Studies have found that the mental health of law students declines during their studies and that it commences to decline in the first year of legal education. Studies of the legal profession internationally have found that lawyers either suffer or report suffering mental health problems at a rate greater than that of the general population and greater than that of other professions. Research suggests attorneys suffer higher incidences of suicide, depression, and substance abuse than other professions; however, very few studies addressed lawyers’ psychological well-being and what constructive steps we can make to improve lawyer and law student well-being.
The Quinnipiac University School of Law has developed an integrative program to assist law students in improving lawyer and law student well-being, framed as developing personal and professional leadership through creative approaches, including storytelling.
In the Quinnipiac Law School program, as well as other programs with law students and lawyers, we have found improvements in both attendance and positive engagement by (i) framing these discussions as “leadership” development and/or professional development, which overcomes the resistance to “going to that mental health thing;” and (ii) breaking down the conversation into small, moderated group discussions that occur over a continuous period of time. This creates community and a space for psychological safety, increasing the openness of sharing, storytelling and engagement.
We found storytelling in particular to be a powerful tool. The storytelling component can take various approaches, including the sharing of personal stories, challenges, and experiences and using media such as film as a tool to engage students with tapping into our shared humanity and experiences.
The Quinnipiac course applies research about best practices in legal education and lawyer effectiveness by mixing practical lawyering skills with empowering leadership skills to humanize the law school experience and support being a whole, healthy lawyer. It is based on the integrative law model, which is a values-based approach to practice that serves to broaden future lawyers’ understanding of the possibilities of law practice through collaborative and creative approaches to legal work, including storytelling. As an experiential course, students learn to apply relevant leadership skills such as empathy, authenticity, and adaptivity to their course work. Among other assignments, students design their own conflict management systems; negotiate using integrative law principles; design their own well-being plans; and learn to be future changemakers in the law. The course also includes mentorship pods that meet weekly with lawyer well-being experts to explore various topics, including autonomy, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, boundaries, and play redefining “professional identity” in a manner that prioritizes long-term well-being. In this small group setting, students are encouraged to vulnerably connect with peers by sharing challenging experiences, an approach not typically found in the competitive vortex of law school. Through these interactions, students also practice valuable leadership skills, including active listening, giving and receiving feedback and empathy.
We aim to teach students how to show up powerfully in their leadership by incorporating mental health literacy through engaging with storytelling to support long-term satisfaction in the profession.
- How to incorporate mental health literacy in the curricula through engaging with storytelling.
- Explore various approaches to storytelling, including using personal stories and media, such as film, to engage students to tap into our shared humanity.
- Use the power of storytelling to open hearts, improve mental health, empower courageous leadership, and foster collaboration and connection