University of Denver

Denver Law Course Highlights Lawyer Well-Being and Foundations for Practice

IAALS Intern

In direct response to an ABA study on attorney well-being and IAALS’ Foundations for Practice project and findings, University of Denver Sturm College of Law Professor Debra Austin brought to life a class called “Professionalism and Well-Being Skills for the Effective Lawyer,” which began this fall. The course will meet eight times during the semester to fill in important curriculum gaps some say law schools are not covering. In an interview with Law Week Colorado, she said:

“DU has been paying attention to research that’s coming out about practicing lawyers’ expectations for lawyer character and professionalism skills, but also about lawyer well-being, and we’ve managed to get a course on the books and ready to offer within a year of the ABA well-being report that said law schools should be doing this.”

The first half of the course will hone in on the ABA report results and students will hear from guest lecturer Sarah Myers, executive director of the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program, about the full spectrum of effects that stress has on health. According to Myers, it is important to inform students of the importance of their well-being while they are still in law school so they can begin their careers more mindfully. In the profession, “attorneys less than 10 years into practicing and younger than 30 have the highest risk for health issues such as depression, substance abuse, and suicide.”

The second half of the class will turn to Foundations for Practice, which uncovered the skills that are actually important for young lawyers to have—according to the 24,000 practitioners who participated in IAALS’ survey. Some of these skills—like interpersonal, communication, and leadership skills—are not given top, if any, priority at most law schools.

The course description from the DU Registrar says:

“The objective of this course is to support professional identity formation and growth in the professionalism and well-being skills of future lawyers as they progress toward growing competence as professionals. The first half of the course focuses on law student well-being and optimizing brain health and mental strength to enhance performance. The second half of the course is devoted to the development of professionalism skills such as professional development, self-awareness, bias, social proficiency, wisdom, and leadership, essential attributes of a high-performance legal practice.”

Heather Buchanan is a third-year law student at the University of Colorado Law School and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to iaals@du.edu.