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Promoting Law Student Well-being Through a First Year Law Subject Rachael Field: Senior Lecturer and ALTC Fellow 2010 (QUT) James Duffy: Lecturer (QUT)

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Presentation on theme: "Promoting Law Student Well-being Through a First Year Law Subject Rachael Field: Senior Lecturer and ALTC Fellow 2010 (QUT) James Duffy: Lecturer (QUT)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Promoting Law Student Well-being Through a First Year Law Subject Rachael Field: Senior Lecturer and ALTC Fellow 2010 (QUT) James Duffy: Lecturer (QUT)

2 a university for the world real R Introduction – An uncomfortable Pop-Quiz Do you think law student psychological distress is a serious issue? Do you believe that the current curriculum and teaching practices in your own law school are contributing to the decline in law student psychological well-being? Does this make you uncomfortable / ill / sick in the stomach?

3 a university for the world real R The increasing sophistication of law student well-being literature in Australia We are discovering what the Americans knew years ago. Australian literature has progressed from anecdotal reporting of the problem towards cross-sectional and longitudinal empirical studies.

4 a university for the world real R Cross sectional empirical studies First, the incidence of psychological distress in law students is uncomfortably high. Second, we cannot identify with precision the exact factors that are causing this psychological distress. Third, cross sectional studies (by themselves) cannot tell us whether it is law school that is creating these levels of psychological distress, or whether prospective law students already possess these attributes. Fourth, if law school is somehow causing or contributing to this psychological distress, cross sectional studies (by themselves) cannot tell us when in the law degree psychological distress is most likely to occur.

5 a university for the world real R Longitudinal empirical studies There are no significant psychological differences between law students and the general population before they begin law school. Symptoms of psychological distress appear soon after law school begins with negative affect and depression being more prevalent at the end of first year, compared to the beginning of the year. Worryingly, the more advanced US empirical research suggests that symptomology of psychological distress in law students does not significantly decrease throughout the law degree or into the first few years of legal practice.

6 a university for the world real R We cannot hide from this! We must be open to the idea that as law academics, we may or may not be individually contributing to the problem. Regardless of that, we must be prepared to acknowledge that we are collective members of a greater law school community that is most certainly contributing to the problem.

7 a university for the world real R LWB150 at QUT LWB150 Lawyering and Dispute Resolution represents an explicit attempt to use the curriculum to promote law student psychological well-being. The subject was co-written by Rachael Field and James Duffy and was run for the first time in semester

8 a university for the world real R Fields ALTC Fellowship Aims to –stimulate advancement in the legal curriculum, its pedagogy, and assessment practice to better engage, motivate and support student learning of law, focussing on the potential of non-adversarial legal practice, –Might even hope to suggest a possible new conceptual framework for legal education?

9 a university for the world real R ALTC Fellowship The Fellowships program of activities include approaches that try to: 1. Raise awareness in the legal academy of the importance of law student psychological health. 2. Persuade the legal academy to accept the need for strategic change in legal education, and the efficacy of the proposed approaches for achieving that change. 3. Model good curriculum and assessment practice that engages, motivates and supports students.

10 a university for the world real R LWB150 – Lawyering and Dispute Resolution Positive professional identity Alternative dispute resolution Theories (and practice) of non-adversarial justice

11 a university for the world real R LWB150 – Lawyering and Dispute Resolution The content of the subject is delivered over 13 weeks. It is broken down into the following weekly components: Week 1:Introduction to the Subject, The Diversity of Legal Practice, A Positive Professional Identity for Lawyers Week 2:What Lawyers Need to Know and What Lawyers Need to be Able to Do Week 3:Lawyers as Reflective Practitioners Week 4Lawyers as Managers and Resolvers of Disputes Week 5:Lawyers as Advocates (Adversarial and Non- Adversarial)

12 a university for the world real R LWB150 – Lawyering and Dispute Resolution Week 6:Skills Practical Workshop - Communication Skills Week 7:Lawyers as Critical Thinkers Week 8:The Psychology of Legal Practice Week 9:Resilience for Law Students and the Legal Profession Week 10:Introduction to Positive Lawyering – Part 1: Alternative Dispute Resolution Week 11:Introduction to Positive Lawyering – Part 2: Innovative Legal Practices Week 12:Skills Practical Workshop – Dispute Resolution Role- plays Week 13:Exam preparation.

13 a university for the world real R How can a subject actually promote the psychological well-being of law students? Do less of what we think might be causing law student psychological distress. Do more of what we think might promote law student well-being. In LWB150, we draw upon the positive psychology scholarship of hope to engage, motivate and support our students.

14 a university for the world real R A Framework of Hope Law students need hope because research on hope has shown that it predicts academic performance and psychological well-being among undergraduate students. (Martin and Rand, 2010)

15 a university for the world real R Hope can be understood in terms of three key elements: –Goals –Pathways thinking –Agentic thinking

16 a university for the world real R If the goal for our law school graduates is to have them become, happy, healthy and competent professionals (in law or otherwise) then Helping our students develop an emergent sense of professional identity and focussing on non-adversarial lawyering practices are important generators of pathways thinking and agentic thinking.

