The first year of law school can be an especially difficult transition for high-flyers starting out on a new life path.
Speaking about the disorientation or ‘liminality’, which characterises many students’ experience of first year law, Bond University’s Professor Rachael Field (pictured) said: “Getting across the threshold of the first year of law school is a super stressful time – a lot rides on it and students can feel immense pressure.
“Students are required to do more reading than they have ever done before, the workload is higher, and they are not only transitioning into tertiary education – they are specifically adjusting to law school, which brings its own challenges.”
According to the Professor Field, the types of personalities that law school attracts put law students at greatest risk of taking failure to heart. For this reason, she said it was crucial that their studies included an emphasis on wellbeing and self-care.
“Law students are generally perfectionists, fiercely competitive and have incredibly high expectations of themselves.
“This makes them more at risk, as they are already the sort of people who may be vulnerable to taking a fall if things do not go to plan.”
Bond University was one of the first institutions in Australia to tailor its first year law course to include wellbeing and self-care components. The university is home to The Wellness Network for Law.
Professor Field said that the program has been intentionally designed to help support students’ transition into university with their mental health and resilience front of mind.
“Students need to be armed with the ability to care for their own mental health, with strategies like eating well, spending time with friends and finding a mentor they can seek advice from,” Professor Field said.
She added that without engaging the wider legal profession in these types of conversations, lawyers of all seniority would suffer.
Research has shown that symptoms of psychological distress in solicitors begins early in their studies and carries throughout their professional lives.
“It should not be solely up to early career lawyers to recognise the importance of self-care – the profession needs a cultural change and leadership from managing partners, senior lawyers, counsel at the bar, judiciary and firms,” she said.
“The stigma surrounding mental health among the law profession needs to shift, and make way for conversation and practical strategies to help law students and practicing lawyers create a more balanced existence.
“The sustainability of our profession depends on it.”
Bond University will host the 2018 national Wellness for Law Forum that will also address strategies for improving the mental wellbeing of practitioners.
The forum will be held on 15 and 16 February, with participants committed to identifying ways in which law can be created, administered, practised and taught with an emphasis on resilience, support and wellbeing.