June 25, 2020

Wellness in Law schools – not just for students

Sara J. Berman, Director of Academic and Bar Success, AccessLex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence
Academic and Bar Success


Many working in legal education are on this summer, setting aside research, writing, and family time in order to train and plan for remote and hybrid classes in the fall, and adapting to a host of other changes. Hats off to everyone in the academy for stepping up in this way to ensure that the entering class of law students will have safe and high-quality learning.

“Empowering the next generation of lawyers,” the AccessLex mission of which I am so very proud, drives many legal educators. This is hard work in ordinary times. The oft repeated wisdom, “You cannot serve from an empty vessel” (Eleanor Brownn) seems particularly apropos this spring and summer when we are all on overload. It seems more important than ever for faculty, staff, and administrators to prioritize their own health and well-being –in order to continue serving the needs of current students, our future lawyers and leaders.

Academic and Bar Support (ASP) educators who typically serve in 12-month capacities, are on a particularly challenging form of overload this summer. Most summers, ASP professionals begin preparing for Orientation in August while wrapping up assisting bar takers in early August –with maybe a week off. Maybe. This summer ASP educators are working overtime; their intensive work will roll without pause into the fall as they help incoming 1Ls while assisting graduates who are preparing to take bar exams in July, September, and October, while re-tooling themselves to learn to do all of this and often teach classes online. And, for those who are unfamiliar with the work of ASP educators, it goes far beyond helping graduates to review bar tested subjects and test-taking strategies; ASP educators are called upon to help when students and graduates face the most minor and the most serious physical and mental health issues, financial concerns, and other personal and professional challenges; they gather and analyze data to report on academic and bar-related metrics; they study to become experts in learning science, motivation, diversity and inclusion, belonging; and much more. The work of most academic support educators is layered and nuanced; it supports and dovetails with the work of doctrinal faculty, and with the work of administrators and faculty in student affairs, financial aid, career services, legal writing, libraries, and other student-facing departments.

The ASP community has been working tirelessly not only to support students and graduates, but also to support each other. This Friday, June 26 at 1:00 EST, as part of an AALS-ASP Final Fridays Webinar Series, the AALS Section on Academic Support will hold a webinar, “Supporting Ourselves & Each Other,” featuring panelists Tracy Kepler (CNA Insurance), Danielle Kocal (Pace), and Courtney Lee (U. of Pacific McGeorge). Speakers will provide concrete suggestions on self-care techniques including mindfulness, mind-body-connections, grit, and resilience. Jamie Kleppetsch (DePaul) will moderate the discussion.

Legal educators need to replenish the wells, recharge the batteries, and fill the vessels such that content knowledge, lawyering skills, and perhaps most important love of learning will overflow for all of our future lawyers. They are our advocates, counselors, and problem solvers. We need them. We need those who teach them not just to be well but to be thriving. And, we can continue to help each other –with webinars, reading, podcasts, Zoom groups, and much more. Please email success@accesslex.org and let us know what you and your faculty are doing to support everyone who is helping to empower the next generation of lawyers.