Presentation - QUT ePrints

Report
Promoting Law Student Well-being
Through a First Year Law Subject
Rachael Field: Senior Lecturer and ALTC
Fellow 2010 (QUT)
James Duffy: Lecturer (QUT)
Introduction – An uncomfortable Pop-Quiz
• Do you think law student psychological distress is a
serious issue?
• Do you believe that the current curriculum and teaching
practices in your own law school are contributing to the
decline in law student psychological well-being?
• Does this make you uncomfortable / ill / sick in the
stomach?
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The increasing sophistication of law student
well-being literature in Australia
• We are discovering what the Americans knew
20-30 years ago.
• Australian literature has progressed from
anecdotal reporting of the problem towards
cross-sectional and longitudinal empirical
studies.
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Cross sectional empirical studies
• First, the incidence of psychological distress in law students is
uncomfortably high.
• Second, we cannot identify with precision the exact factors that are
causing this psychological distress.
• Third, cross sectional studies (by themselves) cannot tell us whether
it is law school that is creating these levels of psychological distress,
or whether prospective law students already possess these
attributes.
• Fourth, if law school is somehow causing or contributing to this
psychological distress, cross sectional studies (by themselves)
cannot tell us when in the law degree psychological distress is most
likely to occur.
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Longitudinal empirical studies
• There are no significant psychological differences between law
students and the general population before they begin law school.
• Symptoms of psychological distress appear soon after law school
begins with negative affect and depression being more prevalent at
the end of first year, compared to the beginning of the year.
• Worryingly, the more advanced US empirical research suggests that
symptomology of psychological distress in law students does not
significantly decrease throughout the law degree or into the first few
years of legal practice.
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We cannot hide from this!
• We must be open to the idea that as law
academics, we may or may not be individually
contributing to the problem. Regardless of that,
we must be prepared to acknowledge that we
are collective members of a greater law school
community that is most certainly contributing to
the problem.
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LWB150 at QUT
• LWB150 Lawyering and Dispute Resolution
represents an explicit attempt to use the
curriculum to promote law student psychological
well-being.
• The subject was co-written by Rachael Field and
James Duffy and was run for the first time in
semester 2 2011.
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Field’s ALTC Fellowship
Aims to
– stimulate advancement in the legal curriculum, its
pedagogy, and assessment practice to better
engage, motivate and support student learning of
law, focussing on the potential of non-adversarial
legal practice,
– Might even hope to suggest a possible new
conceptual framework for legal education?
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ALTC Fellowship
• The Fellowship’s program of activities include
approaches that try to:
• 1. Raise awareness in the legal academy of the
importance of law student psychological health.
• 2. Persuade the legal academy to accept the need for
strategic change in legal education, and the efficacy of
the proposed approaches for achieving that change.
• 3. Model good curriculum and assessment practice that
engages, motivates and supports students.
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LWB150 – Lawyering and Dispute
Resolution
• Positive professional identity
• Alternative dispute resolution
• Theories (and practice) of non-adversarial
justice
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LWB150 – Lawyering and Dispute
Resolution
• The content of the subject is delivered over 13 weeks. It is broken
down into the following weekly components:
•
• Week 1:
Introduction to the Subject, The Diversity of Legal
Practice, A Positive Professional Identity for Lawyers
• Week 2:
What Lawyers Need to Know and What Lawyers Need
to be Able to Do
• Week 3:
Lawyers as Reflective Practitioners
• Week 4
Lawyers as Managers and Resolvers of Disputes
• Week 5:
Lawyers as Advocates (Adversarial and NonAdversarial)
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LWB150 – Lawyering and Dispute
Resolution
•
•
•
•
•
Week 6:
Week 7:
Week 8:
Week 9:
Week 10:
• Week 11:
• Week 12:
• Week 13:
Skills Practical Workshop - Communication Skills
Lawyers as Critical Thinkers
The Psychology of Legal Practice
Resilience for Law Students and the Legal Profession
Introduction to Positive Lawyering – Part 1: Alternative
Dispute Resolution
Introduction to Positive Lawyering – Part 2: Innovative
Legal Practices
Skills Practical Workshop – Dispute Resolution Roleplays
Exam preparation.
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How can a subject actually promote the
psychological well-being of law students?
• Do less of what we think might be causing law
student psychological distress.
• Do more of what we think might promote law
student well-being.
• In LWB150, we draw upon the positive
psychology scholarship of ‘hope’ to engage,
motivate and support our students.
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A Framework of Hope
• Law students need hope because research on
hope has shown that it ‘predicts academic
performance and psychological well-being
among undergraduate students.’ (Martin and
Rand, 2010)
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• Hope can be understood in terms of three key
elements:
– Goals
– Pathways thinking
– Agentic thinking
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• If the goal for our law school graduates is to have them become,
happy, healthy and competent professionals (in law or otherwise)
then
• Helping our students develop an emergent sense of professional
identity and focussing on non-adversarial lawyering practices are
important generators of pathways thinking and agentic thinking.
