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Good News for Lawyer Well-being

written by Dave Shearon 17 August 2009

Dave Shearon, MAPP, applies positive psychology to both law and education. Dave writes articles about applications of Positive Psychology to law and education at his site. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.

Dave's articles are here.

Chris Peterson has written that the study of positive institutions is “the acknowledged weak link of positive psychology.” Law is certainly a key institution that could use some reshaping based on positive psychology research results. Recently, two policy-making organizations within our legal system have taken steps to improve attorney well-being.

Studying for law exam

Studying for law exam

Balance in Legal Education

First, the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) has just moved the Section on Balance in Legal Education from provisional to permanent status. This Section comes out of the Humanizing Legal Education movement that considers law student well-being an important concern of legal education. The law professors sponsoring the section think we can teach law students to “think like lawyers” without significantly blasting their well-being. These professors have enough clout to give us hope for some long-term changes. Since law students look like other graduates going in and then 30 – 50% become depressed in law school, this movement is a good thing!

Continuing Legal Education

Meanwhile, on my home front, the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education has just approved three changes in our regulations that are relevant to lawyer well-being. First, the Commission has adopted new definitions about what counts for Ethics & Professionalism Credit. Since 3 of the required 12 hours per year (about 2.5 days) in Tennessee must deal with Ethics and Professionalism topics, this makes a difference:

2. Dual credit will also be granted to programs or topics:

a) designed to sustain or increase the capacity of attorneys to strive for and to achieve the highest, aspirational levels of professionalism, including programs aimed at increasing attorney well-being, optimism, resilience, relationship skills, and energy and engagement in their practices,
b) designed to help lawyers re-connect with, strengthen, and apply their values, strengths of character, and sense of purpose toward achieving outstanding professionalism,
c) designed to protect lawyers or help them recover from the deleterious effects on professionalism of stress, substance abuse, and poor staff, financial, or time management, or
d) designed to support the development of organizational cultures within firms, law departments, and legal agencies that recognize, support, and encourage outstanding professionalism.

(Emphasis supplied.)

Supreme Court Stairs

Supreme Court Stairs

I think this language will allow CLE providers to design courses that really focus on both personal growth and organizational transformation in the institution of law. Note that this language incorporates many of the concepts and areas of research in positive psychology.

Further, the Commission also approved language allowing for CLE credit for some forms of coaching. Together, these two changes allow and encourage both formal instruction, whether site-based or distance learning, and personal, coached efforts by practicing attorneys to improve their commitment, energy, and engagement with their practices. Since lawyers run 2-4 times the normal depression rate, high anxiety, high rates of substance abuse, and a high level of suicides, we should do what we can to open up pathways toward more engagement and greater well-being for attorneys. These are steps in the right direction!

More information about the TCCLES actions, including the original proposals and comments both pro and con from lawyers and bar associations, is available here.



Studying for last law school exam courtesy of John Althouse Cohen
Stairs in the SCOTUS building courtesy of Seansie

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