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Janet Stearns

Janet Stearns

Getting it Done, and On Time

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law

Deadlines matter
Regardless of our practice area, job setting or employer, we are called upon to complete projects on deadlines set by clients, courts, and bosses. Our ability to manage competing projects and complete tasks on time is a fundamental professional skill.

In September, Nikki Beach, a renowned Miami Beach day spa, lost the right to remain on the property when their lawyers failed to submit a timely proposal to the city. According to the city attorney:

“…[Y]ou did not submit your proposal in Periscope by the deadline, as required by the RFP, and we cannot accept late submittals. Thank you and have a wonderful weekend.”[1]

Habeas petitions in death penalty cases have also found their way to the U.S. Supreme Court over the issue of missed filing deadlines.[2]

Law School & Deadlines
Deadlines produce anxiety and stress among our students. These situations present us with the opportunity to teach about the importance of deadlines, and the ways that we can respond and plan for them. For example, in the past week, our 1L Legal Communications and Writing Course had a memorandum due Monday night at 8 p.m. Meeting this benchmark demonstrated the ability of our students to work under pressure and complete a task on deadline. Some students completed the assignment well in advance over the weekend, others coming in just under the wire. Yet others were still reaching out after the deadline due to various technical and personal issues, asking for extensions and permission to submit late. Our student affairs team, working hand in hand with the Legal Communications and Writing faculty, needed to collaborate on our policies to determine whether to accept late submissions. We have also reflected hard on the lessons that we are teaching our students in these moments that they are confronting the challenges of meeting professional deadlines. At present, the grading deadlines are enforced, with significant penalties for late submissions.

We have the opportunity to teach about the importance of deadlines in other settings, too. Clinics and externships clearly give students some “real world” perspective on meeting deadlines. We also find that students engage with the University over various registration, financial payment, commencement application, and other administrative deadlines, and we do our best to send consistent messages about these activities. Extracurricular activities including Moot Court and Law Review involve submission deadlines, and we have historically construed these very strictly, along the way teaching lessons to our students about the value and necessity of completing tasks on time.

In some situations, we observe students who consistently face challenges in managing their time and meeting deadlines. We continue to explore options for additional training and coaching on executive functioning skills and time management for these students. In my opinion, barring an extraordinary medical or personal family situation, we should not be accommodating or extending these deadlines. We must not only continue to articulate the essential professional skill of learning to meet these deadlines, which students will confront in the “real world,” but we must also align our teaching and administrative practices with this reality.

Character & Fitness Considerations
The Florida Bar character and fitness questionnaire asks us to certify a number of issues, including the following:

Is the applicant thorough in fulfilling obligations?

Does the applicant meet deadlines?

For many years, our focus has been on conduct issues such as academic integrity and candor. Recently, however, we have found the need to disclose when students have chronic issues with fulfilling obligations and meeting deadlines. This semester, I have sent two letters to the Florida Bar relating to students in which, after multiple efforts at outreach from me and professors, we still saw a significant lack of responsiveness and attention to obligations in clinics, law review, and other law school obligations.

Following a brief survey,[3] we identified the following states that also asked character and fitness questions relating to these issues:

  • Maine Board of Bar Examiners Law School Certification (linked here) asks law schools to certify the following statement:
    • “I certify that I am not aware of and my review of the record has not revealed any incident in which the applicant failed to meet a material obligation.”
  • Mississippi Certificate of Dean of Law School (linked here) asks:
    • “Is the applicant timely and thorough in fulfilling obligations?”
  • Wyoming Bar Dean’s Certificate (linked here) asks:
    • “While engaging in law school activities including, without limitation, clinical courses and student bar association activities, did the applicant breach any professional or fiduciary obligation or any duty or trust?”

I would invite all members of our Professional Identity community to consider how and where we have the opportunity to message and teach the essential professional skills around deadlines and obligations. Please feel free to reach out to me at jstearns@law.miami.edu if you have any questions or comments.

[1] Aaron Liebowitz, City rejects Nikki Beach bid to remain in South Beach due to missed proposal deadline, Miami Herald, September 02, 2023.

[2] https://www.themarshallproject.org/2014/11/16/death-by-deadline-part-two.

[3] I am deeply grateful to Madeline Raine, Assistant Director of Student Life, for her survey of state character and fitness questions. She stands on the front lines of teaching students lessons about professional identity as they relate to the character and fitness process in Florida.

Janet Stearns, Jerome Organ

Well-Being and Professional Identity: Inextricably Linked

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law
Jerry Organ, Bakken Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law

Well-being and professional identity are inextricably linked. While this has been true through the ages, the new articulation of professional identity in Interpretation 303-5 embodies this linkage when it states:

Professional identity focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society. The development of professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.

In earlier posts for this Blog, Dean Stearns has spoken of infusing law school orientation with lessons about well-being, activities for the October 10 Mental Health Day, and two new important books that can be used to educate law students about mindfulness and stress reduction.

Much of our teaching and advocacy involves explaining these principles of “well-being practices” and integrating these into the law school curriculum and larger professional identity environment. The needs are great. The news is filled with too many stories of suicide. The students who are now entering our law schools have faced significant isolation and related depression and anxiety through these recent pandemic years.

