The Trauma-Informed Lawyer

The Duty to Do Better: The Law Professor Version

Episode Summary

This episode reflects on an earlier episode called, The Duty to Do Better: The Law Student Version. Law professors and instructors offer their perspectives on teaching in a trauma-informed way, lawyer and law student mental health, and modern legal education in Canada and the USA.

Episode Notes

This episode reflects on an earlier episode called, The Duty to Do Better: The Law Student Version. Law professors and instructors offer their perspectives on teaching in a trauma-informed way, lawyer and law student mental health, and modern legal education in Canada and the USA. This conversation includes Claudia Pena (UCLA), Anna Lund (UofA), Sarah Katz (Temple Uni), Andrew Pilliar (TRU), Zara Suleman (UVic), Brittany Goud (UVic), and Jeffrey Meyers (TRU). 

Episode Transcription

The Duty to Do Better: The Law Professor Version April 3, 2022

Myrna McCallum:

I'm Myrna McCallum, Métis-Cree lawyer and passionate promoter of trauma-informed lawyering. Welcome back to the Trauma-Informed Lawyer Podcast, folks, season two. I believe that law schools and bar courses are missing a critical competency requirement in their curriculum; trauma-informed lawyering. Becoming a trauma-informed lawyer will, among other things, challenge you to critically reflect on your personal behaviors, beliefs, and biases, call on you to positively transform the way you approach advocacy, guide your practice to avoid doing further harm to others and ask that you commit to remaining open to learn new and old knowledge you didn't know you needed before beginning your career. Your education starts right here, right now.

Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Trauma-Informed Lawyer podcast. I'm really excited to bring today's episode to you, but before I introduce this episode, I want to say couple things. One, thank you BC Law Foundation for covering the cost for transcripts for season two. I've got somebody working on those, so just stay tuned. When you go to my hosting site, you should start to see those transcripts being populated there. Two, I'm in the process of putting together a course that is probably going to be delivered over Zoom. My working title right now is Re-envisioning Our Roles and Introduction to Trauma-Informed Justice. I'm currently looking at delivering that course in July around the 20th, 21st.

At this point, I think it's going to be three days. If you're interested, just stay tuned to my social media channels @thetraumainformedlawyer on Instagram, my name at LinkedIn, and then on Twitter @theTILPodcast. Okay, so today's episode, law professors and legal educators are weighing in on the benefits and their thoughts about trauma-informed lawyering education within law school curriculum. Because it's a full show, I'm going to take a bit of an abbreviated approach to the bios that I have for all of today's guests. I hope they forgive me for the abbreviations.

We've got Sarah Katz. You've heard her on this podcast before. She's an associate clinical professor at Temple University. We've got Anna Lund. She is a professor at the University of Alberta Law School and she's a volunteer at Edmonton Community Legal Center. Jeffrey Meyers is an assistant teaching professor at TRU Law. Andrew Pilliar is an assistant professor at TRU Law. Claudia Peña teaches disability rights and re-envisioning the lawyer's role, trauma-informed lawyering and restorative transformative justice at UCLA Law School. Zara Suleman, sessional lecturer at UVic Law and Brittany Goud is a supervising lawyer at the Law Center in Victoria. I really hope that you enjoy today's episode. Let's go.

Welcome everyone to the Trauma-Informed Lawyer podcast. So happy to gather virtually in this space with all of you. I know that a lot of listeners have been waiting for this opportunity to hear what legal educators and law professors think about bringing trauma-informed education into the classroom, into law schools, particularly after that last episode with the law students where they just bared it all, like their truth and one of the students saying, "This isn't really a call out. We're not calling out profs. We're actually calling you in. This is our act of love." I'm curious. I know you've all have had a chance to listen to that episode. I wonder, what did you feel when you heard their words? What did you think? What was your response? Let me start with Andrew.

Andrew Pilliar:

One of the things that resonated for me was just the weight of responsibility that comes with trying to do better and that need to try and do better, and who we as professors owe that to. Certainly to the students who are or could be in our classrooms, but then also beyond that to people who they'll go out in the world with, and that's one of the things that sits with me, but I also love the anger, to tell you the truth. I love some of the anger I heard there and the just unabashed knowing what's not working and wanting it to be better. As I listened to that, I really would love law to be something more like a caring profession, something that has an ethic of care baked pretty close to its core, and there are huge challenges in getting there, but that's a worthwhile place to be going, I think, and interested in figuring out how we get there and we'll make mistakes along the way, but at least try.

Myrna McCallum:

Sarah, I want to know what you think.

