The Potential of Regenerative Law
There is a better way to practice law and if we can bring health to lawyers, maybe we can start to bring health to our justice system.
By Tonya Price
There is no question that the legal industry needs reform. There are countless articles you can read about how lawyers suffer from disproportionate mental health and substance-abuse issues. The mental health challenges often start in law school. A 2016 survey of 3,300 law students found that 25% of law students are at risk for alcoholism, 17% of law students suffer from depression, 37% of law students report moderate to severe anxiety, and 6% of law students reported having suicidal thoughts in the last year. A survey of 13,000 practicing attorneys in the same year showed that things don’t get much better and sometimes get worse after law school; 28% of lawyers suffer from depression, 19% of lawyers have severe anxiety, and 11.4% of attorneys had suicidal thoughts in the last year. These surveys further showed an unwillingness among lawyers and law students to seek help. Both groups cited financial barriers, concerns about receiving or maintaining their license, and confidentiality concerns as reason why they didn’t seek help.
This study was received with much fanfare by the American Bar Association. Task forces were set up at the national and state level to try and address these issues. I graduated from law school in 2017, right after this information became mainstream. I had one professor address this study with us. He was concerned for our well-being as his students. And he was concerned for the broader implications of a profession that is supposed to uphold our nation's laws and advance justice being riddled with addiction and mental health issues. One professor can be a beacon of hope and a source of support, but one professor cannot undo the damage done by a mechanistic system that dehumanizes law students and reduces their value to their grade point average and class rank. The legal profession does not value the whole person, rather it is solely focused on the “professional” facade and how close to perfect the person’s work is. This is evident in the way that lawyers are critiqued by each other for the slightest error. No one is truly experiencing health through this approach and many lawyers are ready for a change.
The dysfunction in the legal system is a design issue. Lawyers do not have to be anxious, depressed, perfectionists. There is a better way to practice law and if we can bring health to the lawyers, maybe we can start to bring health to our justice system. I believe that nRhythm’s framework for bringing life to organizations can be applied to the legal profession.
My hope for myself and for other practicing attorneys and law students wondering whether they can or should be practicing law, is that the profession can change and that it can become life-giving. The legal system is a critical structure in a democratic society and now, more than ever, we need lawyers from all backgrounds and walks of life to inform how our society moves forward.
"The dysfunction in the legal system is a design issue. Lawyers do not have to be anxious, depressed, perfectionists. There is a better way to practice law and if we can bring health to the lawyers, maybe we can start to bring health to our justice system."
The profession in its current form is not serving life, it’s serving a control and command society that governs by oppression. If we want a truly free society that protects everyone’s interests, then the profession must become a less oppressive, perfectionistic, controlling place and instead one that centers its practices around the health of everyone who is there to serve justice.
The Potential of Regenerative Law: Let's Continue the Conversation
Regenerative law is about getting curious and asking questions. It's asking, how can I bring life and health to a project using my legal expertise? Am I practicing law in a way that gives me life? How do I practice law in a way that brings life and health for me, for my clients, and for the larger legal system?
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