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New ‘Thriving in the Law’ course focuses on equipping young lawyers with tools to increase personal and professional fulfillment in the profession

May 14, 2020

A Harvard Business Review study recently declared law “the loneliest profession,” but a new course at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School is working to change that distinction. “Thriving in the Law,” designed and taught by Law School Associate Dean John F. Hollway explores the tools and strategies necessary to equip lawyers to handle the social and emotional aspects of lawyering.

“It’s no secret that lawyers (and law students) are experiencing significant challenges within the practice of law,” said Hollway, who is a Senior Fellow at the University’s Positive Psychology Center and Executive Director of the Law School’s Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice. “Studies have shown that attorneys who are engaged in their jobs, who feel a sense of agency and autonomy, and who view themselves as working towards self-designed goals not only feel better about their work, they achieve better professional and personal outcomes and remain content in the practice of law for longer. This course aims to address specific things lawyers can do to create a life of thriving and fulfillment.”

One of the primary aspects of the course was its focus on positive psychology – the scientific study of what makes a life of fulfillment and flourishing – to build a framework and shared vocabulary of a life well lived as it applies to lawyers and law students. The class also addressed the importance of engagement and organizational well-being and using character strengths to form creative solutions to workplace challenges. Other topics included optimizing one’s response to stress, realistic optimism, and resilience.

The class wrapped up with a conversation with Jami McKeon, Chair at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, who is recognized as a leader in the implementation of well-being and engagement in “Big Law.” Morgan Lewis was one of the first law firms in the U.S. to sign on to the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, and has created the roles of Chief Engagement Officer and Director of Well-Being to integrate these concepts throughout the firm. McKeon spoke about the firm’s approach to creating jobs that people want to do, promoting energetic employees, and eliminating burnout.

Hollway designed the class to be as interactive as possible given the current remote learning environment. Students were assigned relevant pre-readings for each module, which they then discussed via Zoom and followed up with nightly reflection papers considering what they had learned and how they might apply it in their own lives.

“In some sense, teaching a well-being course during ‘shelter in place’ was incredibly timely and in another, it was incredibly challenging,” said Hollway. “It can be hard to think about designing your life in the law when you don’t know if your summer associate position is going to exist or whether the bar exam will even be administered this year, and oh by the way your mother is experiencing flu-like symptoms and you live alone in a small apartment and can’t go anywhere. But the students were incredibly engaged, and we were able to use real-time, real-world examples of the unexpected stressors that life will always be throwing at us to illustrate why our mental approach to stress can help our physical health, for example, or how legal training and advocacy skills can actually help us be more objective and less pessimistic.”

The course ended up creating a support system and atmosphere in which class members could discuss not only challenges but also individual strategies they were each deploying in their daily lives.

“It was a great experience,” said Hollway.