Sarah Katz:

I wasn't particularly shocked or surprised by the student anger or certain student emotional response. I've now been teaching for almost 10 years. I relate to it amongst the students that I interact with in our law school, but I also relate to it remembering back to my own law student days 20 years ago, because the same rage and same discomfort with how law is taught and how law school functions was there then too, and to me, it seems like we're at potentially a tipping point and an opportunity to really begin to shift that because I think there are a few features.

I think that the pandemic has pushed us there. I don't always like using the term racial reckoning in the US because I'm not sure we're really having that, but that's a term that's been bandied about, but I think that there's a real push from our law students and that law schools are finally getting the message like, "Oh, something's going to have to change," and so, we may be right at that precipice of really engaging with that rage and figuring out what to do with it and to shift things.

Myrna McCallum:

Yeah, 100%. We're going to go to Claudia and then Brittany and then Anna.

Claudia Peña:

I get so excited when I hear students enraged about the way things are. It makes it so clear that we're on the precipice of change. When I was in law school, I was not as savvy as Sarah, so I just suffered through it and didn't really know how to name it as well as the students do now. I'm pumped whenever I hear them. I'm excited. It brings me joy. I know that's not totally fair that it brings me joy to hear someone's anger, but it's because I know for me, the best definition of anger is the knowledge that something is wrong contained in the energy to do something about it, and so, I see the students doing something about it and that it's going to be different very soon. Often, students don't know how much power they have, but listening to students talk about what needs to change in classes makes it clear that they're understanding their power and they're ready to do something about it.

Myrna McCallum:


Brittany Goud:

Yeah, thanks. I also, similar to Claudia, I just felt so much excitement and also pride. I have worked with some of those students and will be working with a couple of them actually this term, and the thing about a trauma-informed approach is we talk about starting with we should all be assuming that everybody has it and has experienced it. These law school students are sharing about how traumatizing law school can be for them. I was really excited to be part of this conversation to just acknowledge that us as professors too, we came to law school for our own reasons, and some of those were our own life experiences.

I'll speak for myself. I have experienced trauma, big T, little T, and so, I loved what the students were saying about it's really important work to do in a law school setting because this is going to translate to our profession. When I meet my students for the first time, what I say to them is, "I hope you're having a good time at law school, and if you're not, I have so much time for you." I had my first panic attack of my entire life in law school. There's a Mohawk educator, she's now passed, Patricia Monture-Angus, who talked about law school being like an abusive relationship. When she finished it, she was being congratulated on her hard work and achievement, and she was just trying to recover from this horrible experience that felt like an abusive relationship.

That resonated with me so much, and it does not have to be that way. I just feel so grateful for my opportunity to ease students' existence within this setting. I think the institutional change absolutely starts with us. The other thing I wanted to say was along the lines of... What inspired me about what those students were saying was this idea that came to me of co-creating safety. It's interesting to me that the calls to action, the TRC calls to action don't have the words trauma-informed for law schools, but they basically do. They say everything but that.

But the thing about, I think, trauma-informed practice is you know it when you see it and it needs to be co-created and you'll know it when you feel it too. Maybe we'll get into this a bit more later, but so many law students and lawyers really want that type A skills base, they want the play-by-play. That's not how this works. We're human beings in relationship. I love the idea of co-creating safety together. Along the way, I've learned so many little practical tips that are tangible and easy to apply, and it's just been an absolute pleasure in my work to co-create that with students where I'm not coming as an expert, but I'm coming to the table and harvesting and harnessing the real strengths and resources of the students that are so brilliant, harnessing that anger, harnessing that passion, and working towards an institutional change that we so desperately need. It's not funny that... A student made a comment about the addictions and booze and stuff in this culture as though it was cool or sexy. It's not. They're right. Anyway, I'll stop there. Thank you.

Myrna McCallum:

Thanks. Anna.

Anna Lund:

As I was listening to that episode, there's the professor who's taking part who is talking about her own experiences where she has fallen short and how much shame she still has around them, and I think that you could describe my overall reaction to that episode as similarly, feeling a level of shame, thinking back on moments where I haven't been the professor that I want to be, and that's one of the most painful parts about being a professor, is that you have this ideal of where you want to be, and you have this view of where you are, sometimes clear-eyed, sometimes a little less clear-eyed, and recognizing that gulf is so hard.

It felt to me very much like Andrew said, a call to do better, but I think that the point has been made here and was made on that episode that it can't just be individual professors trying to do better on their own. There needs to be system level change. Thinking through, what does that look like? I really resonated with the student who said, "Professors just seemed to be putting us through the bad things that they also had to go through themselves as law students," and how much of what we do in law school do we do because we have carefully thought through it and justified it and considered how it relates to things like trauma-informed practice versus how much do we do because that's what we've always done, because that's how we were taught, because that's how your colleagues are also doing it because that's how they were taught. That question of institutional change versus the institutional inertia really sat with me afterwards.

