Parallel session 1B – International Perspectives on Wellness for Law

by Paul Maharg on 05/02/2015

First up, Liz Lee from ANU College of Law and Rachel Spearing, from the Bar Wellness project and member of staff at Portsmouth, on Wellness in UK legal education and practice: voices of first year law students to members of the Bar.  Liz conducted about 30 interviews on the subject when she recently spent study leave at Portsmouth.  Questions she asked were in relation to attitudes to law student wellbeing.  Also morality and justice issues.  Law student distress and curriculum design.  How staff managed their own wellbeing, and their own stress factors.  The questions intentionally were focused on self-determination theory.  Students were articulate about law and justice; staff (if I’ve got this right) disagreed with them on this issue.  Liz and team then issued the same questionnaire to ANU students.  UK needs more empirical data and wants to engage with Australia and beyond.  They’ll be in a position to present data by the next Forum.

Rachel Spearing next, talking about her work with the Bar, on wellbeing.  The bodies she worked with included The General Council of the Bar, the Hon Societies of Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincolns Inn, Grays Inn.  She made the case for wellbeing, and she used the BSB Biennial Survey, 2011, 2013, ‘Barristers’ Working Lives’, and APPG wellbeing policy intiatives.  The policy outline & scope — she assessed the individual and enviornmental workplace risk factors that impact Barristers’ performance, and designed support mechanisms.  Phase 1 is complete, using psychometric surveys.  Phase 2, data analysis and diagnostic tools, is in progress (2456 participants, impressive!).  Phase 3, future direction: collaboration and support from AUS, the training and tools, development of services and guidance, and evaluation of the project.

Next up, David Jaffe, and Jerry Organ from the Holloran Centre, on the National Survey of US law student wellbeing: data on alcohol use, drug use, mental health and a reluctance to seek help.  They went through preliminary work on the surveys and the results.  They surveyed 15 law schools, roughly 11,300 students.  Approx 3,400 respondents, 30% response rate.  School response rate: 18-62%.  56% women.

Alcohol – 90% had drink in last 30 days, 10% up on earlier survey in early 1990s.  Binge drinking — 60% at least once in last two weeks.  Half that across graduate population generally.  Street drugs, marijuana and cocaine — all up substantially since early 1990s — 1 out of 40 students using cocaine in the last 30 days.  Use of LSD other psychedelics and heroin – declined since 1991.  Men used street drugs more than women. Prescription drug use & misuse — higher % of men used prescription drugs without a prescription.  Distributing and misusing prescription drugs.  1 out of 7 used prescription drugs without a prescription (a federal felony).  Also students seem to be using them with greater frequency.

Frequency of depression – 17.4%.  Grad population generally in the Healthy Minds dataset from 2007-14 — 14% only.  Frequency of anxiety – diagnosis 29.9% since coming to law school, ie law school was a triggering event.  20.5% have though seriously about suicide, more than Healthy Minds study.  The SCOFF test (eating disorder) – 26.8%, 17.5% men and 34.2% women were diagnosed.

Cross-correlations?  eg binge drinking and other problems, binge drinkers 43% had five or more problem behaviours associated with alcohol.  Lots of other stats showing there was strong cross-correlations.  Cross-correlations on anxiety and depression?  Very strong.

Seeking help behaviours – 81.2% would be somewhat likely or very likely to use a health professional.  Lots of other stats on this I cdn’t take down.  Why wouldn’t people seek help?  Potential threat to Bar Admissions, threat to academic jobs, etc.

So what do we do?  Current practice: law school admissions are focussed on maximizing enrollment with strongest LSAT and GPA.   Potentially overlooking recent history of substance misuse.  Better practice?  How about retaining admissions practice with respect to ‘checkered’ history; and signal to appropriate authority that outreach should occur.  What about classroom interaction?  Current practice: scattershop approach to raising the issue and offering resources, in orientation, professional responsibility/ethics, and lobby ‘table talks’.  Attendance is largely unregulated, but we know that this is typically a sign.  Better practice: (Re)commitment to one session minimum in required course, appearnce to include LAP staff and Bar Counsel; improved faculty education on signs and how to interact. Develop attendance practices with this issue in mind.  Bar Admissions: Character & Fitness — current practice, is that C&F questions deter students from seeking help, eg q.25, 26a, 26B.  Better practice – focus on behaviour, not condition. eg DoJ Louisiana Settlement Agreement.

Very suggestive, very black presentation.  Lots of thought required on the way forward.  Not sure I agree with Jerry and David’s solutions; but a great survey, that shows the scale of the problem facing the US law schools and Bar Admissions.

Me next, finally, on ‘Well-being and learning: what legal educators and regulators can learn from progressive primary education’.  Slides in the usual place, at the slides tab above.  Well I enjoyed it!  Time for lunch.  After lunch, I have a meeting, so I’m not sure if I can continue liveblogging, so apologies to my three readers,  But keep reading tomorrow when I’ll be back at the keyboard!  Some great sessions lined up then.

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