Humanizing Legal Education

For many lawyers, the memory of law school is not a pleasant one. We endured it while we were there and we escaped. Others flourished in law school. What makes the difference? For the very reasons that we ran screaming away from law school, or enjoyed it, it is fertile ground for new ideas about humanizing the law. Many of the models of CuttingEdgeLaw are based in law schools. And, a new movement dedicated to humanizing law school is growing among law professors, deans and clinical instructors.

Daisy Floyd, Dean of Mercer Law School, found that law students seem to be going through a grief process. She and her students have noticed that all of the stages of grief, ending with resignation, are expressed in law school. Perhaps, says Steve Keeva, this is a result of loss of self and what is important to the individual. In the quest for “thinking like a lawyer,” students lose the ideals that called them to law school in the first place.

Research has documented the deleterious effects of law school on students’ well-being and on their values. A study completed by psychologist Ken Sheldon and Larry Krieger tracks and correlates changes well being, values, and motivation of among students from orientation through the third year of law school. The findings suggest that new law students are quite well adjusted and service oriented, but that their well-being drops dramatically and their values shift toward less adaptive, ‘extrinsic’ pursuits, during law school. A second, diverse law school was studied through the first year, and the results confirmed those of the initial study, suggesting that these results may be generalizable to other law schools. Further follow up research is also being conducted by Professor Krieger. For further information or to participate, contact Professor Krieger at Florida State University.

We started large-scale conversations around what might be wrong with legal education and what we might be able to do about it.

Larry Krieger
Larry Krieger, professor at Florida State University College of Law, is one of the founders of the Humanizing Legal Education movement.
The Association of American Law Schools Section on Balance in Legal Education was chartered in 2007 to ” to investigate, discover, and inspire those practices that support the well-being of law students, lawyers, and judges.”

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