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September 24, 2012

Law student stress

by dan rodriguez

Helpful perspectives from working group at Northwestern Law:

In addition to providing a vibrant learning community, law schools need to address student stress and its sources.  The culture of any law school naturally engenders stress and anxiety, which can lead to poor self-care and less than ideal coping mechanisms.  At Northwestern University School of Law, we take a decidedly proactive approach to combating stress, anxiety, and depression, with a distinct focus on the tie-in to academics, the legal profession, and community building.  Together these efforts ensure that students are presented with coherent and practical strategies to combat stress and perform at their highest level.   We’d like to highlight three unique aspects of our work to create a culture of wellness and student fulfillment.  Our weeklong Orientation, including the unique Professional, ORganization, Team Advancement, and Leadership (PORTAL) series and a Day of Service capstone, is designed to highlight the balance that can be found in the study of law.  These programs seek to allow students to forge interpersonal relationships, to collaborate, and to build a community before the stress of classes and competition can set in.  In addition, our Orientation programming helps students appreciate that the start their legal education is not only the beginning of their intellectual experience but also the start of their life in the legal profession.  Upper division student involvement ensures the continuation of our strong and supportive culture of learning and achievement.  You can see the full orientation schedule at

Northwestern also offers unique co-curricular programming designed to help lessen the anxiety that tends to build throughout the first semester of law school.  Director of APEx Susie Spies Roth brings together Academic and Professional Excellence in her programming (for example, proactively raises academic and self-care issues to all 1Ls in the fall).  Susie’s methods uniquely strive to streamline students’ mastery of the process-oriented aspects of law school learning in order to allow the students to focus on the substance of their courses.  This programming, in conjunction with one-on-one counseling, provides students with multiple fora to safely express academic and related concerns.

Staff Therapist Dr. Rob Durr specializes in traditional clinical issues (e.g., alcohol, stress, depression, anxiety) and in wellness and performance enhancement programs.  Rob’s contributions include “peak performance” and mindfulness workshops, biofeedback (a stress management technique) training, and a “Noon-time Mindfulness Drop In” open to the entire NU Law community. Rob and Susie are working together on a stress management workshop that integrates the academic perspective of APEx with the expertise of positive psychology.

Students often marvel about how the Northwestern Law community dispels the “all law students are gunners” myth. The student culture at Northwestern is welcoming and friendly. While it’s naïve not to expect a healthy amount of competition among students, it is impossible not to notice, on a daily basis, how much Northwestern law students care for one another.  We all hear countless stories of classmates offering notes to one another and going the extra mile to cheer up friends who need support – usually in the form of food. Almost every NU Law student has been on the receiving end of such gestures multiple times. This culture is not simply a happy accident – it is the result of thoughtful planning, hard work, and successful implementation of student-focused programming by Northwestern administrators and student leaders.

Dr. Rob Durr, Staff Therapist

Hannah Koesterer, JD 14 and Chair, SBA Health Committee

Susie Spies Roth, Director of APEx

Cliff Zimmerman, Associate Dean for Student Services

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