Myrna McCallum:


Jeffrey Meyers:

Yeah, no, I listened to the student episode twice and I reflected on it, and I wasn't surprised by the content either. I would say my main reflection is those are the kinds of students that impress me the most and the ones that I'm interested in building relationships of solidarity with and mentorship, and also sometimes, a lot to learn from those students, and they need to be given proper voice in class. But I guess as I was listening, I was reflecting on those students, and I think for starters, they reflect very well on UVic, the fact that they're out there speaking in the way that they're speaking and reflecting on their own experience in that way.

I think that whatever the problems that are going on at UVic, this demonstrates something about what's going on well there, and we know who some of the leading scholars, thinking about indigenous [inaudible 00:14:05] teaching there, and they've got a very innovative program, so if their students have these very serious critiques, one might ask themselves what's happening in other law schools, which maybe aren't as far along in the decolonization process. I guess what I'm saying is in my dealings with students, one of the issues I have to do, and some of the work I've had to do with myself about being trauma-informed about my own triggers is what are my triggers?

My triggers are privileged students who view the education as a consumer product, which they're paying valuable money for, and they want something in exchange for that. If you talk too much about social justice, quote unquote, or too much about socio-legal, political, or historical or theoretical issues that they don't regard as relevant to the positive law that they're here to learn, then they're mad. They go to the associate dean. They go to the dean. When I as a white male do those things, they get a little less mad. They give me a longer rope, but when my colleagues who are women or people of color do that, they run even faster. When they find out I'm junior and untenured, they usually quickly run over as well.

What about the students who are angry because they think their professors are social justice warriors? How are we supposed to navigate our class without showing outright hostility to students who are challenging us in that regard and knowing that there're deep undercurrents in the law school and in society generally which give them great power. What do we do when our law school administration use terms like equity, diversity, inclusion, trauma-informed, reconciliation, but those are neoliberal corporate terms designed for marketing purposes. Those are my feelings. I think the students are incredible, but I don't think they see what's under the iceberg. I think there's so much unspoken, I think there's so much fear among professors, particularly those of us who are anti-capitalists and really, really radical.

Myrna McCallum:


Zara Suleman:

I also had the privilege of having some of these amazing students in my class last term, and in some of the classes that I ended up lecturing in, and frankly, when I even thought about applying to UVic to teach, I'd never wanted to teach law school for the exact same reason that it was so traumatic for me. I thought, "How do I get into this machine and do it the way that I want to do it?" The only way that I was going to take on this sessional instructor job was if I could teach it from a trauma informed lens and intersectional lens and to just do it, and obviously, I have a lot more freedom because I'm not on any track.

I'm just in this whole vortex of sessional teaching, which could be a whole other conversation, but what it allowed me to do is just start the class and do the class as I wanted it. I resonate with what all of you have said about your own experiences having been in front of this class 20 years later after having gone to law school, and what I heard was, "Enough. Enough already. Enough. Stop this. You're not listening and you're not preparing us for the world we live in. You are not preparing us for the world we live in and to do the work of justice or fighting for justice or articulating justice in the ways we need to talk about that, and in the struggles that we are coming with and lived experiences that we are surviving to even be here, physically be here in the space." It resonated so much to me. All of the students have had to walk out of a class because I've both had to walk out of classes, but I've also had to stay in classes and just look down and just bear through.

That also takes its toll as we also know. I just really heard the call to, "It's enough already. Stop it. Just stop this," and I just think that in itself was both heartbreaking because it's something that it sounds like many of us have heard in our own experiences going through law school, but it is also this call to action, which I feel optimistic that there is now a critical mass of professors in law schools who are also saying, "Enough too. Enough as professors and the role that we are being subjugated to training and teaching in a certain way for a way that is not the way the world needs in terms of advocates and lawyers and activists and it's not the world that we want to train in. It's not how we want to be professors as well, or instructors." I thought it was also optimistic, but at the same time, heartbreaking as much of this work is.

Myrna McCallum:

Thanks, Zara. I've been reflecting on something I heard recently with another podcast guest who said, "To dehumanize is to traumatize." Not just traumatize whoever it is we're dehumanizing, but also, everything that we put out comes back, so we're traumatizing ourselves. I think about my dehumanizing experience and law school, and that's something Zara and I talked about, how law school was a traumatic experience, particularly for people of color.

