Inoculating The Next Generation Of Lawyers: Mandating Substance Use And Mental Health Education For Law Students

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Janet E. Stearns (Miami), Inoculating the Next Generation of Lawyers: Mandating Substance Use and Mental Health Education for Law Students, 61 U. Louisville L. Rev. __ (2022):

This articles reviews some of the major approaches for mandating an educational requirement for substance use and mental health education (SUMH) for law students, reviews some of the commonly used textbooks for Professional Responsibility and how they approach SUMH, and finally makes recommendations on best practices for SUMH education.

This article reflects my passionate commitment that law students would benefit from some fundamental and dedicated education around substance use and mental health challenges. This would alleviate and normalize some of the well-documented experiences that students have in law school, and also better prepare them for law practice following graduation. Addressing these issues are core elements of professional identity and deserve focused attention during the law school experience. In a perfect world, this would include (1) pre-orientation/orientation foundation, possibly in the form of an online module; (2) incorporating these topics into all required PR classes; (3) ensuring that all professional identity touchpoints have information on essential resources around SUMH including the LAPs in each jurisdiction; (4) some end of study certification to the bar or MPRE testing to signal the core importance of these topics.

This issue of paramount importance, and thus I would recommend that a core educational program be mandated, whether through the law school accreditation process or through the bar admission process. To date, this is not the case in most places in our country.

Absent such a requirement, I recommend and am confident that we can develop best practices and teaching materials to facilitate SUMH education. My article is a part of the process of developing these best practices. In considering my goals for this endeavor, I would highlight: (1) lawyer professionalism including the ability to take care of oneself and address well-being as broadly defined; (2) lawyers facing SUMH issues may have significant limitations on their ability to practice law competently; (3) all lawyers should be prepared to intervene as bystanders with colleagues, clients, and family members who may be confronting SUMH challenges; and (4) that the legal academy has the obligation to confront these topics bravely.

While I continue to hope that law schools across the country will dedicate resources to these critical issues, I remain worried in the short term as the demands by our students for resources is rapidly overwhelming resources. I believe that in the short term, we should develop an online foundational course for all law students that would address essential information on substance use, mental health, and appropriate paths for seeking assistance.

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