Monday, February 18th, 2019

Trainer advocates mindfulness for law students

Patrick Higgins

Posted on April 14, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

By Candice Issac, Free Press Staff

With so many competing interests and demands, law students are at a high risk for stress, anxiety and depression if they do not find balance early on in their law schools career. According to the American Bar Association (ABA) Substance Abuse in Law Schools Toolkit, if mental health and substance abuse issues are left unaddressed, the rates of law students grappling with substance abuse and mental health problems increase dramatically.

Additionally, a 2014 Survey of Law Student Well-Being, which is co-piloted by David Jaffe and Jerry Organ and funded by the ABA Enterprise Fund and the Dave Nee Foundation, showed that at the time of the survey that 20.4 percent of individuals  have thought seriously about suicide sometime in their life and roughly one-sixth of those with a depression diagnosis had received the diagnosis since starting law school.

Like in many other communities, the legal community is no different in that there can be a stigma associated with mental health issues. However, achieving a well- balanced life is not too far from reach if students are able to identify the risk factors and common root causes of mental health issues as well as the tools to combat those potential risks. One of the common root causes of law student mental health issues is living an unbalanced life. An unbalanced life often leads to burnout. So on March 29, in honor of ABA National Mental Health Day, the

University of Maine School of Law’s ABA Law Student Division hosted a panel on mindfulness meditation as one method for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression among law students. Panelists included nationally regarded mindfulness teacher, author, and trainer Scott L. Rogers, M.S., J.D., founder and director of the Institute for Mindfulness Studies and of the University of Miami School of Law Mindfulness in Law Program, Professor Deirdre Smith, Director of the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, Bill Nugent, Director of the Maine Assistance Program for Lawyers and Judges, as well as Associate Dean Sherry Niang from the Office of Student Services.

Rogers led the discussion by highlighting Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness which states that “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” Kabat-Zinn is internationally known for bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society.

Rogers advocates for the use of mindfulness meditation by law students because of its benefits of increasing focus and productivity, reducing stress and anxiety, and heightened body awareness. Rogers notes that mindfulness takes practice so beginners should not pass judgment on themselves.

Smith, who led a brief mindfulness exercise, echoed the same sentiments that practice makes perfect when it comes to mindfulness. Smith’s mindfulness exercise helped attendees focus on their breathing and staying present in the moment. Smith explained that mindfulness can be done anywhere and that students would benefit from regular practice. Nugent, from the Maine Assistance Program for Lawyers and Judges (MAP), shared his personal journey with mindfulness and the need for people to be patient with the process.

Nugent explained that MAP provides free and confidential assistance to students at the University of Maine School of Law for problems related to anything from mental and emotional health to work-life balance issues. To further assist with a mindfulness routine, Nugent announced that there will be a four session MAP- sponsored Course on Mindfulness which will begin on, April 21 available to law school community members (students, faculty, and staff).

The University of Maine School of Law recognizes the stressors that come with pursuing a legal career and continues to provide access to the mental health resources when necessary, said Associate Dean Niang. It is important for law students to develop a healthy, balanced lifestyle now as it will serve them well throughout their legal career.


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