The best snapshot of the state of our law students today is the national survey published in the University of Louisville Law Review Symposium under the title “It Is OK To Not Be OK”: The 2021 Survey of Law Student Well-Being (Summer, 2022). The authors of this study were David Jaffe (Washington College of Law, American University), Professor Kate Bender (Bridgewater University), and Jerry Organ (University of St. Thomas, MN), and the work includes an analysis of data from 39 law schools across the country. The 2021 Survey showed that the percentage of respondents who had a diagnosis of anxiety in their lifetime increased from 21% to 40% since the original Survey of Law Student Well-Being in 2014. Similarly, the percentage of respondents who had a diagnosis of depression in their lifetime increased from 18% to 33% since 2014. Roughly one-third of the 2021 respondents had considered suicide sometime in their life (up from 20% in 2014) with 11% having considered suicide in the previous 12 months (up from 6% in 2014). The 2021 Survey also found that five in six respondents had experienced trauma, with one in five dealing with challenges to their day-to-day thriving associated with their experience of trauma (based on responses to the PCL-5, a screening tool for PTSD).

The data continues to be evaluated but the high levels of reported depression, anxiety, suicidality, and trauma should give us all pause.

One of the most critical lessons that we can teach in law school is the ability to reach out and access needed resources. Professional identify includes our ability to address needed self-care while balancing duties to clients and the profession. Tragically, many law students believe that they cannot access these resources, and in fact some believe that their admission to the bar will be jeopardized if they access resources. We teach these life-saving lessons in the classroom and when we respond to students in crisis. Dean Stearns has received calls and emails from students who are en route to an emergency room to ask if their bar admission will be impacted if they are admitted for mental health treatment.

Janet Stearns, David Jaffe, and other national well-being advocates have been working for years to reform state character and fitness investigation processes to ensure that students understand their ability to access essential resources; their efforts have seen some success with a number of states amending their questions. The most recent article on the topic by Stearns and Jaffe is Fixing a Broken Character Evaluation Process, which was published online in the ABA’s Law Practice Today in May of 2023. The article evaluated the mental health and substance use questions in the various jurisdictions and assigned grades to the states (and NCBE) on the basis of our rubric. The more a state’s questions focused primarily on conduct than condition, the higher the grade it received – an A was the highest grade available; and the more a state’s questions focused on condition instead of conduct, the lower the grade it received – an F was the lowest grade available. We continue to advocate for questions that will focus on conduct rather than condition, with a goal of destigmatizing efforts for law students to seek appropriate help and support for these challenges.

This month, Jerry Organ added a new and significant dimension to this advocacy. He analyzed two questions in the 2021 survey, separated law school responses by state, and then correlated those to the grades that Stearns and Jaffe had assigned in the ABA article.[i] The two critical questions were:

C15: Percentage who strongly agree or agree to the following statements (by year in law school)

If I had an alcohol or drug use problem, my chances of getting admitted to the bar are better if I hide the problem rather than seek treatment.

D21:  Percentage who strongly agree or agree with each of the following statements (by year in law school)

If I had a mental health problem, my chances of getting admitted to the bar are better if I hide the problem rather than seeking treatment.

Jerry Organ’s analysis determined the following:

The overall averages for “better off keeping problems hidden” (reluctant to seek help) were 49.8% (substance use) and 39.9% (mental health).

Schools in A/B jurisdictions had average scores for “better off keeping problems hidden”(reluctant to seek help) of 47.5 (substance use) and 37.3 (mental health).

Schools in C jurisdictions (including Virginia) had average scores for “better off keeping problems hidden” (reluctant to seek help) of 51.8 (substance use) and 42.6 (mental health).

Schools in F jurisdictions (Georgia/Florida/Nevada) had average scores for “better off keeping problems hidden” (reluctant to seek help) of 55.9 and 47.1.

These data suggest that there is a correlation between the type of state character and fitness questions and the reluctance to seek help among law students. The states that focused their character and fitness questions more on conduct rather than on condition have lower percentages of students who believe they are better off keeping problems hidden for substance use and mental health. And the states that focused their character and fitness questions more on condition instead of conduct have higher percentages of students who believe they are better off keeping problems hidden for substance use and mental health. The more than 8-point spread between A/B and F states on substance use and the nearly 10-point spread between A/B and F states on mental health strongly suggests that a relationship exists between the nature of a state’s character and fitness questions and a law student’s reluctance to seek help.

Law schools and boards of law examiners have to continue to message the importance of help-seeking so that the percentages of respondents who believe they are better off keeping problems hidden begins to decline. On this front, efforts in Minnesota and North Dakota are noteworthy. Respondents from law schools in those two states were among the lowest in terms of the percentage who believed their chances of being admitted to the bar were better if they kept a substance use or mental health problem hidden. In both states, the law schools have worked closely with their board of law examiners to facilitate messaging in the first year of law school about the importance of seeking help. Those efforts seem to be bearing fruit.

For all of us who care deeply about professional identity education, we must continue to understand the inextricable link between our work and ensuring the well-being of the next generation of our profession.

The authors welcome comments and input. You may connect with them at jstearns@law.miami.edu or JMORGAN@stthomas.edu. If you live in a state that has not yet reformed the substance use and mental health questions on the bar, then please contact Janet Stearns or David Jaffe (djaffe@wcl.american.edu) for strategies and advocacy resources.

[i] The only exception to the grading system was that Virginia, which Stearns and Jaffe assigned a B-, was included in the “C” category.

Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.

Jerome Organ is the Bakken Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law


Janet Stearns

Important New Resource at the Crossroads of Professional Identity and Well-Being

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law

The updated ABA Standards on professional identity and well-being are going into effect with this new school year. Many of us are seeking accessible and affordable resources for our law students that will (1) address the fundamental challenges around well-being in the profession and (2) recommend practical strategies and resources. An essential element of this canon is Lawrence (Larry) Krieger’s updated booklet, Create Success Without Stress in the Law: New Science for Happiness, Health and Positive Professional Identity (2023).

