Academic journal article Law and Psychology Review

Meditation for Law Students: Mindfulness Practice as Experiential Learning

Academic journal article Law and Psychology Review

Meditation for Law Students: Mindfulness Practice as Experiential Learning

Article excerpt

I.   INTRODUCTION II.  RETHINKING LAW SCHOOL CULTURE III. MINDFULNESS AS EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING IV.  TEACHING MEDITATION V.   CONCLUSION 

I. INTRODUCTION

Now, in the twenty-first century, the 2,600-year-old practice of meditation and mindfulness is recognized as a valuable tool for law students and lawyers. (1) As law schools evolve to include experiential learning, (2) all law schools should consider making secular mindfulness and meditation training part of their curricula. While substantive experiential learning experiences such as clinics and externships are crucial to developing student skills, students need more than substantive legal practice experience to be fully prepared for the professional practice of law.

Research, statistical, and anecdotal data have established that the study and practice of law are stressful. (3) Until recently, stress has been considered part of the law learning and practice experience without regard to the damage that such stress can inflict. (4) Now, many commentators and researchers have documented the detrimental effects of the stress endured by students in law schools. (5) Further, some say that stress can be almost universal among law students in varying degrees, (6) and that stress only increases as lawyers enter the practice of law. (7) Law students seem to grow less happy as they proceed through law school. (8)

The results of unmitigated stress are also, unfortunately, well documented. (9) Problems with drinking, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and general unwellness are some of the troubles that the ABA reported among lawyers, (10) and these problems may start to manifest in law school. (11) Yet, law schools have been slow to recognize this crisis for their students and slow to offer any meaningful remedies. (12) For many years, law schools have apprised students of "Lawyers Helping Lawyers" organizations whose primary message has been not to drink or take drugs to alleviate stress. (13) However, students typically receive no information on how to assist themselves to avoid or remedy the emotional conditions that can lead to drug and alcohol abuse. Clearly, the above research demonstrates such efforts have been insufficient to promote true well-being for law students. (14)

This paper will discuss rethinking law school culture and environment in Part II. It will advocate for including mindfulness as law school experiential learning in Part III. Then, it will offer meditation practice as an important component of law school mindfulness learning in Part IV.

II. RETHINKING LAW SCHOOL CULTURE

To assist students in achieving a sense of satisfaction or well-being in law school requires rethinking law school as we know it. (15) This rethinking requires an understanding of what is creating the toxic culture in law schools that results in the plethora of psychologically distressed students. (16) Then, law schools must seek a remedy that allows students to become fine lawyers while also finding personal satisfaction. (17)

Many factors contribute to the stress of law students. Learning to "think like lawyers" is associated with student anxiety. (18) Thinking like a lawyer is a primary, necessary skill that most law schools seek to impart. However, one commentator states that this shift in thinking teaches students to "discount[] their own moral values, setting aside their own feelings of empathy and compassion," (19) and promotes "disassociation of competence from expressiveness." (20)

In addition to learning to think differently, other factors affect law students. The competitive nature of law school (21) is expected but difficult for many students who fear that not getting top grades will doom their chances at success. In fact, law school seems to provoke more stress than other graduate studies, including medical school. (22) Other stress-inducing factors include student debt and the pressure of the job market. …

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