Anxiety about legal anxiety

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 245 views 

According to the Stanford News, a law professor at that particular college is working on his doctorate in psychology and is putting his training to use by putting together a project to promote emotional health among law students.

Joseph Bankman is that Stanford law professor and it seems he is worried about students anxious over things like being called on in class and not knowing the answer. His concern, seemingly, is that students who are anxious might think they don’t belong in law school, might keep quiet and avoid participating in class discussions or might turn to alcohol to lessen the sting of going through law school and feeling bad about themselves.

To combat the negative aspects of attending law school, then, Bankman is working on a class in which they will study scenarios that might make them feel anxious and discuss them. They will also read texts about anxiety and depression and participate in discussions of how to deal with negative thoughts and behaviors.

While there is some merit to putting law students at ease, I can’t help but think that one of the key ingredients to a law school education is being thrown in uncomfortable situations and learning how to deal with them. The reason for that is simple – if you think law school professors are tough, just try dealing with hostile opposing attorneys, a judge who feels you are wasting his time with your case and novel legal arguments and angry clients.

I remember a property class during my first year in law school at the University of Arkansas. The professor delighted in throwing unprepared students out of his class, telling scholars that perhaps they should consider doing something other than practicing law for a living and generally berating young men and women who wound up getting assigned to his class.

As awful as that all sounds, there was a point to it – a student who couldn’t deal with the pressure of getting tossed out of a classroom probably won’t handle a lot of things well as an attorney. A number of students who couldn’t cope with law school anxiety wound up dropping out and doing something else for a living.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know.

Over the years I’ve had clients threaten to beat me up, a judge find me in contempt and demand that I pull out a checkbook and pay a fine in court (great fun when your client and opposing counsel are watching), lawyers who are both insulting and deceitful, etc.

But, that’s kind of what attorneys put up with on a daily basis. There are plenty of things about practicing law that cause anxiety, so students who can’t handle the pressure of law school will find it difficult to work as trial attorneys.

Law school officials, then, might want to think twice about implementing programs that reduce anxiety. It just might be that being thrown in situations that cause anxiety and learning to cope with them is part of what people are supposed to learn in law school.