Many of this Blog’s readers know of Larry Krieger and his longstanding work in the field of well-being, happiness, and balance in the legal profession. Larry co-directs the Externship Program and has been a clinical professor at Florida State University College of Law for more than thirty years. Together with Professor Kennon Sheldon, he authored the seminal article, What Makes Lawyers Happy: A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success. In 2007, he served as founding Chair of the AALS Section on Balance and Well-Being in Legal Education. He has been recognized by both the American Bar Association (2019) and the Association of American Law Schools (2016) with Outstanding Service awards for his efforts to bring greater health and well-being to law students and lawyers. Larry and I have been crossing paths and sharing passions over these past sixteen years, notwithstanding the healthy rivalry between our two institutions.

In 2005, Larry first self-published a booklet for law students, then called The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress. The next year, he published a companion booklet, Deeper Understanding of Your Career Choices. Over all these years, many law schools (including my own) purchase copies of the books for their law students.

The most recent edition of the booklet is about 40 pages and combines these themes of law school stress and evaluating satisfying career choices into one very readable and concise format. As evident in the title, Larry has also significantly sharpened the focus on “positive professional identity” in this latest edition, which makes it a very valuable addition to our toolbox. This recent book has greatly benefited from the collaboration, inspiration, and insights of Theresa Krieger. Theresa is a certified health coach, life coach, spiritual coach, and a fitness trainer recognized by the American College of Sports Medicine. She has worked holistically with law students and lawyers since 2016. The couple created and co-teach a course at the FSU College of Law on well-being, professional identity, and transformational leadership. Lessons from that class are infused throughout this latest edition.

The booklet has six major sections:

  1. Stress is a choice that you don’t have to make
  2. Put healthy limits on your legal thinking
  3. Fear of failure and the illusion of control
  4. Partying, depression, and distraction
  5. Finding the right job: surface value or satisfaction value
  6. Quick and powerful practices to start now (my favorite part, but which flows naturally from the previous sections)

Larry has an incredible understanding of law students and speaks directly to them with honesty and compassion. He covers data and literature on our profession, but also speaks to their worries, doubts, and common stress points. While I cannot promise that every single law student will read the book, those who do have always given it positive reviews and are filled with gratitude that this resource was offered to them.

When should we share this book with students? I suggest five main options:

  1. Orientation. The book could be shared and distributed with other materials during law school orientation to prepare students for the law school experience, frame common issues and concerns, and prepare them for the path ahead.
  2. Wellness Week/ Mental Health Day. Many law schools celebrate World Mental Health Day (October 10) with some wellness programming. Larry’s booklet is a wonderful centerpiece for the Wellness Week Initiative, a great handout for a wellness fair, or it can be integrated into other presentations.
  3. Professional Responsibility and Professional Identity Courses, as part of a focused class on lawyer happiness and well-being, or as a supplement to other textbooks.
  4. Student Affairs and Counseling Staff, who should have this available as a handout for the student in crisis. Our offices are filled with students with significant anxiety about the law school experience, whether to continue, how to balance competing demands on time and navigate law school’s inevitable stressors. Larry’s book is an amazing and concrete resource, and it has already served as a lifeline to a generation of students.
  5. Career Development Advisors, who can provide this booklet to students as they are evaluating summer or permanent job options, and trying to plan for their pathway into the profession.

At Miami Law, we typically invest each summer in a supply of Larry’s booklet that would cover our entire first-year class, and then purchase additional copies as needed for our student affairs and career development teams.

If you are interested in investing in Larry’s book for your law school, then please email him directly at lkrieger@law.fsu.edu. He self-publishes the book at the incredibly affordable price of $1.75 to $3 per booklet (based upon quantity) plus shipping.

Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.


Janet Stearns

When Does Professional Identity Formation Begin? Lessons in Candor in the Application to Law School

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law

Some law school educators may believe that professional identity formation of law students begins in law school. I argue that it begins earlier…. when an applicant first completes his or her law school application.

The Law School Application Process:

Applicants to law school must recognize the significance of candor in responding thoroughly and honestly to all questions on the application.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website addresses this in discussing Ethical Conduct In Applying to Law School.   On this website, LSAC explains:

Your submission of an application for admission to law school is your first step in the process of becoming a lawyer. Now is the time, as you take this first, important step, to dedicate yourself to a personal standard for your conduct that consists of the highest levels of honesty and ethical behavior.

Many law schools, including ours, will ask background questions trying to clarify past academic misconduct, criminal history, and any other issues that might impact on character and fitness. The responses to these questions might not keep an applicant out of law school, but some responses might impact on screening for character and fitness and ultimate bar admission. Dishonesty or lack of candor however is a significant issue with significant consequences.  Misrepresentation on the application to law school is also a sanctionable offense under our Honor Code.

Amending the Application:

In many jurisdictions, the character and fitness screening process will require students to submit the initial application to law school. In Florida, the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) speaks to our 1L students in the first month of school about the bar application process. The purpose of this presentation is to encourage early applications and character and fitness screening to the BBE. We quite commonly see a significant number of requests for amendments to law school applications following this presentation, as the BBE explains to students the expectations of candor and the full import of any failure to disclose.

Last year, we published and clarified our policies on Bar Amendments. We wanted to encourage all amendments within 30 days of the BBE presentation. This also helps our admissions office address any significant misrepresentations early in the student’s career.

Students have thirty (30) days from the date of the presentation to amend their law school application. Full candor is expected during this period so that all applications are fully, accurately, and completely updated, and all disclosures are current. All amendments are reviewed both by the Dean of Students and the Dean of Admissions.

The full policy is available on our website.

Inevitably, there are students who surface during their 2L and 3L years with additional amendments, but we have decided to address those with additional documentation and sanctions given the lack of both candor and timeliness in making the disclosures.  We are finding many opportunities to teach important lessons of professionalism and candor.

