Fear and Loathing in the Law Schools

Barbara Glesner Fines

University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law


Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 23, 1991

In a world in which legal work is becoming increasingly diversified and specialized, lawyers have one common bond: law school. Despite curricular experimentation, the law school experience is stubbornly uniform for students at law schools across the country. Regardless of their year of study or the diversity of their class schedules or teachers' styles, law students will still face a process that has a similar effect upon them. Law school is stressful.

Students, perceiving the educational process to be the cause of this stress, often act instinctively to protect themselves through "fight or flight" reactions. Students fight education and educators in ways ranging from hostility and ridicule to passive aggression, and they see themselves as "beating the system" or "refusing to play the game." Students flee as well, dropping out entirely or continuing their enrollment while "playing dead in school.

Not only are many of these defense mechanisms counterproductive to one's education, but they can teach unintended lessons about oneself, the law, and lawyers. For example, after three years of battle with law school, "fighting" students often are left dispirited about learning and cynical about the law, the legal profession, and most especially law school. Likewise, among students who flee the school or who allow themselves to be swept along without taking risks or making much of an effort, few graduate with the necessary courage and self-knowledge to exercise independent professional judgment. Faculty members have a professional responsibility to address their students' fear and loathing. There is much that can and should be done to improve the psychological climate of law schools. We need to find the proper way of helping students test their mettle than allowing them to burn out.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 42

Keywords: Fear and loathing, Fight or flight, Law, Lawyers, Law school, Legal education, Law students, Law faculty, Faculty, Professional responsibility, Stress, Cognitive coping, Emotional, Curriculum, Humanizing legal education

JEL Classification: I20, I21, K10, K19

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Date posted: May 6, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Glesner Fines, Barbara, Fear and Loathing in the Law Schools (1991). Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 23, 1991. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1129863

Contact Information

Barbara Glesner Fines (Contact Author)
University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law ( email )
5100 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, MO 64110-2499
United States
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