In our latest edition of “The Best and the Brightest,” the children of Harvard law remind us that even cowgirls get the blues.
Every law student has met a lawyer who cannot help but offer the advice, “Don’t go to law school.” The misery in the legal profession is seemingly ubiquitous. The mental health crisis facing modern lawyers has been reported so extensively, it barely needs repetition. Yet the causes have been woefully overlooked.
Between the first sentence, which includes a quote that I’ve uttered regularly, and the second is a huge gap these future leaders of America have boldly leaped over. It’s almost as if they lack the capacity to grasp what they did, which might be chalked up to question-begging except for the fact that smart kids would never engage in such an obvious logical fallacy.
When lawyers tell kids “don’t go to law school,” there is a list of reasons. Law is no longer a respected profession. Law no longer assures a practitioner of a comfortable financial future. There aren’t nearly enough jobs in law as there are human fodder coming out of law school. Law can be extremely unfulfilling, as we’re confronted with outcomes that defy logic and our best efforts. We don’t get the satisfaction of seeing something at the end of the day, a building or a painting or a symphony, that reflects our efforts.
There are a great many reasons why lawyers tell students not to go to law school. And sometimes, it has to do with mental health, though that’s usually a reflection of the mental health of the lawyer responding. There is certainly misery in law, but there is misery in every profession, every occupation. We’re not special in that regard. Every job has its downsides.
You don’t want to have bad days? Hide in the basement.
But the Best and the Brightest don’t see that as an option. Instead, they raised their voices in entitlement.
Why hasn’t Harvard taken responsibility for its contribution to this professional malaise?
Putting aside the fact that these aren’t professionals, but merely students who aspire to some day be professionals, and that malaise is merely one of the many states of normal human experience rather than a problem demanding a solution, they make one good point. Why hasn’t Harvard flunked out these students who proclaim they lack the grit to be lawyers? Hell, why did Harvard let them in to begin with?
We therefore call on all law schools to survey their own student bodies every year and release the survey data. The court of public opinion should hold them accountable.
There is a coterie of voices crying about the depression and anxiety they claim permeates the student body. These are the voices of people who suffer depression and anxiety, and who want others to believe two things: first, that they’re normal and there is nothing problematic about law students, and thereafter lawyers, being the mother lode of mental illness.
Second, they want to believe that it’s not their fault, but the fault of law school. They went in healthy and happy, and law school turned them anxious and depressed. The proof is self-diagnosed narcissists responding to unscientific surveys about whether they feel sad and put-upon. Poor Best and Brightest.
Law school can be hard, and is supposed to challenge its students. This is a feature, not a bug. Sure, deeply empathetic prawfs try to distinguish between the needless humiliation of students for having failed to do their homework or being incapable of grasping the holding of a Supreme Court decision, all of which serves to diminish their self-esteem and make them ball up in the corner and cry. After all, it’s not as if their failure to demonstrate basic skills in a courtroom won’t end with their client crying.
Law school can be tough. Practicing law can be tough too. And if that strikes you as tough, then consider how tough it is to be an innocent defendant accused of a heinous crime and defended by a lawyer more obsessed with his mental health and well-being than the next 99 years of your life. Yeah, it sucks for everyone, but it sucks more for the guy going to prison.
And what do the Best and Brightest propose to do about this nasty scenario?
Because an annual barometer of student wellbeing is only useful if coupled with new policies, we also advocate for Harvard to take these next steps:
First, release a full and anonymized report of the data. A large-scale community mobilization was critical to discover the truth about the Law School’s mental health status and it was built on the promise to combat the crisis together.
Second, hire more full-time therapists who are diverse in both personal background and professional specialty.
Third, train students how to informally counsel and detect signs of distress in individuals who may be facing mental health challenges. These trainings can develop lawyering skills when applied to client service and facilitate earlier peer or self-intervention for students struggling with mental health.
Fourth, foster deeper connections between faculty and students. This could include more candid discussions about mental health struggles in the legal profession, or even the struggles of the faculty themselves.
Fifth, as a leading law school that produces one of the largest graduating classes, Harvard should pressure state bar associations to eliminate questions that do not assess a candidate’s competency to practice law.
Whew, that’s a lot to do, but when one is obsessed about oneself and one’s feelings, should there not be a long list of demands to ameliorate the sadness that no Harvard Law Student should ever feel?
Then again, there is a very different route, with far fewer conditions, that would not only fix the problem, but do so with far greater efficacy and serve the interests of the public as well. Anyone too mentally fragile to handle the rigors of law school should be handed a dime and sent packing. If you can’t take a punch in law school without losing your shit, then you have no business setting foot in a courtroom.
And for the apologists who will respond that not all lawyers go to court, then let’s create a lower-tier post for sad Harvard law grads who can sit in the library and write memos while obsessing about their sad feelz. You know what we can call them? Anything but lawyers.