We talked about that in our podcast conversation, and I thought about some of the students in the law student episode, the duty to do better. They talked about how the legal content or the educational content for them was traumatizing. One of the students talked about how property law as an indigenous person was such a traumatizing course for them to take. If a law school was to answer a call to action to become a trauma-informed legal institution or legal educator, what does that look like? We'll go with Claudia and then we'll go over to Jeffrey.

Claudia Peña:

Mine is super simple. I would get rid of grades immediately. So much stems from grades and that completely ineffective, inaccurate measure of nothing is what it is. So much of the ways in which culture is created in law schools is founded on grades. I would get rid of them immediately.

Myrna McCallum:


Jeffrey Meyers:

Yeah, I would echo the exact same thing. You must immediately eliminate grades and rankings. They're poisonous, they're toxic. They're highly undermining of building of community. They also have very negative EDI effects. You can't possibly decolonize law school unless you decolonize teaching methodology and assessment modes. That's first. However, because of the neoliberal model and the power that large firms have over law schools, and I know this to be true in both Canada and the United States, their demands are for a particular kind of assessment model, which they believe is merit based, although there's no evidence to back that.

But the power that they have over the law schools and the influence that they carry in the Canadian Federation of Law Societies is such that there's a stranglehold on the ability to exercise reform as an individual prof. By way of example, if I decide not to have my students do traditional assessments or to work collaboratively on something or to do some lateral or creative thinking, at the end of the day, I still have a distribution of marks that they have to be allocated based on faculty regulations so that everybody will effectively have a median of a B. Then, I have to justify what that is and what it's for to each and every individual student, while the students increasingly are competing amongst themselves to get a job after the One-L and the firms are asking to do events with the firms during class time.

Myrna McCallum:

We're going to go to Sarah, and then I think we're going to go to Andrew and then Anna.

Sarah Katz:

I'm going to go in a slightly different direction, which is get away from the central assumption that the law has nothing to do with emotions and emotional response. We inculcate students from day one that the law is something objective, that there is this objective rule of law out there, and that's where the violence happens. That's where the violence happens in property law class when we're not acknowledging what we're really talking about, when we're talking about whether it's... I don't have the familiarity in Canadian schools, but talking about redlining in a property law class in a US law school. We're doing damage from day one by functioning under the central notion that emotion, and wellness, and mental health response has nothing to do with the law. It has everything to do with the law. The law has impact on emotions, it has an emotional impact to practice law. And if we could start talking about that from day one, I think our legal system, not only our law schools would do a lot less violence, our legal systems too.

Andrew Pilliar:

I agree with a lot of what's being said, but a couple of thoughts that jump to mind. One, it says professors, I think we concede control more often and do it more effectively. I, like somebody mentioned co-created spaces, co-creating a process, and I think that's a huge part of it. I think that is diminishing hierarchy within a classroom in some ways or trying to, Myrna, you said, you've said in previous podcasts, "I'm a learner just like you," and that's something I'd love to be able to convey in the classroom, and for students to believe me, and to engage with that. And that ability to ensure that students are able to engage, are able to hear, are able to bring themselves. I mean, I think that's pretty core to what we're talking about in trying to create trauma-informed spaces. That students don't need to be re-traumatized, don't need to prevent themselves from coming into the class or from leaving the class.

Something else I wrote down is to erase the culture of, "No." I've had a conversation the last couple of days with a friend from law school way back when and we were talking about some of the things that were terrible that happened. And one of the things that we both remembered was a seminar-type class where somebody offers an idea and response to the question and the idea was a good idea. It was an idea that somebody was putting out there into the world. And instead of anybody else in the classroom or the professor lifting that idea up and saying "Yes, and," often people would go around the classroom and just shoot it down from different perspectives. And so very quickly nobody puts up their hand, or only a few, and so many people leave feeling un-validated. And that was my own experience in law school of feeling just so weakened by the whole experience, and so undermined, and so worthless after law school that anything I brought in was taken away.

And so much of this, I've heard for so many different people, what you are before is stripped away, or is as an attempt to strip that away and to impose this thinking like a lawyer machine. And that hurts so much. So, in response to that, I think of improv, and one of the rules of improv, one the ethic rules, is you don't say "No." You say "Yes, and," that continues the conversation. And I love that, and I'd love to see more of that. And then the last thing I'll say on this is I think we should be attentive not just to eliminating the marking and the ranking, but reconsidering how we recruit and bring people into law school. Because right now we're doing ranking and marking on the in way. And I think that sets a tone, even before people come, and who comes, and I think we should rethink that.


