Feeling Inadequate: Reframing the Mindsets of Legal Education to Promote Mental Health
Law students suffer from staggeringly high rates of anxiety and depression. Although several causes have long been surmised, scholars have recently focused on the role that mindset plays in shaping mental health outcomes. In particular, some suggest that certain features of the “law school experience” steer students towards a sense of inadequacy and even hopelessness.
This article identifies two trends that can lead students towards these harmful internal narratives. First, law faculties are saturated with accounts of how difficult legal education is and just how much raw talent it takes to succeed. Second, members of the learning community often fail to contextualize the difficulties that law students face. As a result, many students come to believe that their encounters with difficulty and complexity reveal a lack of innate ability. This undermines their wellness, motivation, and perseverance.
Bridging the gap between psychology and legal education, this article argues that members of our learning communities can proactively steer students towards healthier interpretations of their experience, drawing them away from feelings of inadequacy. Drawing on the concepts of “attributional retraining” and “story editing,” law teachers can shift students’ internal narratives about learning in ways that can improve wellness and foster resilience. More fundamentally, this paper invites mental-health interventions that recognize the relationship between law students’ high rates of distress and the workings of law faculties’ learning environments.