THE Australian Law Students’ Association has defended large law sponsorship of university law societies, rejecting suggestions there is any link between sponsorship and the increase of depression in law schools.
The claims follow The New Lawyer reports that alarmingly high levels of depression in law students may be linked to career advice offered in university law societies, and that it may be impacted by the injection of large swathes of money those firms give the universities.
The link between law firm sponsorship and increasing depression in law schools was drawn as the head of the body representing law students said law students feel increased pressure to work in large law firms, on top of many additional pressures they face at university, and that sponsorship is heightening the pressure they may feel.
The New Lawyer reporters spoke to Verity Doyle, president of the Australian Law Student Association (ALSA) recently, and she agreed law students are facing great pressure to get a job.
“There is a widely held perception, I think, among many law students that you can’t succeed unless you get a job in a big commercial law firm,” she said.
Doyle made a connection between this pressure, and sponsorship from law firms: “There is a conflict of interest, I suppose, because law student societies want to promote what’s best for the members and that’s their primary function. But they also need funding to be able to offer a lot of the service that they give their members.
“So that can mean that the main career opportunities which are promoted through law student societies are those going through the clerkship process and going into top-tier firms,” she said.
But Doyle has asked The New Lawyer to make clear that she never made a link between depression in law schools and the sponsorship that university law societies receive from law firms.
She previously told The New Lawyer: “A lot of people are very depressed before they even get into their law firms.” As well as this pressure, elements impacting law student depression include pressure to get good academic results, said Doyle. She said law schools perpetuate these attitudes.
“Especially law schools that still have 24 hour take homes and other forms of assessments that force students to have unhealthy sleeping patterns and unhealthy lifestyles,” she said.
On the matter of remedying law student society sponsorship by large law, Doyle said the ALSA council has passed a motion to say that ALSA must offer free advertising to non-government organisations and other not-for-profit organisations to advertise their graduate programs.
But following our recent reports on this subject, ALSA has written to The New Lawyer demanding retractions that Doyle made any connection between law student depression and law student society sponsorship by large law firms.
Labelling the reports “superficial analysis”, ALSA said “to say that depression is caused by large law firms is simplistic and sensationalist”.
Despite reports in previous The New Lawyer articles that the pressure students felt is enforced by 24 take-home exams and other forms of assessment, as well as unhealthy sleeping patterns and unhealthy lifestyles, Doyle now says the articles suggested law firm sponsorship was the only cause of law school depression.
Yesterday, Doyle wrote to The New Lawyer to assert that ALSA “does not accept that there is any link between law firms sponsorship and depression in law schools”.
Despite previous comments made by Doyle that there is a link between the pressure students feel to work in large law firms and law firm sponsorship, ALSA now says: “This argument disenfranchises students, and denies their autonomy and intelligence in regards to making what is a personal decision regarding their career after university.”
Students obtain information about career options from a variety of sources, ALSA said. “To suggest that the Societies hold enough influence to cause depression in students trivialises the experience of those suffering from depression and obfuscates the core issues surrounding the problem,” ALSA said.
Defending large law sponsorship, ALSA said: “Law Student Societies provide vital mentoring, career advice and social networks to law students and would be unable to do this without the generous financial support of the law firms.”
Reneging on previous suggestions that there is a “conflict of interest” between the pressure students feel and large law sponsorship, Doyle said: “Law Student Societies have managed the tension between the interests of their members and sponsors successfully for many years … Just because we provide a glossy ad for a sponsor doesn’t mean we ignore the career opportunities outside top-tier firms.”
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