Consequences for Lack of Candor and Failure to Timely Amend:

A student who misrepresents on his or her application to law school may face serious consequences on the path to becoming a lawyer.

For example, In Re Anonymous Applicant for Admission to the S. Carolina Bar, 437 S. C. 1 (2022), Applicant, who uses he/him pronouns, seems to have applied to law school to start in Fall of 2019.  He responded “no” untruthfully to the following two questions:

Had you ever been charged, arrested, formally accused, or convicted of a crime other than a minor parking or traffic violation?

Have you ever been subjected to disciplinary action by any of the educational institutions [he previously attended]?

Following admission in 2019, he disclosed that he had been charged as a minor in possession of alcohol.  In December of 2020, he then amended his disclosure and more fully explained the charge.  In August of 2020, he disclosed a separate altercation with police from a separate incident. In December of that same year, he further amended his application to reveal a traffic ticket. Finally, shortly before being called to a hearing, he made separate disclosure as to a fraternity “prank” that resulted in a fraternity reprimand, which was seemingly never appropriately amended to his law school application.

The South Carolina Supreme Court, in reviewing this entire record together with some troubling LinkedIn social media issues, decided to delay his bar admission one full year. As the court wrote:

In light of the concerning increase in nondisclosures this Court has seen in recent years….today we take the unusual step of publishing our decision in this case while allowing Applicant to remain anonymous. Our goal in doing so is to warn potential law students, law schools, and bar applicants of the serious consequences of nondisclosure and to encourage law school applicants to completely and fully disclose all required information at the time their applications are first submitted.

As this case demonstrates, the consequences of errors and misrepresentations in the law school application, and the failure to timely correct, can significantly impact the future lawyer. I am deeply grateful to Dean Larry Cunningham of the Charleston School of Law for bringing this important case to my attention.

If you have further thoughts and questions, please let’s continue the conversation. You can reach me at jstearns@law.miami.edu. And take this post as an opportunity to connect with your colleagues in admissions so that they can join the conversation on professional identity formation.

Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.

Janet Stearns

The Case of the Mortified Toe: Some Reflections on Tom Sawyer, Rescheduling Exams, and Professional Identity

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law

Many life lessons are addressed by Mark Twain in The Adventures of Mark Twain.[1]

Chapter 6 begins with Tom waking up “miserable” on a Monday morning. “Monday mornings always found him so—because it began another week’s slow suffering in school….Presently it occurred to him that he wished he was sick; then he could stay home from school.”  Tom ”canvassed his system” in a search for possible ailments that might keep him home. He finally comes upon his toe and a loose tooth.  Tom starts groaning so much that his brother goes running for his Aunt Polly to report that Tom is “dying.”  When Aunt Polly enters Tom’s room, Tom reports “my sore toe’s mortified.”  After a good laugh, followed by Aunt Polly pulling the loose tooth, Tom is sent off to school for the day.

Fast forward to my teenage years, when I was attending summer camp in New Rochelle, New York.  The camp was focused on arts (which I enjoyed), but we went swimming several times a week (which I hated.)  The only way to get out of swimming was with a parent’s note.  Once I requested such a note from my dad.  My recollection (but the evidence is long gone) is that my dad handwrote out a note to the camp director which went something like this:

Please excuse Janet from swimming today. She has a mortified toe.

The note worked, and I didn’t have to go to swimming, and in retrospect, everyone likely had a good laugh at my expense.  The key point, though, is this: at that moment, swimming was not an essential part of that camp experience or my professional life.  In my childhood, I could relate to Tom Sawyer’s desire to avoid uncomfortable, difficult things.

I reveal this family secret for purposes of explaining some of the mindset, and insight, that I bring to my role as dean of students.  I want to discuss and highlight some of the challenges that we are all facing in response to a wide range of requests around examinations and other interim assessments.  We as law school administrators must bring a professional identity lens to evaluating these requests and consider the lessons that we are teaching with our responses.

Examination Policy

Our Law School Handbook, and our faculty, have delegated to me as dean of students the duty to exercise discretion in evaluating situations that arise during the examination period and deciding when, and how much, exams will be postponed.  Our Handbook references as possible reasons for rescheduling “personal illness requiring the care of a physician, pregnancy or childbirth, death or serious illness in the student’s immediate family or household, or because of religious prohibitions certified by an appropriate religious professional.”[2]  Between December 5 and 19, 2022 out of a student body of 1,300 students, we rescheduled about 170 exams that were delayed for a range of medical or family issues.  Note that these are distinct from testing accommodations granted to students under the ADA for recognized disabilities, and relate instead to injuries, accidents, illnesses, and other short-term situations not covered by the ADA.

Here is some sampling and paraphrasing of situations that I have received during this recent testing period, and some of my approaches.

Please excuse me from testing as I have COVID, mono, flu, pink-eye (and typically note from medical professional)

For a range of medical and particularly contagious diseases, we do not expect students to be on campus for in-class exams.  The protocols on these issues have become only clearer in the aftermath of the pandemic.  If exams are take-home exams, and the student is sufficiently healthy, we will permit remote testing.  We will typically postpone in-class exams until the student is cleared by a medical professional.

Please excuse me from testing as I am in emergency room (for kidney stones, appendicitis, surgery, broken bones).

Students who find themselves in the hospital or emergency room do not need to test until released and healthy enough to do so.  This would cover both in-class and remote exams.  In some cases, depending on the severity of the hospitalization, a student may not be able to test at all during the testing period and then need to make up a course in a subsequent semester.

Please excuse me from testing as my parent/spouse/partner/grandparent or pet has died or is imminently about to die.

I typically work with students in these situations to try to evaluate the best path forward for testing and completing the semester.  This will depend on the ability of the student to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand, proximity of family to support, and customs around celebrating the life of the deceased love one.  Some will want a few days immediately for bereavement and others will wish to complete testing and then be free to travel.