17 a university for the world real R Conclusion Law student psychological distress – if we are causing it, we must make efforts to fix it We can dodge the issue, or downplay it, but that would make us wimps...a significant of students are suffering. Addressing the issue through curriculum is one meaningful way in which legal academics can contribute to the solution.

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19 a university for the world real R Psychological Health of Law Students Academics have long known and acknowledged that law school is a psychologically distressing place for students – particularly in the US (Watson, 1968; Beck & Burns, 1979, Benjamin et al, 1986, Daikoff, 1994). The stressful nature of law school is evidenced by the high attrition rate for law which has hovered annually around 20% for some time. In 2009, the Brain and Mind Research Institute of the University of Sydney (BMRI, 2009) empirically established that Australian law students suffer disproportionately high levels of psychological distress. According to the BMRI, the results for law students indicated a much higher level than expected of reported psychological distress and risk of depression on all measures used (2009, p. 37).

20 a university for the world real R Psychological Health of Law Students Some of the current work in Australia includes: The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation – Marie Jepson ANU – Kath Hall, Molly OBrien and Stephen Tang Newcastle – Colin James Macquarie University – Penelope Watson Wollongong University – Judith Marychurch UWA – Jill Howieson UNSW – Prue Vines et al. Wendy Laucombe – Melbourne University

21 a university for the world real R The Problems Begin in the First Year of Legal Education The literature suggests that psychological distress is experienced as a direct result of the way the law and legal culture are taught (Britton, 2009; Stuckey et al., 2007). In a study in 1986, Benjamin et al. found that symptoms of psychological distress rose significantly for students in their first year of law (compared to levels in the general population at that time), and persisted throughout the degree to post-graduation. Iijima (1998) also asserts that the problems begin during the first semester of law school. This has been affirmed in Australia by the work at ANU.

22 a university for the world real R Co-Curricula Approaches are Important to Promoting the Psychological Health of Law Students For example: Teaching students in first year to be resilient at law school is important. That is, teaching students to cope with what may be harmful about the way we teach law, and the content of law. For example, mindfulness and reflective practice skills are important. Co-curricular programs for counselling and equity are also significant – for example ALSA released in 2009 a Handbook on Depression in Australian Law Schools. Peer-mentoring schemes have had success in promoting student well-being.

23 a university for the world real R Curriculum is also Critical to Promoting the Psychological Health of Law Students A focussed notion of curriculum – what we teach, how we teach it, and how we assess it (cf for example Kifts expanded notion of curriculum). Hess notes that legal academics have not capitalised on the opportunities presented by the legal curriculum to address psychological distress. Consider the current core unit requirements for admission to practice. 11 areas of substantive knowledge – no skills. Compare with the recent ALTC LTAS Threshold Learning Outcomes for Law – skills focussed.

24 a university for the world real R An Imperative for Action The BMRI note that mental illness and psychological distress are often portrayed in the popular media as issues relating to individuals (2009). However, the psychological health of law students is in fact a problem for communities (2009). Action on this issue is the responsibility of the Australian legal academic community. In fact, we might consider it an ethical responsibility of legal educators to work to ameliorate the distress. We might also consider it to be an issue related to our duty of care to the students, or to the fact that we might be considered in a fiduciary relationship with them. Kath Hall (2009) notes that the legal academy must overcome its cognitive dissonance, as well its rationalisation tendencies, on this issue.

25 a university for the world real R Douglas PhD on Legal Education Involved an analysis of the narratives of law teachers as to the content and pedagogies employed in teaching courses on alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Through the discipline area of ADR non- adversarial practice can be promoted and skills can be developed that promote the psychological health of law students.

26 a university for the world real R ADR Research Fisher et al (2007) study establishes that ADR taught in first year can shift the orientation of law students to collaborative problem solving. Teachers of ADR promote non-adversarial practice through teaching students to value collaborative problem solving as a first step in dealing with disputes (Douglas 2011). Howieson (2011) shows positive mental health in students who participate in experiential learning in ADR.

27 a university for the world real R ADR in Legal Education Thus ADR can shape professional identity (Macfarlane 2008) and experiential learning can assist students mental well being (Howieson 2011). But there needs to be a recognition of the positive ways that ADR can contribute to students and teachers need to engage with curriculum to build upon these benefits to students.

28 a university for the world real R Curriculum Content, Delivery and Assessment Strategies Curriculum content strategy – a focus on ADR knowledge and skills, and the development of a positive professional identity from the first year. Curriculum delivery strategy – active learning, engaging delivery and blended approaches, a conversational framework. Assessment strategy – intentional assessment design.

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30 a university for the world real R Discussion, Feedback, Questions?

31 a university for the world real R Thank you!


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