There’s a saying, usually attributed to journalist Michael Kinsley, that in politics, a gaffe is when you inadvertently say something you believe but didn’t mean to disclose—maybe that taxes need to be raised or Social Security benefits trimmed.
The legal profession has a drinking problem. Whether we like to admit it or not, students are often socialized into a drinking culture in law school, if not before. From where I sit as a law school dean, law students and members of the legal profession continue to struggle with mental health issues for which substance use can be a contributing factor.
I have been a practicing lawyer since 1988, and I’m acutely aware of the interesting and curious dance that attorneys have with how to be addressed professionally, particularly in academic settings. It never occurred to me, however, that lawyers would use the title "Dr." until a few years after graduating from law school, when I accepted an adjunct position at a local college while also practicing law.
In recent years, there has been a rise in law students heckling speakers. In 2018, I was shouted down at the CUNY Law School in New York. In 2022, Ilya Shapiro was shouted down at the law school formerly known as Hastings. And more recently, Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan of the Fifth Circuit was shouted down at Stanford Law School.
As a practicing attorney and a former actor, I have often asked myself the question Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. asked those in a crowded room at Harvard in 1886: "How can the laborious study of a dry and technical system, the greedy watch for clients and practice of shopkeepers’ arts, the mannerless conflicts over often sordid interests, make out a life?"
A generation ago, nearly half of the lawyers in the United States were members of the American Bar Association. Today, that number is probably closer to 20%, if not lower. This decline is often attributed to an unwillingness of young attorneys to join civic organizations. Or perhaps lawyers no longer see tangible benefits from membership. Or maybe the dues are too high. All of these explanations ignore the elephant in the room—and I mean elephant in the figurative and political sense. The American Bar Association consistently skews to the political left. And this progressive mandate alienates conservative lawyers.
Much has been written about the mental health crisis in the legal profession. Certainly, external factors like billable hours and client demands play a large role in creating anxiety and stress in the profession; but there are also internal factors created by “thinking like a lawyer” that deserve more focus.
I am a lawyer, First Amendment scholar and an endowed journalism and electronic media enterprise and leadership professor at a major research university. Given these multiple professional identities, my thoughts on a recent headline-grabbing incident at Stanford Law School cannot be summarized by a pithy tweet, which is the coin of the realm in the social media world.
I knew that arming teenagers with the ability to understand the difference between hearsay exemptions and exceptions would boomerang on me as a parent already locked in daily arguments about truth-telling. And yet, that’s what my husband and I did once our children were old enough to participate in high school mock trial competitions.