Thank you. I mostly just want to tell the rest of you how much I agree with what you've said on this, Sarah. I went back and listened to the episode that you did with Myrna before today's podcast. And one of the distinctions that you made that I found really helpful is I try to incorporate this material into my own classroom is the idea of we want to be trauma-informed in how we're approaching the students, but we also want to give the students the skills that they need to be trauma-informed when are they're serving clients after graduation. And I love the point that you made about acknowledging emotion, recognizing emotion. It made me think of Duncan Kennedy's article, "The Perpetuation of Hierarchy and Legal Education," where he talks about teaching hot cases in law school where people have some sort of strong emotion and then they're told, "Well, that's not the right answer, the right answer is go to the legal principles." Right?

And he suggests that it's a way that we kind of stamp out that emotional response. Right? And, I mean, I teach a lot of commercial law. I teach civil procedure, it's areas where you really can lose sight of the people who are involved. You can just forget that it's people, and think that it's principles. And so I love the idea of storytelling as a way of bringing the people back into the law classroom. Constance Backhouse in her biography of Claire L'Heureux-Dube, at the end, she does sort of these contextual stories about some of the big cases that Justice L'Heureux-Dube decided when she was on the Supreme Court of Canada. And those are cases that I had learned in family law, in admin law, but I had learned them for the principles. Right? And when you hear about the people, when you hear about what was actually going on there and how the case impacted them, it's impossible to look at those in the same kind of ways.

I also just want to say, yes, grading, it does a lot of things. It sets up that hierarchy that Andrew has said we really need to challenge. I am not somebody who tells very good jokes, and I'm always really concerned at how hard students laugh at my jokes in the classroom. And it's not because I'm funny, it's because of that power imbalance, right? So maybe I like that a little bit, probably more than I should. But the grading really is corrosive.

So I did, I tried this year, I brought a bunch of optional assignments into one of my classes and I made them pass fail. And it was fantastic. The students did a really good job on them. They didn't need that grade as a hammer to want to do well. And it forced me to think differently about how I gave feedback because I wasn't just giving them a seven out of 10 or something. I was saying, this is what you did well, and this is where there is room for improving. And I'd like to think that they were more open to that feedback because it wasn't attached to that, "You're a good person, you're not a good person, you're a good student, you're not a good student." But.

Myrna McCallum:

Okay, before we go to Zara, we're going to go to Brittany. But before we go there, I just want to comment on something I haven't heard, but maybe it's inferred in here is, like what is the space for relationship? I understand that there's an investment in hierarchy, and sort of disconnection, whatever, but I'm finding in the work that I do, I think part of why it's so successful is because I invite people to think about, reflect on, invest in, and rethink connection and relationship.

Brittany Goud:

Thanks, Myrna. I think that dovetails really well with what I wanted to say, which is, so I teach at a clinical legal education experience. We have real life clients and real life files, and as part of the law school experience, and it's pass/fail, it's a ballot system. It's awesome in that way. And the thing that strikes me is that the law that students learn before they come see me and do our term together, the law is just a suggestion until you get to court, until litigation, and if I'm in court and litigating, to me, I've failed, it's a bit of a failure. Right? I spend 95% of my time with clients trying to make peace, and achieve their goals. In order to do that, I need to tend to that relationship piece you're talking about, and to humanize the client, to animate in that way.

I don't need law bots coming to me to the clinic like regurgitating legal principles. I need human beings that are able to see the very, the goals and the needs of the clients, the very specific goals and needs of the clients, to see if we can achieve those. The law bots are really helpful for the 5% of the time when we do end up in court. And you do need to doctrinally apply the law, but if things are going well, then we shouldn't be frequenting those spaces. And so, that's what I thought of when I was thinking of the dehumanizing and the traumatizing piece. And another thing I wanted to share was a story about my experience in law school when I went to the law center. And this is to provide maybe some compassion for those students who are not demonstrating a trauma-informed ethos.

Basically, I had massive imposter syndrome, and I think that just comes from the grades, like we're all talking about the ranking, massive. It was debilitating, which is what caused my panic attack, a constant comparison, just totally toxic. And I didn't know until after law school that these were actually really good grades and whatever. So anyway, I go to the law school, or I go to the law center and I'm invited to write submissions about in injury to dignity. And I come from circumstances of poverty and I've had many family members engaging with the criminal legal system, that kind of thing. And I had no problem writing those submissions, but some of my colleagues, especially ones with from engineering backgrounds, or what have you, who didn't have the kind of tough upbringing that I'd had, or my social work background and that language, they had a really hard time. And I witness this still in my clinic.

