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For attorney Caprice Itagaki, law school was a constant mental fight: not just to learn the law, but to maintain enough confidence to make it through. “Law school seeks to knock you down,” she said. “The people who survive are the ones who learn how to deal with constantly feeling bad about themselves.” Itagaki, who now clerks for a judge in Honolulu, graduated from Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law in 2005. “The reading until no end, the competition and the pressure to do well first year contributed to my depression,” she said. “I felt dumb, and I kept asking myself, ‘Why am I in law school?’ “ Itagaki’s experience mirrors that of many law students, and it is forcing more legal educators to search for answers to the question of how to help produce happier lawyers. Lawrence Krieger, clinical professor at Florida State University College of Law, co-authored a study with psychologist Kennon M. Sheldon that found schools that allowed their students more autonomy produced happier, more motivated and more effective lawyers. The study will be published in June’s issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Krieger’s work explains results from a 1985 study published in the Journal on Legal Education, which showed that law students going through their first year of school develop a high level of distress that remains throughout school and into their careers. Feelings of anxiety and depression among lawyers can be up to 15 times higher than those of the general population, the study concluded. The clinical movement One way to increase law student autonomy is by encouraging students to take clinical courses, which give them practical experience and can help them build confidence in their lawyering skills. Many law schools are already beginning to emphasize clinical training because of a widespread recognition that students are learning the law but know little about how to practice law when they graduate. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching just completed a two-year study of legal education revealing that more law schools are incorporating clinics in the first-year curriculum. Yale Law School, for one, has reduced the number of required doctrinal courses and offers an elective introductory clinical course for the second semester. And Southwestern University School of Law allows an intense two-semester, integrated lawyering course to expand students’ legal writing and research experience. Itagaki said that taking a clinical course during her third year at Ohio State helped her to reduce stress and gave her a boost in her self-esteem. “The classes are smaller and more one on one. It’s not a class of 100-plus students with a grade determined just on one test,” she said. “I struggled my first year, and it wasn’t until my third year that I excelled.” Judith Welch Wegner, Burton Craige professor of law at the University of North Carolina School of Law and co-author of the Carnegie Foundation’s study, noted that in addition to building confidence, clinics provide instant feedback on law students’ work. Wegner claims that increasing the amount of student feedback on their work throughout the semester, rather than merely giving them a single grade at the end of a course, could help prevent students from feeling so depressed about grades. “Grades really shake them a lot,” Wegner said. “The way law school hands out rewards, if you don’t achieve in the first or second semester, then even though you may do better over time, because of the competitive standing, you feel you never make progress.” ‘Humanizing law school’ Recognizing these problems has led some educators, like Krieger, to see the need to “humanize law school,” with the understanding that feeling good is part of being a good lawyer. To keep students focusing on the goals they had when they entered law school, Vanderbilt University Law School just began a pilot course called “supportive practices,” where an instructor introduces students to meditation and other forms of stress management. Rebecca Stubs, a first-year Vanderbilt law student who participated in the course last semester, said, “When I started law school, I really feared it would change my personality.” Stubs, found, however, that the meditation course helped keep her grounded and made her feel more in control of her career. “I think the class really helped me a lot because while I feel law school has in a way taken over my life, I don’t feel that I have changed.”

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