We are receiving an increasing number of requests relating to pet illnesses. As we know, we have many students with significant emotion around beloved furry family members.  We have tried to show some compassion to students around the death of a pet while recognizing that this is an expansion of the definition of “immediate family or household.” This is also an issue where legal employers may vary as to how much “bereavement” time would be granted for pets as opposed to family members.

Please excuse me from testing as I am going through medication changes that are impacting my sleep or ability to focus on the exam; or I am unable to access my prescribed medications due to market unavailability.

We are aware that we have a significant number of our law students who are prescribed medications for a range of emotional and learning issues including depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorders, and, thus, they take (for example) antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.[3]  In general, these medications require some period of weeks if not longer to adjust to changes in dosage.  In the Fall of 2022, there were significant disruptions in the supply chain for Adderall, a commonly used stimulant to treat ADHD.[4]  It was therefore not surprising that students were coming forward and asking for exam accommodations.

The issues of adding medications, changing medications, or withdrawing from medications are real.  That said, these are issues that are not easily addressed with a short-term exam accommodation, any more than they could be addressed in a workplace with paid days off.  We were counseling students to evaluate their own ability to move forward with testing or to consider dropping classes or postponing the submission of papers where possible.  We are still struggling to evaluate reasonable accommodations for this category of situation.

Please excuse law student from testing as he/she/they are suffering from generalized anxiety and need additional time to prepare.

A significant group of today’s law students are experiencing anxiety.  According to the 2021 Survey of Law Student Well-Being, 39.8% of law students had a diagnosis of anxiety during their lifetime, 22.5% of whom were diagnosed after starting law school.[5]  This anxiety is real, and it is manifesting in an array of emotional and physical impacts on our students.

And yet, I do not know how we address this pervasive issue of anxiety in the context of a policy to reschedule exams for personal illness.  I have thought long and hard on this and I don’t have a fair way to evaluate how much anxiety triggers an exam postponement, or how many days would be sufficient for the medical situation to resolve.  In my experience, I will distinguish this type of request from that of a student who is suffering from an acute anxiety attack in advance of, or during, an examination.  We typically treat those as medical emergencies and work with the student to evaluate if they will be well enough to return to testing or if they need to be treated for the medical emergency.  But for cases of generalized anxiety, we need to articulate an approach, based on our lens of professional identity preparation, about expectations in our legal community.  And once articulated, we must communicate this clearly to our students throughout their law school experience.

When does a situation merit our throwing a student a compassionate lifeline, and when do we need to clarify that we cannot grant these requests and provide reasons for the life lessons that we are trying to teach?  I welcome thoughts and reactions from our community as we continue to navigate these issues.  You can reach me at jstearns@law.miami.edu.

Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.

[1] MARK TWAIN, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER 43-45 (Signet Classic Edition, 2002).

[2] Miami Law Student Handbook 2022-2023, https://student.law.miami.edu/policies/student-conduct/handbook/index.html, at page 12.

[3] Jaffe, Organ, and Bender, It’s Okay Not to Be Okay: The 2021 Survey of Law Student Well-Being, 60 University of Louisville Law Review (2022) at 461.

[4] FDA Announces Shortage of Adderall, https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-announces-shortage-adderall (October 12, 2022).

[5] Jaffe, Organ, and Bender, It’s Okay Not to Be Okay: The 2021 Survey of Law Student Well-Being, 60 University of Louisville Law Review (2022), supra note 3 at 464.

Janet Stearns

Insights From the Field Concerning Well-Being and Anti-Racism

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law

2022 has been an eventful year. If you are like me, you may be focusing on completing critical year-end projects and starting to set your New Year’s resolutions. One of my ongoing objectives for the New Year, as it relates to professional identity work, is finding critical synergies between (1) the mental health and well-being agenda and (2) the diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda. Some mistakenly tend to consider these in separate silos rather than embracing the complex duality of these pillars of our professional identity agenda.

I invite you to read, or perhaps reread, an article I published in January 2022 for the AALS Student Services Publication Insights from the Field. My article speaks to some specific experiences from the 2020-2021 school year in programming at the intersection of law students’ well-being and diversity initiatives. This publication, under the guidance of Student Services Chair Maria Saez-Tatman (University of Tennessee College of Law) and Current-Elect Chair Jeffrey Dodge (The Pennsylvania State University-Dickinson Law), includes a number of provocative articles from my colleagues, with a particular focus on an anti-racist agenda in law schools.

Wishing you all a peaceful and joyful holiday season!

Please feel free to reach out to me at jstearns@law.miami.edu if you have any questions or comments.

Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.

Janet Stearns

Teaching “Reflection & Growth” Through Mindfulness

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law

In this past year, I enjoyed some significant opportunities to advocate, negotiate, and study the new ABA standards. I return often to the text and context of the Standards and interpretations and consider how this language is challenging us in our critical roles in law schools today. In review, the comment to Standard 303 guides us:

The development of professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice. Because developing a professional identity requires reflection and growth over time, students should have frequent opportunities for such development during each year of law school and  in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities.(emphasis added).

How do we teach the foundational skills of ‘reflection and growth” as part of well-being practices in law school? One very significant contribution to answering this question is through the teaching of Mindfulness in law schools.

My colleague and friend Professor Scott Rogers has written a fabulous and important resource—The Mindful Law Student: A Mindfulness in Law Practice Guide. Scott serves as Lecturer in Law and Director of University of Miami School of Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program and Co-Director of the University of Miami’s Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative. Scott is also a co-president of the national non-profit Mindfulness in Law Society. Scott has spent more than a decade collaborating on peer-reviewed neuroscience research assessing the efficacy of mindfulness training and shares a series of core practices that have been part of this research and are among those found in many well-respected mindfulness training programs. This Practice Guide was published in September by Edward Elgar publishing and is thus a very new tool in our toolbox for teaching mindfulness.

