Civil Litigation, Regulatory

Law schools need to ensure health, wellness of future lawyers

By Staff

Although the legal profession is finally opening up about mental health and addiction issues and making positive strides, many law schools in this country continue to lag in this sector, Toronto-area civil litigator Darryl Singer writes in The Lawyer’s Daily.

Singer, principal of Singer Barristers Professional Corporation, says for students who arrive at law school already predisposed to mental health or substance abuse issues, this is often where the problems escalate beyond their control.

“As the audience for this publication is made up of lawyers, I need not explain, as I might to the outside world, the unique pressures of law school, especially upon those who possess the typical driven, hypercompetitive personalities that choose to enter the legal profession. Yet our law schools are for the most part more concerned with their students’ marks, where they rank, and the success of their student body in landing prestigious summer and articling jobs to focus on wellness,” writes Singer.

At the same time, he says, one Ontario law school does stand out when it comes to taking student health and wellness seriously.

A number of years ago, says Singer, Osgoode Hall Law School established a wellness centre with two full-time counsellors.

“The centre continues to thrive today and services Osgoode students from a permanent office with a visible presence on campus. Students can come to the wellness office at no cost and access everything from short-term counselling to mentoring. If more serious intervention is needed the student may be referred to the law society’s Member Assistance Program (MAP) for professional cost-free assistance,” he says.

Osgoode also has a support group called Osgoode Peer Support Centre (OPSC), run by students with assistance and funding from the law school.

“It allows students with concerns ranging from marks to job interviews, relationship issues, family crisis, physical illness, mental health and addiction, to speak confidentially with a peer who is specially trained to act as a sounding board and assist that student in getting any additional help,” writes Singer.

This year, he adds, the law school, along with the OPSC and the Osgoode Hall Alumni Association, will also offer an alumni-to-student wellness-mentoring program. Singer is leading the association’s implementation of the alumni-student wellness roster.

“This new roster of alumni mentors will work with the existing support systems already in place. This will allow students seeking help through the OPSC or the wellness centre to be matched with a specially trained alumni mentor. The roster of mentors will be representative of alumni who have different experiences in terms of wellness and all of whom have overcome those issues and now lead productive and successful lives,” says Singer.

“Together, the OSPC, the wellness office, the alumni-student wellness support roster and the visibility of MAP put Osgoode at the forefront in terms of what all law schools need to be doing to ensure the health and wellness of the next generations of lawyers,” he says.

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