Bar Exams, Law Schools, Suicide

Bar Exam Suicide Inspires Call To Action

It’s getting close to the July bar exam. After the Fourth of July holiday is really when the pressure and the stress increases. It’s not a fun time as most exam takers have much of their professional futures invested in passing this exam.

That pressure can be overwhelming for an otherwise healthy individual. But if a person is trying to go through it while dealing with some mental or emotional issues, the bar exam can be downright dangerous.

A sad story about a student who apparently took his own life while preparing to take the exam for a third time has been making its way around the internet. Some lawyers are hoping this death will inspire law schools and bar associations to be more aware of the problem and act to help young people at risk…

The story is up on the Legal Intelligencer as an editorial from the Young Lawyers Editorial Board:

Recently, the Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law family lost one of its own when a recent graduate decided to take his own life. He was an accomplished student, successful trial team advocate and a devoted volunteer and mentor to his high school debate team. More importantly, he had an extraordinary heart and the warmest of smiles. Unfortunately, he struggled to pass the bar exam, failing it twice. A few days before bar prep was scheduled to begin again, he committed suicide. At age 26, this young man still had his entire life ahead of him. That much is unquestionable. Maybe the question is: Why did he not see that? Inevitably, those who knew him personally ask: What could we have done differently to help or save him?

The vagaries of any individual suicide are, of course, personal. But that students studying for bar exams might be under specific mental distress shouldn’t really surprise anybody. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any special awareness for the mental health of young law graduates during this vulnerable time.

The Young Lawyers want that to change and are asking what law schools can do to take better care of their recent grads and at-risk students. They suggest a number of actions, including:

Education and awareness. At the beginning and end of each semester, the law school campus should take the appropriate steps to make sure mental-health issues are discussed and the availability of resources is well-publicized…

Identify at-risk students. Law schools can quickly identify students who failed the bar exam as at-risk individuals, as this information is directly reported to the administration. After three or four years of paying tuition and graduating with their class, these new alumni deserve a proactive attempt by their alma maters to offer guidance, encouragement, a list of resources for additional help and a strong reminder that it is not the end of the world.

I’m not at all confident in the ability of law schools to effectively provide mental health services or information to recent graduates, when they already aren’t very good at providing such services to students when they are on campus.

Is U.S. News going to start tracking suicides per class? If not, then I just don’t see how to convince law schools to spend the resources necessary to provide better mental health services to their students and graduates. You can’t even convince law schools to invest money into career services, not when they could spend money hiring more professors or building another classroom. Doing something that costs money and only benefits students just doesn’t sound like something that American law schools are very interested in doing.

Perhaps help might come from the State Bars themselves? They don’t have the kind of funding that law schools have, but they arguably have an interest in “the profession,” and suicide prevention seems like a worthy goal. At the very least, we might ask the state boards of law examiners to send out some crisis prevention information to people who don’t pass the bar… instead of just posting the names of those who pass and waiting for the people who fail to send them another check.

It’s a bad situation with few good answers. But looking the other way while people commit suicide is also not a good answer.

A Call to Action to Prevent Law School Student Suicides [Legal Intelligencer]

Earlier: Does Your Law School Need A Panic Button?

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