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Conclusion
• Law student psychological distress – if we are
causing it, we must make efforts to fix it
• We can dodge the issue, or downplay it, but that
would make us wimps...a significant of students
are suffering.
• Addressing the issue through curriculum is one
meaningful way in which legal academics can
contribute to the solution.
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Psychological Health of Law Students
• Academics have long known and acknowledged that law school is a
psychologically distressing place for students – particularly in the US
(Watson, 1968; Beck & Burns, 1979, Benjamin et al, 1986, Daikoff,
1994).
• The stressful nature of law school is evidenced by the high attrition
rate for law which has hovered annually around 20% for some time.
•
• In 2009, the Brain and Mind Research Institute of the University of
Sydney (BMRI, 2009) empirically established that Australian law
students suffer disproportionately high levels of psychological
distress.
•
• According to the BMRI, the results for law students indicated ‘a much
higher level than expected of reported psychological distress and risk
of depression on all measures used’ (2009, p. 37).
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Psychological Health of Law Students
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Some of the current work in Australia includes:
The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation – Marie Jepson
ANU – Kath Hall, Molly O’Brien and Stephen Tang
Newcastle – Colin James
Macquarie University – Penelope Watson
Wollongong University – Judith Marychurch
UWA – Jill Howieson
UNSW – Prue Vines et al.
Wendy Laucombe – Melbourne University
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The Problems Begin in the First Year of
Legal Education
• The literature suggests that psychological distress is experienced as
a direct result of the way the law and legal culture are taught
(Britton, 2009; Stuckey et al., 2007).
• In a study in 1986, Benjamin et al. found that symptoms of
psychological distress rose significantly for students in their first year
of law (compared to levels in the general population at that time),
and persisted throughout the degree to post-graduation.
•
• Iijima (1998) also asserts that the problems ‘begin during the first
semester of law school’.
• This has been affirmed in Australia by the work at ANU.
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Co-Curricula Approaches are
Important to Promoting the Psychological
Health of Law Students
• For example:
• Teaching students in first year to be resilient at law school is
important. That is, teaching students to cope with “what may be
harmful” about the way we teach law, and the content of law. For
example, mindfulness and reflective practice skills are important.
• Co-curricular programs for counselling and equity are also significant
– for example ALSA released in 2009 a Handbook on Depression in
Australian Law Schools.
• Peer-mentoring schemes have had success in promoting student
well-being.
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Curriculum is also
Critical to Promoting the Psychological Health
of Law Students
• A focussed notion of curriculum – what we teach, how we teach it,
and how we assess it (cf for example Kift’s expanded notion of
curriculum).
• Hess notes that legal academics have not capitalised on the
opportunities presented by the legal curriculum to address
psychological distress.
• Consider the current core unit requirements for admission to
practice. 11 areas of substantive knowledge – no skills.
• Compare with the recent ALTC LTAS Threshold Learning Outcomes
for Law – skills focussed.
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An Imperative for Action
•
The BMRI note that ‘mental illness and psychological distress are often
portrayed in the popular media as issues relating to individuals’ (2009).
•
However, the psychological health of law students is in fact ‘a problem for
communities’ (2009).
•
Action on this issue is the responsibility of the Australian legal academic
community.
•
In fact, we might consider it an ethical responsibility of legal educators to
work to ameliorate the distress.
•
We might also consider it to be an issue related to our duty of care to the
students, or to the fact that we might be considered in a fiduciary
relationship with them.
•
Kath Hall (2009) notes that the legal academy must overcome its cognitive
dissonance, as well its rationalisation tendencies, on this issue.
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Douglas’ PhD on Legal Education
• Involved an analysis of the narratives of law
teachers as to the content and pedagogies
employed in teaching courses on alternative
dispute resolution (ADR).
• Through the discipline area of ADR nonadversarial practice can be promoted and skills
can be developed that promote the
psychological health of law students.
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ADR Research
• Fisher et al (2007) study establishes that ADR
taught in first year can shift the orientation of law
students to collaborative problem solving.
• Teachers of ADR promote non-adversarial
practice through teaching students to value
collaborative problem solving as a first step in
dealing with disputes (Douglas 2011). Howieson
(2011) shows positive mental health in students
who participate in experiential learning in ADR.
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ADR in Legal Education
• Thus ADR can shape professional identity
(Macfarlane 2008) and experiential learning can
assist students mental well being (Howieson
2011).
• But there needs to be a recognition of the
positive ways that ADR can contribute to
students and teachers need to engage with
curriculum to build upon these benefits to
students.
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Curriculum Content, Delivery and
Assessment Strategies
• Curriculum content strategy – a focus on ADR
knowledge and skills, and the development of a
positive professional identity from the first year.
• Curriculum delivery strategy – active learning,
engaging delivery and blended approaches, a
conversational framework.
• Assessment strategy – intentional assessment
design.
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Discussion, Feedback, Questions?
• [email protected]
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Thank you!
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