Harvard Crimson, Wellness at the the Law School: Promises to Keep and Miles to Go Before We Sleep:
Every law student has met a lawyer who cannot help but offer the advice, “Don’t go to law school.” The misery in the legal profession is seemingly ubiquitous. The mental health crisis facing modern lawyers has been reported so extensively, it barely needs repetition. Yet the causes have been woefully overlooked.
Why hasn’t Harvard taken responsibility for its contribution to this professional malaise? Last year, we pushed Harvard Law School to begin an annual mental health survey to measure the welfare of the student body. We began writing law school-specific survey questions based on our experience as students and worked with university health researchers and administrators to publicize the survey.
The results presented a grisly reality. Among 886 respondents, 25 percent reported suffering from depression. For context, according to the CDC, 7.7 percent of individuals aged 20 to 39 from the general population suffer from depression. 24.2 percent of Law School survey respondents reported suffering from anxiety, and 20.5 percent said they were at heightened risk of suicide. 66 percent of respondents said that they experienced new mental health challenges during law school. Nearly 61.8 percent said they had frequent or intense imposter syndrome experiences at school and in measuring social connectedness, 8.2 percent stated they had zero people they could open up to about their most private feelings without having to hold back.
But the problem is not confined to the Law School. In 2014, researchers Jerome Organ, David Jaffe, and Katherine Bender built on the work of Lawrence Krieger, Ken Sheldon and more, to revitalize the discussion of law student mental health. They surveyed students from 15 ABA-approved law schools and found high incidence of drug use, depression, anxiety, and suicide risk. Additionally, Law students at Yale and Georgetown surveyed their peers, and students at other schools have also demanded action. Evidence of pervasive suffering calls for decisive action now.
We therefore call on all law schools to survey their own student bodies every year and release the survey data. The court of public opinion should hold them accountable.
Studies that anonymize school participants allow schools to shirk individual responsibility. Only institution-specific surveys done year to year can measure whether policy changes at each school were effective. Harvard Law School is the only law school that has taken the first step towards change with an in-depth, initial survey and other schools should do at least the same.
Because an annual barometer of student wellbeing is only useful if coupled with new policies, we also advocate for Harvard to take these next steps: ...
In the face of this mental health crisis, law schools must reverse the trend of increased mental health challenges. By committing to our asks, Harvard should engage in this cooperative effort to investigate root causes of mental health challenges, test new interventions, and begin to inaugurate practicing lawyers that finally say to future law students, “definitely go to law school.” Or at least, “maybe go.”