When students come to me and they're just like, "I think I might be lacking empathy. I don't know how to speak, talk, or write about this." And I guess the treat for me is that I get to demonstrate that. I get to, the students were saying in the episode too, is I get to help them remove the shame from that. You haven't had the ability to practice that. But imagine how vulnerable it is for a student who hasn't been able to tend to that and any of their professional training, to go in and to find that heart space with a client. It's incredibly difficult. And another thing that was said on the student episode was, it was a quick comment, but talking about how in law school we tend to our heads a lot, and we have to get back to our hearts. And I've heard it said that that's the longest journey that we can take sometimes is the journey from the head back to the heart. And so it's so critical, I think as legal educators to be demonstrating that.

Myrna McCallum:

Go back to this idea of stories. So Claudia said that she incorporated a story time to start or in class, and it was overwhelmingly favorite part of students classes. So Claudia talk about what story time can look like.


So, from my perspective, lawyering is storytelling, whether you are litigating in court or writing a brief. And so I introduced the idea to my students saying, "Lawyering is storytelling. So in this class we're going to be doing some storytelling," and I usually come up with a prompt sometimes having to do with the cases at hand, sometimes not at all. And it's not an assignment. Students can volunteer to participate. I usually give people two minutes or less to tell a story, otherwise it will take the entire class period. And at the beginning of each class that I teach, it's a little slow going. People are shy to share their stories until they see other people do it and then it catches fire. And by the end of any class, I have lots of volunteers by the end of the quarter or end of the semester. And prompts can be something as simple as, "share a story of great joy," "share a story about the most difficult decision you ever had to make," to "share a story about a time you were misunderstood around part of your identity."

And I have lots and lots of prompts that I'm happy to share with anybody at any time because I love a good prompt for storytelling. But what I find, and I feel like I'm telling everybody my secret, so students, plug your ears, only professors listen to this part. But there is a practical portion to the storytelling, of course around lawyering. But the thing that I care most about is the community building part. Because students listening to each other's stories, they start to feel connected and they have reasons to talk after class, and they see each other through different eyes rather than just maybe their political stances or their ideologies. And they're much more easily able to humanize each other and build a safe space. And then I feel like we can get deeper issues around the cases and really do some good learning together. All of us, me included, when we've built an environment that include that is inclusive of people's stories.

Myrna McCallum:

Global listeners are tuning into this conversation. They're going to be thinking, how can I inspire a connection? So you just gave them a little magic formula. So thank you. Anna.

Anna Lund:

Thank you. Listening to describe that exercise, Claudia, I was thinking about what Brittany just said about some of her students coming to her and saying, "I just don't know how to empathize with people." And one of the things that I love about stories are that they are a way to, they are an invitation to emphasize with some, empathize with somebody else's experience. In the TRC final report, that was one of the suggestions that was offered to people was go read stories of residential school survivors, read fictional accounts, read novels about it, because that is that invitation to start to understand what somebody else has gone through. And something that breaks my heart is how often I hear from law students and lawyers, "I stopped reading in law school, I don't like reading anymore. I don't enjoy it." And I don't know that those two things are related, but I wonder what it is about law school that causes people to hate reading.

I think it's because they get assigned so much reading. Right? And the question I've been asking myself, especially this semester, as we think about students and how long they have now been learning in a pandemic in less than desirable situations, and the cumulative impact of that. Do we need them to read a hundred pages every week? I don't know. I don't know. I've really been trying to cut back on that because I would love my students to come away with a love of novels as opposed to an extra 800 pages of Supreme Court of Canada decisions they've read.

Myrna McCallum:


Zara Suleman:

So a few strands I've been thinking about. One is I think that as someone who does creative writing and all of that, when I went to law school, I realized how much I hated the language, because the language, the life of language, the life was stripped out of language. The emotion was stripped out of language. We were learning how to use language as a tool in a fight against other people. I think about the toll, all of the letters, all of the memos, all of the ways in which writing was taught, not as a way of storytelling, which has an empowering, experiential, heart centered way of doing that. But yes, the soul destroying kind of experience of language was a huge part. So I think it's trying to reclaim the idea of language and how we need to be conscious about the language and the words and taking back and putting back life and stories and humanity back into the language.

But in terms of, just to dovetail some of the idea of storytelling when I was teaching the family law class, one thing that I start off with is letting the students, one, know this idea about you won't know it all, you will mistake, you will make mistakes, you will fail, and you will have to figure out a way through that. And you'll have to define the mistakes, the failures, and the pain of not knowing, or struggling with the lack of knowing, or why we need to know, or what we do know that's not given light. You'll need to struggle with all those concepts. And I'm doing that too. I'm doing that 20 years after law school. I'm doing that in practice. I do that in front of a court. I do that in front of my negotiations. So, trying to resonate this idea that you will not know, you will not know, even after all of this, you will not know, you will not know in 10 years, in 20 years of this, you will still not know is an, I think a very important piece.

