World Mental Health Day and Multicultural Awareness

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, instituted by the WHO to raise “awareness of mental health issues around the world” and mobilize “efforts in support of mental health.”  Many members of our profession, are challenged by depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.  In 2016, the ABA created the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being partly in response to the increased ubiquity and pressure of the digital age.

The ubiquity of email, text and other technological advances, all of which make the advent of the fax machine feel downright quaint, have only exacerbated our legal responsibilities. The pressure is constant. And in the midst of taking care of everyone else, we all too frequently ignore our own stressors and health in the process.  Over time, the subtle adverse effects go unnoticed and mask the existing crisis …..

The Task Force was conceptualized and initiated by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), the National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC), and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL). In August 2017, the Task Force released The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change (Wellness Study).  Many state bar associations – such as New York’s – highlighted the need for lawyer health. 

Law students, too, are subject to similar ubiquitous demands of the digital age while competing, learning, interning, seeking permanent employment, representing clients under supervision, and, for many, accruing debt. My law school, like many others, takes seriously the need to educate and support law students’ well-being and has been fortunate to receive funding from a loyal alum and board member for a Wellness Initiative. This week our Dean of Students and her office have planned a series of educational and supportive events.

Mental Health Week

Another project run by students partnered with alums helps with the economic stress of having to purchase professional clothing and suits. And our Center for Excellence in Law teaching sites provide links to self-help apps for students .

This focus on well being is not simply an administrative task. It is incumbent upon law teachers to discuss these subjects in doctrinal classes, seminars and experiential learning courses while mainstreaming ethics, professional identity and multicultural awareness into the curriculum.  Wellness intersects with several of my law school’s learning outcomes  for JD students. In particular, wellness and mindfulness are important tools in mitigating implicit bias and facilitating students ability to

Demonstrate an awareness and understanding of the knowledge, skills, and values necessary to be competent and effective lawyers in a multicultural world. (Albany Law JD Learning Outcome #6)

I experimented with linking the two in class this week. I started the class by reminding students that it was Mental Health Awareness week and the reading a poem by Mary Oliver to get them to slow down.  We also meditated for about 1 minute and 30 seconds by placing a raisin on our tongue and using that time to “Uni-task” by just focusing on the  smell, taste, feel and effects of saliva on the raisin.

We discussed vicarious trauma, implicit bias and how it affects Science.  For homework students had taken implicit association tests,   acquired some new cultural knowledge, read about transgender killings and viewed Hidden Injustice: Bias on the Bench.”  We then discussed how Implicit Bias might work against victims/survivors of domestic violence or privilege abusers which led into discussions of voir dire and Batson.  Students expressed surprise that judges cared about Implicit Bias and that NYS now requires a 1 credit CLE in Diversity and Inclusion. 

We ended class with discussing how to mitigate our own implicit biases.  This is where well-being and mindfulness come in:

  1. Reflection is a tool for mitigating bias. Emphasizing the importance of reflection as a life-long lawyer habit is something we teachers can embrace. Thus mindfulness is not only an important part of well-being, it is a tool to become a more competent lawyer.
  2. When we are tired and exhausted, we are more apt to rely on unconscious patterns, which swings the door wide open to implicit bias reactions and away from thoughtful and considered responses.

The students appeared to understand the connection and to acknowledge its potential. In the final moments of class, I led the students in a LION yoga pose. This was a real treat for me.  As the days get shorter and mid-semester stress hits, there is nothing better than seeing law students laugh at themselves (and me) as they loosen up their tight facial and jaw muscles.

How are you honoring Mental Health Awareness Week at your school or organization?  Do you see the link between mitigating bias and wellness/mindfulness?

The Importance of Training Cross-Cultural Practice Skills

The Best Practices book suggests that a law school curriculum should focus on knowlege, skills and values that are relevant to the practice of law.  I believe that cross-cultural knowledge, intercultural communication and self-awareness are very important to the effective practice of law and will become even more important as our world continues to shrink. The following is a little excerpt from an email Professor Joe Harbaugh sent me about my article Making and Breaking Habits:

I was amused by the “political correctness”/faculty agenda reactions of some of your students; in the field of business, the experiential and survey research on negotiation over the last decade is dominated by cross-cultural studies.  For many lawyers, these aren’t “soft” issues; they’re about as tough as they get!  Today’s lawyers must be conscious of and astute about the questions you address if they are to adequately represent their clients.  Indeed, many of them also may be required to “teach” their clients about the importance of being culturally conscious to successfully conclude a transaction or resolve a dispute.

I love getting support for teaching about these issues! Thanks Joe!

Cultural Knowledge, Intercultural Communication and Self Awareness

I have posted several blogs about ideas involving intercultural communication, cultural knowlege and self awareness.    At the risk of engaging in shameless self-promotion, I would like to announce that my article on these issues just came out as part of the Wash U. Symposium on “Emerging Directions in Clinical Legal Education” ( I know many call these ideas “cultural competence”, but if you read my article you will know why I eschew that terminology…) Continue reading

More on Cultural Knowledge, Self-awareness and Intercultural Communication

Over the last 18 years I have come to the beautiful, Spanish colonial town of  Guanajuato, Mexico to teach in the Guanajuato Summer Law Institute fairly regularly.  For the last three years, I have directed the program.  Each time I come, I make more Mexican friends and I learn more about the Mexican culture (both in the anthropological sense and in the “difference” sense).  Many people assume because I am a Latina and speak Spanish that I am familiar with the culture and can communicate effectively.  While I agree that is it a tremendous advantage to speak Spanish, it is certainly not all you need to be effective in communicating and understanding Mexican people in their cultural context.  And, as a Latina raised in the United States whose family roots go back to the Tome Spanish land grant in New Mexico, I certainly have had a great deal to learn about Mexican people and their culture!  In my last post on this issue, I talked about using insights from best practices to develop teaching objectives in cultural knowledge, self awareness and intercultural communication.  Today, my post will focus on cultural knowledge and self awareness using insights from living in Mexico. Continue reading

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