Most law students are struggling with mental health issues, according to a new Bloomberg Law survey. Over 75% of student respondents reported increased anxiety because of law school-related issues, and over 50% reported experiencing depression.
Bloomberg Law has been reporting on the troubling level of attorney burnout and the drop in attorney well-being for the past few years. This past December, Bloomberg Law’s second Law School Preparedness Survey asked law students about their mental health and how their overall well-being changed during the semester.
Over half of the more than 1,000 surveyed law students acknowledged that their well-being worsened during the fall 2022 semester of law school. Overall, 32% of respondents stated that their well-being “slightly worsened,” and 26% said that it “significantly worsened.”
When broken down by gender, the percentage of those who reported that their well-being “significantly worsened” was higher among students who identify as female (26%) or as nonbinary (38%) than among those respondents who identify as male (22%).
The percentage of those students reporting that their well-being “significantly worsened” was higher among Black students (33%) than White students (24%).
The survey also asked law students whether they experienced various mental and physical health problems “because of law school related issues.” The response from most students was a resounding “yes.” A majority of law school respondents reported experiencing anxiety (77%), disrupted sleep (71%), and depression (51%). Only 11% of law students reported experiencing none of the given issues.
Building a Legal Foundation on Anxiety?
The legal profession is demanding, but preparing for the practice of law is just as hard. An intense workload, expectations for perfection, grading on a curve, and cold-calling all help prepare law students for our client-driven and often-adversarial profession—but it may also be laying a foundation of anxiety and stress. And, as the data show, the negative effects may be worse for those who identify as female, nonbinary, or Black.
In my network of lawyers, I have found that many of us—particularly women—had similar experiences to what the survey respondents reported: increased anxiety, trouble sleeping, issues with relationships, depression, and increased alcohol usage. I don’t recall talking about this with fellow law students at the time, but I’m glad we’re discussing it now.
Learning the Law of Self-Care
When I attended law school 20 years ago, the stigma associated with mental health concerns was pervasive. I didn’t broadcast the fact I saw a therapist. The stigma hasn’t disappeared, but with the advent of virtual therapy and more lawyers engaging in self-care, there’s been a marked shift in the way the legal profession discusses and prioritizes mental health. Perhaps for these reasons, it has been reported that law students today are more willing to seek help than students in the past.
“In my experience, students today are much more equipped to identify mental health concerns and seem to be more willing to share their challenges and coping responses when prompted,” said Jennifer Leonard. Leonard is Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Future of the Profession Initiativeat University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, one of Bloomberg Law’s 10 Law School Innovation Program finalists.
But there are still hurdles for law students to overcome. “Emerging research suggests that, as a generational cohort, they could be at heightened risk for experiencing mental health challenges, too,” Leonard said.
Resources are available to law students seeking help through state Lawyer Assistance Programs (they aren’t just for practicing attorneys!), and are also available at many law schools themselves, which have integrated well-being into their curricula.
Changes like these will be key to finding lasting and meaningful ways to support law student (and lawyer) well-being to make sure they have all the tools for a successful law career.
Related content is available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page. Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis, Legal Operations, and In Focus: Lawyer Development pages.
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