And the idea of mistakes along the way, and the learning from it. And also, in my family law classes, for example, I start off the, every class I would start off with, "We're going to be talking about this," child support, spouse support, whatever it was. But I would start off by saying, "Okay, I'm going to teach you the law and stuff about that, but I want to, let's start right down to the ground level," which is, "What's happening?" So I start off by talking about in, at least for family law, the incredible loss of all the things that are the most sacred to you. My first class, I said to students, "I want you to talk, I want you to think about your first heartbreak, because my first heartbreak and the feeling of heartbreak or when you've broken someone's heart, when you've had to leave someone, I want you to get in touch with that because it's foundational to everyone and everything you're going to be touching in family law."

"And if you don't know that experience yet, that's okay, if you haven't had a heartbreak or you haven't broken someone's heart, but you have to find a way into being present with that feeling because the people that are coming to you are heartbroken, number one." And then beyond that, they are losing the things that are the most sacred to them. Their children, their homes. They don't know how they're going to earn an income. Some are living in fear and of violence, and threat, and in, with people that they once loved, or may still love. So I think it's that in each place, in each section I would teach, we would start with, "What are we really talking about?" And bringing the humanness, centering the humanness at its core. So yeah, I can talk about child support and everyone wants to talk about numbers and grids, but I want to talk about what does it mean when someone doesn't pay child support?

Let's talk about children, let's talk about when children don't have money and have to go to school and say, the parents can be struggling, but at the end of the day, Layla will go to class and be like, "I can't go on this field trip because there's no money," or there's no experience of that. That's the piece that is really important for you to know, is that every interaction you're doing is a human interaction, and the there's going to be an impact of that. And there's going to be impact for you experiencing that. So, people want to sometimes do property law, and they really, they want to get out of doing stuff around children and break ups. They're like, "I'll just do the property part of law." And I'm like, "Well, let's talk about what that means, it means someone's either losing a home, leaving a home, becoming home insecure, becoming homeless. All the dreams and hopes that they had in their home and what they thought of what their home was going to be is going."

So when you think about selling homes, I don't want you to think about valuation and all, go into that head space. I want you to think about the human pieces of all of these and unpack them. And I want you to center that, and really get that. All this other stuff, the books are there, you're all going to have that information. But spend that time really centering each thing. So each part of the course was, the initial part was always centered on that kind of humanness of the experience. And from some of the feedback I got, people really resonated, because even acknowledging right at the start that some of you are going through a breakup, some of you are children of divorce, some of you, what's happened in family law has shaped you in front of us here today. That a lot of the students resonated back to me, echoed back to me that that was really important because they never thought of that experience as something that would benefit their work as a family law lawyer or in family law. And I'm like, it is absolutely the most essential thing.

Myrna McCallum:

And Zara, I think this is why I had so many law students write me when I was promoting this talk on social media. They're like, "You have to have Zara in this episode. She's the best ever." So your students were hitting me up giving you five stars. So you know. Andrew.

Andrew Pilliar:

Love this chat and where it's going. And I just wanted to offer a couple of thoughts. Maybe these fit in, maybe they don't. But, I think how we structure where we spend time in law school is a big part of this, and the possibility of creating relationships or not. So that can be things like simple as class size. Right? If class sizes are 60 students more, it can be become very difficult. And that's not to say there should be no classes that size necessarily, but what spaces does the law school help to create or create that can invite more spontaneous encounters, that can invite more meaningful connections. And so some of those I think could be something like smaller classes. At least, now and then, some places do that, but also some spaces that are just spaces for human encounters and relations that maybe are not tethered in any significant way to law.

And I think we don't do a lot of that, creating that, or enabling that. It happens I think when students create those spaces, but it almost feels, I would think a lot of the time that that's nothing that a law school encourages students to do. And I think that's a failing. The other thing, talking earlier about how much reading is assigned in law schools, and how the effect, had it for me of not making people want to read anymore. This idea of the tyranny of the text, of just reproducing something because it has been done to you is, I think, it has to stop. And I think part of that is... stop, and I think part of that is finding strategies, techniques, like storytelling moments to understand what is good teaching, what are the things that you need to learn, how can we help you get there?

I think two other thoughts. One, if we go through and we look at things, what are the things in law school that pull away from the sense that you are enough for anybody going through law school? There's so much of that, and I think it should all go. I mean, you are enough. Each of you in law school, you are enough. We should be there helping you build on that.

And then the last thing I wanted to say is just a lot of, I think what we can be talking about today, some might put into the basket of being soft skills, and law school [inaudible 00:46:53] soft skills. I hate that term. I hate the term soft skills. So much of these are human skills, that we should not shy away from, just as we shouldn't shy away from the emotional content of reasoning and of thinking and of being human. Just a couple of random thoughts.

