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Emphasis on Money Can Be Source of Depression in Law School

Posted Mar 13, 2008 8:47 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Stress during law school can cause anxiety and depression, especially if students focus on the need to make money and land a big-firm job, according to an article published online as part of an ABA group’s effort to tackle the problem.

Law schools need to acknowledge the problem of student depression and make counselors available to those who need them, according to the new initiative by the ABA Law Student Division.

Law schools don’t always see the elephant in the classroom—the depression and anxiety suffered by many students, the group’s chairman, Daniel Suvor, told the National Law Journal. “It's something that no one talks about," he said.

The division wants to designate March 27 as National Mental Health Day at law schools. As part of its online toolkit for schools, an article (PDF) advises students to focus on the right priorities—and money isn't one of them.

Two of the most common sources of stress—high debt and a heavy workload—are unavoidable, says the article by Florida State law professor Lawrence Krieger. But even more damaging are attitudes about the need to be in the top 10 percent of the class and land a job at a big firm upon graduation.

“Scientific research for the past 15 years has consistently shown that a primary focus on external rewards and results, including affluence, fame and power, is unfulfilling,” Krieger writes. “These values are seductive—they create a nice picture of life but they are actually correlated with relative unhappiness. Instead, people who have a more ‘intrinsic’ personal/interpersonal focus—on personal growth, close relationships, helping others or improving their community—turn out to be significantly happier and more satisfied with their lives.”

Krieger says research shows that only two motivations for choosing a job create satisfaction: to do enjoyable work, or to do work that supports the person’s fundamental values or makes a higher goal possible.

“If you primarily seek to do your best, improve yourself and your community, and be caring or respectful towards other people, you will be able to attain those goals and hence you create only manageable demands on your system,” he writes.

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