Overview: The Mindful Law Student

The Mindful Law Student is both profound and concise. The materials build upon Scott’s teaching at the University of Miami for the past 15 years. I have been blessed to have a “front row seat” and observe the evolution of Scott’s teaching from his first arrival at Miami Law. Having seen and heard many of his presentations over this time, I was tremendously impressed by Scott’s ability to pull together this complex body of work into such a focused and readable text.

The book is divided into three parts, each consisting of 5 chapters. The first part is called “Mindfulness Elements” and includes a discussion of Leadership, Attention, Relaxation, Awareness, and Mindfulness.  This material is foundational and elucidates the relevance of this topic to every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Part II is “Mindfulness and You” and features specific strategies relating to Solitude, Connection, Self-Care, Movement, and Practice. As Scott tells us:

The chapters in Part II can be read in any order, and you may find them to be useful interludes that complement the readings in Part I.

(I will admit that I read them “in order” the first time but see the opportunities to return to them in different orders, and that this would be welcoming to students.)

Part III, Mindfulness Integrations, raises our awareness of the ways that Mindfulness can affect our lawyering in the areas of Listening, Negotiation, Judgment, Creativity, and Freedom. This section included some very significant “aha” moments for me. For example, in Chapter 11 on Listening, Scott talks about the tendency of lawyers (and physicians) to interrupt their clients and patients. He then offers very specific guidance on how to transition to a mindful listener. Chapter 12 on Negotiation highlights the value of mindful attention to understand better our counterparties and moving beyond self-centered thinking to productive negotiation strategies. Returning to our main theme of professional identity, Part III makes clear the integral role of a mindfulness and reflective practice in performing key elements of our work as lawyers.

Some Special Gems in The Mindful Law Student

Each chapter skillfully integrates scholarship and key teachings on Mindfulness with elements that make this particularly accessible to law students. For one, Scott features seven fictional, diverse law students who face academic and professional challenges and find a pathway for Mindfulness to assist each of them. Each chapter also includes some insightful visualizations and images that capture main concepts. As a visual learner myself, I find these images particularly captivating. Scott is most adept with his key “metaphors”—a reader of the book will quickly understand the images of the flashlight (of attention), the snow globe (of life’s confusing moments), the lightbulb (for awareness), and the spirals (of over-reaction). These images return throughout the book.

Most chapters introduce readers to a different mindfulness practice that connects to that chapter’s subject matter.  A website for the book offers a series of 6-, 12-, and 18-minute versions of each practice, which students can also access via a free app. Scott provides access to practice scripts for those faculty who may wish to offer live guidance in class.

The text skillfully integrates the teachings of many great thinkers, from Rumi and Buddhist devotees to musicians like Herbie Hancock and Supertramp, from civil rights leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois to contemporary lawyers and judges who practice mindfulness.

The Mindful Law Student includes specific exercises and probing questions for meditation and self-reflection at the end of each chapter. Mindfulness requires practice and this is a practice guide. Each chapter also highlights key Trials and Takeaways, which are summaries of main concepts and areas for future work. Finally, each chapter has a concise but helpful list of references and resources for those who might want to dig deeper into any subject.

Chapter 14, “Creativity,” challenges the reader to connect with one’s creative soul through art and poetry. I felt the need to accept that challenge and take the “first step” on that “journey of a thousand miles.” The text discusses the Haiku structure, composed of three-line stanzas of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. I took the plunge, and so here I share my first mindful Haiku with you, inviting our readers to consider your own creative endeavors.

Haiku #1

Powerful Law profs

Changing the world mind by mind

Moment by moment


Guiding law students

Capable of breath, thoughts, dreams

The key: mindfulness


Reflective lawyers

Navigating this world with



Strategies for Using The Mindful Law Student

This Practice Guide can be integrated in a number of productive ways into the law school experience of teaching professional identity. Some options might include:

-A stand-alone course on Mindfulness. The fifteen chapters would be a successful outline of a weekly course dedicated to exploring the practice and applications of Mindfulness in the Law.

-The book, at just over 200 pages, could be on a recommended summer reading list for new law students, and then form the basis for well-being and orientation programming.

-The sections of the text that focus on listening, negotiation, judgment (and ethics), leadership, and creativity could be part of courses that focus on these particular skills, or included in law clinics, externships, or other experiential learning classes where these skills are taught.

As we explore new curricular options and models around professional identity in 1L and upper-level courses, consider whether The Mindful Law Student would be an appropriate addition to your curriculum.

For More Information:

Contact Elgar Publishing for a copy of The Mindful Law Student so that you can consider strategies for integrating this practice guide into your professional identity teaching.


Other useful resources include:

Mindfulness in Law Society website:

UMindfulness at the University of Miami

Mindfulness in Law Program at the University of Miami School of Law

Please feel free to reach out to me at jstearns@law.miami.edu if you have any questions or comments.

Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.

Curtis Osceola, Janet Stearns

Celebrating October 10, 2022: Mental Health Day, Indigenous People’s Day, and Professional Identity

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law
Chair, ABA COLAP Law School Committee

World Mental Health Day

October 10 has been declared as World Mental Health Day by the World Health OrganizationThe objective is to “raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health.” Just last week, the CDC announced that the suicide rates in the United States increased four percent from 2020 to 2021, showing that the demand for resources and education remains great.

