Thriving in the legal academy

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Paula Baron

The workplace is increasingly becoming a place where survival, let alone success, necessitates higher than average performance.1

The university has become ‘survivalist, dominated by a sense of the duty to endure rather than to enjoy’.2

I  Introduction

This paper explores the notion of thriving in the academic workplace in general, and the legal academy in particular. It was prompted by the Career Progression session at the 2007 ALTA conference, entitled ‘Ideas and Strategies to Survive and Thrive in the New Environment’.3 Although ideas for surviving the new environment are relatively easy to formulate, the potential for (even the possibility of) thriving is more difficult to articulate. Ways of achieving a better quality of life can be hard to imagine in the current university environment. There is a substantial body of research that finds that academic life in general is highly stressful, with significant implications for health and well-being.4

Although much has been written, particularly from the perspective of therapeutic jurisprudence,5 on the well-being and emotional health of lawyers, clients and law students, little attention has been paid to law academics. This seems to be a serious gap in the therapeutic jurisprudence enterprise and a somewhat odd one at that. Can we ‘humanise’ legal education6 without considering the health and well-being of those who are responsible for it? Can we seek to understand the challenges to well-being amongst members of the legal profession without acknowledging and reflecting upon the similar challenges we face as academics?7

This paper seeks to raise awareness of the challenges to, and the potential for, well-being amongst teachers of law. The paper makes three key claims. The first is that there is a significant difference between thriving and surviving and we have tended to focus, in law schools, on the latter. This focus has been the result, in particular, of the structural changes to both the profession and to universities that have occurred over the past fifteen years. The second claim is that, in an environment in which serious reconsideration is being given to the health and well-being of our students and members of the legal profession, it would be beneficial to consider also how we might further the health and well-being of our academies; and lastly, a focus on the concept of thriving might allow us to do that. The paper concludes with some practical suggestions for furthering the well-being of law faculties and the academics who work within them.

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