Well-Being at FIU Law Program Wins ABA Professionalism Award
FIU Law’s “Well-Being at FIU Law program” has won the 2021 American Bar Association’s E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award. The award, which comes with a $3,500 cash prize, recognizes the nation’s exemplary, innovative, and on-going professionalism programs established by law schools, bar associations, courts and other legal organizations that help ensure the maintenance of the highest principles of integrity and dedication to the legal profession and the public.
“I am very proud of this initiative, led by Professor Lozada and Dean Ortega, to promote student health and well-being. Law school, like the practice of law, can be very stressful, and learning skills that can help our students manage that stress is critically important to their academic and professional success. I am delighted that the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism has chosen to recognize FIU Law’s work in this area.”
- FIU Law Dean Anthony Page
According to the Gambrell award judges, Well-Being at FIU Law represents an outstanding and successful model worth emulating. Professor Rosario Lozada, who co-developed the program with Associate Dean of Students Angelique Ortega, shares highlights of the law school’s award-winning well-being program.
Rosario Lozada, left, and Angelique Ortega, right.
Studies and statistics have documented the long-term effects of chronic stress, substance abuse, and mental health issues in the legal profession. When these conditions are ignored and help-seeking behavior is stigmatized, the results are incivility, burnout, lapses in ethical judgment, or other tragic consequences. At FIU Law, we aim to equip students with science-based well-being practices—before the onset of a crisis—that will serve them as law students and lawyers. Most importantly, well-being practices pave the way for a rich and meaningful professional life.
Our goal is ambitious: to create an institutional culture that promotes well-being practices as essential to the study and practice of law. To that end, the program builds upon the established connection between well-being and performance, professionalism, and ethical (value-aligned) decision-making in the law.
Well-being practices are integral to the life of a law student and future advocate. Law students who are proactive about their well-being are better equipped to reach their academic potential. They are also more likely to become lawyers who competently and ethically serve their clients, the profession, and society.
The program started with an outstanding source: the 2017 Path to Lawyer Well-Being Report (“the Report”), which contains nine specific recommendations for law schools. We adapted the Report’s recommendations to specific needs of our FIU Law community. The recommendations served as our compass as we enlisted the contributions of faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, local practitioners, and national experts—all of whom are deeply committed to the well-being and mental health of our students.
A Life-Long Process
The program starts with the premise that well-being is not just the absence of illness. Rather, as stated in the Report, well-being is a life-long process of seeking to thrive in various life dimensions: intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, social, and occupational. The dimensions are interdependent. For example, regular exercise, along with proper nutrition, consistent sleep, and healthy social ties will optimize the brain for learning.
Our students learn and practice stress-resilience and well-being skills through creative year-long programming, including workshops and tutorials with well-being experts, faculty, licensed counselors, and student leaders; cross-disciplinary programming with our College of Medicine; a law student reading group that explores issues of identity, belonging, and resilience; support groups with student facilitators and a licensed social worker; and an upper-level course focused on ethics, well-being, and the profession. Many of our programs and resources are featured in our dedicated well-being webpage.
We expose students to skills such as healthy habit formation, mindful use of technology, stress and resilience, sleep and learning, mindfulness in the profession, cognitive distortions, compassion fatigue, the science behind gratitude, exercise and the brain, impostor syndrome, inclusion and belonging in law school, the value of a mentor, nutrition and the brain, and financial well-being, to name a few. The list keeps growing!
The involvement of our student organizations and student leaders is key to the success of Well-Being at FIU. The Student Bar Association, the Mindfulness Association, and the Peer Mentors Association, among other groups, have embraced the opportunity to champion well-being in the profession. We are proud of and grateful to our student leaders. One gifted and dedicated student deserves special recognition: third-year Stephanie Cross
has served as a research assistant for the program since its inception. Stephanie is a role model in our community, and we are proud that she will soon join the legal profession.
Law Student Hardship Fund
We have allocated the $3,500 award to our FIU Law Student Hardship Fund. In the past 18 months, many of our students have suffered unexpected financial challenges due to medical and family emergencies. With the generous assistance of the Gambrell Award, the Law Student Hardship Fund will continue to provide emergency assistance to students who are experiencing such unanticipated challenges, so that they may focus on their legal studies.