For many years, the ABA Law Student Division and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs have partnered to bring Mental Health Day to our law students nationwide. While initially organized in March, the groups now celebrate October 10 as Law Student Mental Health Awareness. The ABA will partner to feature national programming to bring attention to law student mental health and reduce stigma so that resources are accessed. Many law schools will use Mental Health Day as a linchpin for law school wellness days or wellness weeks. Often, lawyer assistance programs around the country also use this opportunity to visit area law schools or do outreach through social media. I expect that many of the readers of this article are already on the path to organizing programming for the upcoming Mental Health Day. However, an excellent review of the range of opportunities is covered by Jordana Alter Confino in her 2019 article Where Are We on the Path to Law Student Well-Being?: Report on the COLAP Law School Assistance Committee Law School Wellness Survey.

The 2022 Mental Health Day is just around the corner. This year, at the request of the ABA Law Student Division leadership, we have recruited a group of thought leaders on well-being (among them bar leaders, law faculty, COLAP members, and law students) to record short videos sharing messages on well-being. An intensive social media campaign will continue over the next two weeks. In addition, on Friday, October 14, a number of law students, representing diverse initiatives around mental health, well-being, and mindfulness, will convene to discuss a number of topics in law schools and advocate for change. (Please contact the author for additional information if you have students who should be added to this invitation.) We anticipate that many law schools will be hosting their own programming, and encourage all to share your activities using #LawStudentWellBeing.

While this initiative predates the recent revisions to the ABA Standards, this is an opportunity to underscore that the ABA COLAP and Law Student Division advocated jointly for the inclusion of well-being in the Standards for many years. This year, now that ALL law schools must make resources available around well-being under Section 508, we expect that 2022 Mental Health Day will truly be a national event.

Indigenous People’s Day

Monday, October 10 coincides with the holiday now known as Indigenous People’s Day. Some history on this holiday: in 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt first designated October 12 as Columbus Day, commemorating the day when presumably a crew member of the ship lead by Columbus “sighted land.”  Since 1971, this was recognized as a federal holiday, and then moved “officially” to the second Monday in October.

South Dakota was the first state to recognize Indigenous People’s Day in 1990, and since then a number of states have followed. While it is not yet a federal holiday, a movement is growing. In 2021, President Biden was the first U.S. President to issue a proclamation in recognition of Indigenous People’s Day.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations….On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we honor America’s first inhabitants and the Tribal Nations that continue to thrive today.

Early in the planning for this year’s Mental Health Day, the organizers recognized that the coinciding of the two holidays provided a great opportunity for reflection and awareness. For one, we recognized that some law schools may be closed on Monday, October 10 and that we needed to be flexible with programming that would extend over the entire week. Further, in recruiting thought leaders for this year’s videos, we actively sought voices that would help us highlight the significance of the two overlapping dates. We invite you to pay particular attention to the contributions of Professor Rhonda Magee (University of San Francisco), and Siena Kalina, 3L at Colorado/ Boulder and President of the National Native American Law Students Association.  We are grateful for their contributions.

The Intersection of Mental Health Day and Indigenous People’s Day: Lessons for  Professional Identity Education

The significant changes in the ABA Standards in 2022 have created many opportunities in legal education.  Among these is the opportunity to create new dialogue between the advocates for law student well-being and supporters of education addressing bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism. These two issues are closely intertwined on many levels, and we have a unique opportunity in the upcoming weeks to reflect and message on this.

In 2020, Mental Health Day featured the path-breaking work of Rhonda Magee and her book The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness. The recording of her presentation is still available on the ABA website. Professor Magee’s powerful work speaks to the role of mindfulness in our own lives and as an integral part of racial justice work.

In recent years, I have also become more attuned to the need for programming that speak directly to some of our students who may feel marginalized in our law schools. I wrote about this in the AALS Student Services Section Newsletter last year, exploring the integration of well-being and anti-racism programming.

As I have been pondering for myself the upcoming holidays, let me suggest a few very concrete but important steps towards well-being for our Native American Law Students:

  • Miami University and other institutions are using land acknowledgements to reframe our understanding of property and show respect for local indigenous peoples. My institution now has such a land acknowledgement on its Consider special messaging that should be shared for Indigenous People’s Day.
  • Read about the National Native American Law Students Association and whether your law school does or should have representation.
  • Reach out to graduates who may be able to teach and share wisdom…with us and with our students. I made such a call last week to a wonderful former student, Curtis Osceola, who now works as Chief of Staff to the Miccosukee Indian Tribe here in
    South Florida. I have asked him to write a short message to be shared with Miami Law next week in recognition of Indigenous People’s Day. You can read his powerful message, which appears at the end of this post.

    Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.

  • Recognize that all of the Mental Health and Well-Being challenges that we are highlighting are playing out in significant ways in the Indigenous community, and often with far fewer resources to support.

The author welcomes hearing from colleagues across the country as we all explore approaches to our commemoration of the dual holidays that will take place October 10, 2022. You can reach me at jstearns@law.miami.edu.

Curtis Osceola’s Reflection Re: Indigenous People’s Day

Columbus Day. I remember when I was a child sitting in an elementary school classroom and being told of the exploits of Columbus. How he traveled the world, explored the Caribbean, discovered America…

I raised my hand, “Miss, Columbus didn’t discover America, my people were here.” The teacher was taken aback. I doubt anyone had ever challenged the lesson plan, “Yes he did, Curtis. Columbus discovered America.” She replied. “No, he didn’t, he was lost and my people were here first.” I was sent to the office for insubordination. I felt humiliated, guilty, and stupid. How could I have been so wrong? Is my entire existence wrong? What can I do to be “right?”

Many Natives have expressed the same defiance to colonial history, but now that defiance has become a movement. The movement to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day was born out of the rejection of the lie that is the “Discovery” story of Columbus. But why such a strong rejection? America is great after all. We have the blessings of freedom and democracy. We are protected by laws and those who enforce those laws. We have courts and modern notions of substantive and procedural due process. So why fight the history?

