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Wellness at Penn Law

January 23, 2020

How the Law School continues to embrace mental health and wellness

Recognizing how important mental and physical wellbeing of lawyers is to providing clients of legal professionals with the best services possible, Penn Law has continued to engage in conversations surrounding wellness issues, while expanding the school’s wellness offerings, even making wellness a part of its core curriculum.

On Monday, January 27th, the Offices of Career Planning and Professionalism and Student Affairs present an event dedicated to wellness in the workplace, part of Penn Law’s ongoing efforts to promote wellbeing. This event will welcome wellness officers from many law firms who will engage in a discussion about the systemic changes needed in the workplace to support lawyers.

A sobering reality

In the Fall 2019 issue of the Penn Law Journal, Director of Development Communications at Penn Law, Larry Teitelbaum, chose to highlight wellness with the headline article “Sobering Reality”. The article details the experience of one Penn Law alum, who struggled with substance abuse during her time at Law School. This article builds on a growing emphasis in the legal community on issues such as mental health and alcohol and drug abuse.

While many students and legal professionals have been suffering in silence for years, a dialogue that seeks to dispel the stigma around mental health and substance abuse has been happening since the American Bar Association (ABA), in conjunction with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, released its 2016 report on mental health in the legal profession. This report catalyzed the legal community, which has been working hard to address the report’s shocking findings.

Of the 15,000 respondents to the ABA survey, one third had symptoms of problem drinking, while a quarter suffered from anxiety, depression, and stress. These rates are much higher than the average population and a further report, with over 3,000 students from 15 law schools responding to a similar survey, show equally high rates of substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and stress.

Loneliness and the law

Subsequent to the ABA’s survey and report release, the Harvard Business Review published its study on loneliness in the professional world, with law topping the list as the loneliest profession in its survey.

Teitelbaum, in his article on mental health, spoke to Dr. Larry Richard L’72, a lawyer turned psychologist who founded the consulting firm LawyerBrain LLC, about the mental health and wellbeing issues facing the legal profession.

What were Richard’s thoughts on why the legal profession is such a lonely one? “It is a combination of factors,” Richard said, “that in-bred skepticism, fault finding, problem seeking and motive – prized attributes of a skilled lawyer – do not necessarily equate to happiness, or connection.”

Amongst suggestions for improving the resilience of those in the legal profession: moratoriums on social media, training to prevent micromanagement in the workplace, stress positivity, and developing the strengths of young lawyers, rather than focusing on weaknesses.

How Penn Law promotes wellness

The ABA report was a wakeup call for the entire industry, and Penn Law embarked on setting up its own robust set of wellbeing initiatives. In addition to the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), which offers free and confidential counseling services to all Penn students, Penn Law has its own set of resources to promote wellbeing with a particular focus on the types of challenges faced by legal professionals.

Jennifer Leonard L’04, Penn Law’s Associate Dean for Professional Engagement and Director of the Center on Professionalism, and John Hollway C’92 MAPP ’18, Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, introduced a wellness module into the mandatory Professional Responsibility course. The course covers the whole mélange of challenges faced by students in law school, life, and as a legal professional.

In the Fall of 2019, the Penn Law Student Affairs Office sponsored Wellness Week. The week featured a panacea of wellness offerings, from cognitive behavioral therapy, to fitness to sleep and nutrition with the aim to give students a taste of many of the wellness techniques and resources available to them.

The culmination of Wellness Week was the opening of the Clinton Parker Wellness Suite, a space specifically designed to encourage students to take some time away from studying to relax and recharge.

These initiatives at Penn Law are just the beginning to the school’s approach to equipping its students with the knowledge and skills to integrate wellness and mental health into their personal and professional lives, and to providing the best possible service to their clients.

Mental health and wellness resources for students

For more information on wellness, or to access help students can use the following resources:

CAPS

Available to all Penn students, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers a range of services, including support through life, personal and situational changes, and helps students developing coping strategies. 

Visit the CAPS website for more info on how to access their services.

Penn Student Law Affairs

The Student Affairs Office deals with all matters regarding the student experience and is a great point of contact for any information or advice you may be seeking.

The general email for student affairs is: stuaffairs@law.upenn.edu and additional contact info can be found on their webpages.

Academic Support

For Penn Law students who may be worried about their academic success, or are experiencing external stressors that are impacting their studies, help can be found with Jessica Simon, Associate Director of the Legal Writing Program and Director of the Academic Support Program, by e-mail: jsimon@law.upenn.edu.

Or, alternately, visit the Academic Support webpages for more details.

Other student resources

For all student resources available to Penn Law students visit the online student resource center.