The Trauma-Informed Law Classroom: Incorporating Principles of Trauma-Informed Practice into the Pandemic Age Law School Classroom
25 U.C. Davis Social Justice Law Review 17 (2020)
25 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2021 Last revised: 2 Oct 2023
In the years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, law schools have had a renewed focus on student well-being as a response to the American Bar Association's 2017 report, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change. The report sets out a stark picture of the high rates of untreated mental health and substance abuse challenges within the legal profession, to which law schools were called to respond. Given the rigors of traditional legal education and the profession's frequent over-emphasis on 'achievement at all costs, ' law schools have undertaken to some extent to reevaluate their curriculum, but mostly to institute student well-being initiatives meant to help law students establish healthy coping practices. While the measured success of these initiatives is a topic for another day, the CO VID-19 pandemic creates reason to reframe and renew these efforts.
The spread of the novel coronavirus is a collective trauma that has been, and continues to be, experienced globally. Trauma, simply defined, is an experience which pushes the boundaries of our subjective capacity to cope. As law professors in the midst of the pandemic, we no longer have to wonder whether our law students have been exposed to trauma, but rather how our students have been and will continue to be impacted by trauma. While the long-term societal implications of CO VID-19 cannot yet be quantified, it is fair to say that the societal impact of this trauma will be felt for years to come. So too, the impact will be felt in the law school "classroom, " no matter how we teach in the coming years - online, partially online or in person. Law professors are uniquely situated to identify challenges with, and support student well-being.
Over the last two decades, the therapeutic approach of trauma-informed practice has been adapted as an approach to legal practice, particularly in practice areas such as family law, immigration law and criminal law, and has also influenced clinical legal teaching. Principles of trauma-informed practice can and should be adapted for use in law school classrooms morewidely.
This article outlines how the pandemic can be understood through a trauma lens, and then outlines the basic principles of trauma-informed practice, and its impact on lawyering. The article then explores ways in which principles of trauma-informed practice can be adapted for the law school classroom as a response to the pandemic and beyond.
Keywords: COVID-19, law school, mental health, trauma-informed practice, classrooms
JEL Classification: K00, K10, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation