a heavy workload, use of the Socratic method, and a lack of feedback from professors. Resources identified as helpful in managing stress include school gym memberships, on-site psychologists or counselors, and peer mentoring and Academic Support Programs. Wellness classes, yoga, and mindfulness classes received moderate support as well. Together, the results suggest an integrated, holistic approach to law student stress and reflect the current trend of promoting balance in legal education as a means of achieving increased health and wellness for law students.


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