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 firstname.lastname@example.org.