Law students in direct services clinics represent clients in crisis and therefore experience stress and vicarious trauma similar to some practicing attorneys. Yet legal education and scholarship rarely recognize those harms or offer strategies to increase student resiliency in clinics and in the practice years that follow. Seeking to fill those critical gaps, this Article describes an innovative self-care curriculum in the Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic that encourages mindful self-reflection, teaches coping skills, and increases resilience.
Inspired by mindfulness-based stress reduction programs from medical education, the self-care curriculum alerts students to sources of stress in their attorney/client relationships and provides strategies to address those stressors. The curriculum is closely aligned with theories from the humanizing legal education movement. Each self-care session includes: the introduction of resiliency tools, mindful reflection on and sharing of personal successes, and the creation of supportive group norms.
Qualitative student feedback demonstrates that the self-care workshops significantly enhance wellbeing. Many students value the workshops as a space to mindfully analyze both positive and troubling clinic experiences, to reflect on the process of lawyering and to acquire coping mechanisms.
Over the course of four years teaching the self-care curriculum at Stanford’s Criminal Defense Clinic, I have made several key adjustments: (1) I have integrated self-care concepts into every day clinical coursework and practice. (2) I have kept mindfulness at the core of the workshops, while also encouraging a broad array of other tools that enhance resiliency. (3) I have begun exploring the incorporation of trained professionals, such as mental health experts, into certain self-care sessions. Participation in these groundbreaking self-care workshops will allow students to thrive in law school clinics. When they enter the legal profession, these students can join a growing vanguard of effective attorneys who care for their clients and care equally for themselves.
The First Thing We Do, Let’s Heal All the Law Students: Incorporating Self-Care into a Criminal Defense Clinic,
21 Berkeley J. Crim. L.