A More Human Place: Using Core Counseling Skills to Transform Faculty-Student Relationships
54 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2017 Last revised: 30 Dec 2019
Date Written: May 1, 2019
The problem of law student and lawyer distress is longstanding, severe, and remarkably resilient in the face of efforts to address it.
In this article, I propose increased attention by law faculty to relationship building during law school as a way to begin to reverse the downward spiral that draws in so many of our students and holds them captive, sometimes until long after they graduate from law school. Research shows that supportive social connections are the single most important factor in protecting against stress, increasing resilience, and contributing to greater feelings of happiness. Moreover, if the goal of improving student wellbeing is not, in itself, sufficient motivation for addressing law student distress, there is the strong likelihood that taking steps to improve students’ wellbeing will also improve their academic performance. Numerous studies show that happier people are more successful and resilient than their distressed and unhappy counterparts.
To model effective relationship building in a professional context, law faculty can employ basic counseling skills in their daily interactions with students. These skills are not new to law schools: they are commonly taught in courses that focus on interviewing and counseling clients. By intentionally modeling these skills in their interactions with students, faculty include them in the “hidden curriculum,” those skills that are “caught not taught” as students observe and internalize how lawyers actually comport themselves and relate to others.
By employing these skills in their interactions with students, faculty have the opportunity to promote strong relationships and personal connection in a professional setting that can help protect students against distress. Training generations of students by example in the art and value of developing personal relationships in a professional setting has the potential to transform students’ experience in law school, the student approach to law practice, and, eventually, the very nature of the legal profession itself.
Keywords: law student, wellbeing, relationships, counseling skills, distress, wellness, faculty
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