Every law student has met a lawyer who cannot help but offers the advice, “Don’t go to law school.” The misery in the legal profession is seemingly ubiquitous. The mental health crisis facing modern lawyers has been reported so extensively, it barely needs repetition. Yet the causes have been woefully overlooked.
Why hasn’t Harvard taken responsibility for its contribution to this professional malaise? Last year, we pushed Harvard Law School to begin an annual mental health survey to measure the welfare of the student body. We began writing law school-specific survey questions based on our experience as students and worked with university health researchers and administrators to publicize the survey.
The results presented a grisly reality. Among 886 respondents, 25 percent reported suffering from depression. For context, according to the CDC, 7.7 percent of individuals aged 20 to 39 from the general population suffer from depression. 24.2 percent of Law School survey respondents reported suffering from anxiety, and 20.5 percent said they were at heightened risk of suicide. 66 percent of respondents said that they experienced new mental health challenges during law school. Nearly 61.8 percent said they had frequent or intense imposter syndrome experiences at school and in measuring social connectedness, 8.2 percent stated they had zero people they could open up to about their most private feelings without having to hold back.
But the problem is not confined to the Law School. In 2014, researchers Jerome Organ, David Jaffe, and Katherine Bender built on the work of Lawrence Krieger, Ken Sheldon and more, to revitalize the discussion of law student mental health. They surveyed students from 15 ABA-approved law schools and found high incidence of drug use, depression, anxiety, and suicide risk. Additionally, Law students at Yale and Georgetown surveyed their peers, and students at other schools have also demanded action. Evidence of pervasive suffering calls for decisive action now.