ADVANCING WELL-BEING IN LAW SCHOOLS AND THE LEGAL PROFESSION

Janet Stearns, ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs Advisory Committee Member and Dean of Students and Lecturer of Law at University of Miami School of Law, authored this post.

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar announced changes to the 2021-2022 edition of the Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools (“the Standards”) for all accredited Law Schools (199) in February 2022.  The Law School Committee of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), under the leadership of Janet Stearns (University of Miami School of Law) and David Jaffe (Washington College of Law, American University), dedicated three years to advocating for changes in the Standards to promote and support our agenda of well-being in the profession. In the midst of the global pandemic, the Council of the Section of Legal Education finally heard our pleas. The ABA House of Delegates considered this package of proposals presented in Resolution 300 at the 2022 ABA Midyear Meeting on February 14, and CoLAP Chair Tish Vincent was invited to provide remarks in favor of Resolution 300. In light of the overwhelming support in the House of Delegates, Chair Vincent waived her opportunity to speak to the Delegates, but her statement eloquently articulated our Commission’s passion for these changes.

Significantly, the ABA added a requirement of “professional identity” education in the curriculum and has defined this to include “well-being practices” (Interpretation 303-5). The Standards further added a new requirement of “information on well-being resources” for all law schools. New Interpretation 508-1 defines these resources as follows:

Law student well-being resources include information or services related to mental health, including substance use disorders. Other law student well-being resources may include information for students in need of critical services such as food pantries or emergency financial assistance. Such resources encompass counseling services provided in-house by the law school, through the university of which the law school is a part, or by a lawyer assistance program. Law schools should strive to mitigate barriers or stigma to accessing such services, whether within the law school or larger professional community. (emphasis added).

Note that the Standards expressly mention Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAP’s) for the first time ever, and thus envisions a world of closer partnership between law schools and LAPs. This is progress!  

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs is grateful to many supporters of this project. The ABA Law Student Division and the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward, as well as the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, were partners at critical junctures in this campaign. Many organizations also advocated for these changes, including the AALS Section on Balance and Clinical Legal Education Section, and many other deans, professors and lawyers who submitted comments to the Council.

The CoLAP Law School Committee has written to all law school deans and deans of students inviting further reflection this summer on the ways that we can partner to improve services and initiatives around law student well-being. CoLAP members should seize this opportunity to outreach with law schools in your jurisdictions. Carpe Diem!

For more information on the background of these rules, please see Dean Stearns article, Baseball and Balance: A Case Student in Advocating for Institutional Change (AALS Section on Balance Newsletter, December, 2021).  Dean Jaffe has written What ABA Student Well-Being Standards Mean for Law Firms (Law360, March 15, 2022).

CoLAP’s Law School Committee is eager to hear from CoLAP Café readers and hopes that we can continue to leverage changes in the Standard towards changes in law school culture and ultimately in the legal profession.

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