Because the lie hurts. Not like a cut with a knife or a bullet through the flesh. It hurts the mind. Take, for instance, a Native child today. How many Natives before them endured racism, oppression, violence? What effect did those experiences have on the mental health of their predecessors? On their brain chemistry? What is the net effect of that experience through their progeny? The generational trauma of war, removal, and extermination have evolved into contemporary mental health issues like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and suicide. These are exacerbated by the social ills of poverty, unemployment, disenfranchisement, domestic violence, and constant bereavement.

Take the experience described earlier: Imagine if a young family member told their teacher about the history of their family member told their teacher about the history of their family, of their heritage. Imagine if the teacher said to that child that they were mistaken, that the history they learned from their family, your ancestors, was wrong. Imagine that child being punished for their expression of truth. And think for a moment—if that single incident was foundational for the formation of my personality and identity, then what further effect does the cumulative trauma mentioned earlier have on the mind?

This is a small window into the intersectionality between what is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day and World Mental Health Day. It is serendipitous that this year they both fall on October 10, 2022. Native Americans now celebrate the second Monday of October as one that is representative of their heritage, legacy, and identity. It seems that the healing has begun. Indigenous People have been subjugated and oppressed since the dawn of the New World. You can help make positive change for Indigenous people. It may not be easy, but it’s worth trying.

Curtis Osceola is an alum of Miami School of Law and now works as Chief of Staff to the Miccosukee Indian Tribe in South Florida.

So how can you make a difference? Make it personal. Become aware of the Indigenous people in your community. Ask them about their land, their history, their experiences. Empathize (or even sympathize) with them. We are the real legacy of the land—subject to the original sins of the American experiment. Remember that the experience of Indigenous people is not just a social experience, but a psychological one as well. Be a friend, be an advocate, be insubordinate avant-garde.

Janet Stearns

Postcard from Miami

By Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law
August 24, 2022

We have just concluded our orientation week at the University of Miami School of Law. I thought that I would share some lessons learned from this year’s program as we all work to set the right tone on well-being and mindfulness.

This year, day 2 of orientation included rotating programs for all of our incoming JD students:
–Mindfulness & Well-Being
–Academic Integrity & Professional Identity
–Inclusion, Belonging & Professional Identity
–Panels of upper-level students sharing advice and insights with the 1L’s.

While we included some aspects of all of these themes in past years, the focus on ABA Standard 303 guided us to sharpen our message in some important ways.

The Mindfulness & Well-Being program was the culmination of a powerful collaboration throughout this summer between my colleagues Jack Townsend, a Miami Law graduate who joined our team one year ago as an Assistant Director of Student Life, Scott Rogers, Director of our Mindfulness in Law Program, and Marcia Narine Weldon, Director of our Transactional Skills Program, and a consultant on legal coaching particularly in the area of growth mindset and  lawyer well-being.

We framed our presentation to address and respond to three concerns common to many 1Ls.

First, the feeling of overwhelm.

During this section, I spoke of the importance of managing time to balance school obligations and goals with self-care and other personal priorities.  Drawing on the work of Steven Covey, in his book First Things First, I used a jar to demonstrate the importance of identifying our life’s big priorities (i.e., the “big rocks”) and find strategies for ensuring that all of the big rocks can fit into the jar. One goal is to identify the big goals during these next three years of law school. Another is to manage time so that we don’t waste it all on “little rocks” so that we can’t get to our “big rocks.” As you can see the jar also includes a tea bag (because we can never be too busy for a cup of tea with a friend.)  All members of the panel reflected on our own valuable self-care practices and how we managed time to support these practices as well as our other life goals.

Next, concerns about fear.

To this, Marcia drew on a range of practices to manage fear, from breathing exercises, movement exercises, and tapping.  She reflected on her own recent travels (to Machu Picchu) and her consulting with law firms and major corporations around professional coaching. She spoke also about the power of growth mindset to tame fears, enhance our brains and emotions, and develop confidence. All members of the panel reflected on tools that we used to address fears in law school and beyond.

Third, self-doubt in law school, including imposter syndrome. This provided the foundation for Scott to discuss and demonstrate the power of mindfulness practices in law school.  Scott shares a powerful image from his book Mindfulness for Law Students that depicts the “Roller Coaster of E-Motion.” Scott spoke to the ways that mindfulness can train our mind to have awareness of the patterns that sabotage our “freeway of flow” where we can best focus on law school and our other pursuits. This section then led into a mindfulness exercise for all.

In between each of these three sections, Jack invited each student to reflect and write on a designed card; students had five minutes to journal. The goals were both to provide opportunity for self-reflection and also to document each student’s emotions and insights from the session. At the conclusion of the program, each student was asked to put the card in a sealed envelope with his/her/their name on the cover.

Our intention is to return the cards to the students in November near the end of the semester and before finals. We hope that this will provide a reminder of their own thoughts on tackling overwhelm, fear, and self-doubt as they gear up for the end of the semester “push.”

Measuring the efficacy of our interventions is a challenge for me, and one that I am striving to address in the upcoming year. Anecdotally, I will note that I attended a reception for one of our affinity groups four days after this program. Several students came up to me to tell me that they had been pondering their “big rocks.” Students have also approached me to obtain information on where I am practicing yoga (one of the self-care activities I spoke about) and how they could join. Each and every one of these encounters suggests positive steps as we build our community of well-being and model our own approaches to integrating wellness with our professional identities.

I welcome comments and opportunities to learn from others as to how you are addressing these important topics in Orientation 2022.

You may contact me at jstearns@law.miami.edu.