Myrna McCallum:

Really good thoughts though, Andrew. I mean, I'm with you about the soft skills piece. It enrages me, enrages me, when I hear it, because I want to say to people, have you tried to be vulnerable in this space? Have you tried to be patient? Have you tried empathy? That is not soft skills. I didn't know what empathy was, so I had to learn it. How did I learn it? I found mentors, lawyers, well respected, successful lawyers who were very empathetic and I modeled my behavior after what they did. That is how I learned empathy.

Nowadays, for those of you listening who are like, I don't know anyone like that, go to YouTube. YouTube teaches everything. I'm sure there's a video on how to learn empathy.

I want to come back at some point to asking all of you, how do we, in this legal profession, both sides of the border, everywhere, everywhere, it's so egocentric, so egotistical, often people will say, or at least think on some level, what's in it for me? You want me to do what I do with empathy to bring a humanist approach, to practice humility or be trauma informed? What's in it for me? And so I want to talk about what is in it for them. What is the benefit, particularly to an institution that is built on power, on disempowering, on ego, on hierarchy, on patriarchy, on all of these ires, whatever they are, I want to talk about that. What is the incentive, particularly for those who are at the top with all eyes on getting to the top? That means some people have to be on the bottom. The way the system works, works for them.

Jeffrey Meyers:

Well, I mean, again, the first comment was back on the narratives, because I was just mentioning in the chat that the late Robert Cover, who, of course, our American colleagues here will know as well, famously understood and articulated the violence of the law as being through the process of the narrative that courts created, whereby two narratives were given life and one was killed, and one is given normative preference and the other destroyed, and so that there was an inherent violence in what law does.

That storytelling is a part of law, but also so is picking winners and losers. So how do we do and talk about narratives without entering into that? And it also dovetails, I think, with a lot of reading and the cases and everything like that. Students don't like reading a lot of cases because they're boring and it's not necessary. However, if students are asked to listen to podcasts, if they're asked to read social science, if they're asked to consider journalism, good journalism, and if they're asked to look at literature, sometimes they do respond well. Other times they don't, though. And that, I think, is an important point to make. For me as a teacher to take risks in the classroom in terms of assessment, modalities, the content that I'm teaching, the way in which I'm treating narrative, the narratives that I'm privileging or not privileging for example, those will have costs.

Because if my colleagues, for example, are teaching a more traditional, straight up, positive law approach, again, thinking from a 1L perspective where you got large, mandatory classes, and students are feeling jarred when they come into my classroom, because they're not seeing the same Latin maxim presented at the beginning of the class and then the various exceptions gone through for their cans, but some socio-legal context with a little critical race theory thrown in, they say, "What's going on in here? I'm not going to be ready for practice. I'm not going to be ready for the exam. Where's the doctrinal material?"

I need to know that if the students object to that, I'm going to still have a career after, that they're not going to slay me on the evals or they're not going to run to the administration. And if I'm a tenured professor, I don't have to worry about that, but if I'm an untenured or contract professor, a sessional lecturer, I can be in a lot of worries.

I still think, despite what we're doing well, we have many, many students in law school who do come from a consumer or privileged mentality. It's not their fault, but they're coming in viewing this as something they're paying a lot of money for and they want certain goods delivered. And they learn very early in law school, it's reinforced immediately in the 1L, that law is positive law, cases, truth, and facts versus irrelevant material. And the quicker they get to that, the better. And if you're not giving that, it can raise student ire.

Sarah Katz:

Well, it comes back to this question of, what is success? Which I know we've been throwing around both verbally as well as in the chat amongst each other today. But, I mean, we as a profession, certainly in the US, have a serious attorney wellness problem. We have unbelievable high rates of untreated mental health issues, unbelievably high rates of untreated substance abuse issues. And there's a reason for that, and the reason is we're not dealing with exactly the stuff that we've been talking about for the last hour here.

And so I think, again, that comes back to success. What does success look like? Is success getting the gold ring of the big law job? Or is success having a happy and fulfilling professional life? And so I think that's some of it. I think that that's some of the relevance and some of the way at tackling it. I mean, I also teach in a clinical setting, so my students are handling real life live clients, and some of them will go on to do family law or related areas of legal services or serving low income clients. And some of them, of course, will go on to other sorts of areas of practice. And I really try to present these skills of trauma informed lawyering as being relevant no matter whether their client is an individual survivor of intimate partner violence or whether their client is a corporation.

It's important both in terms of their people skills and ability to connect with their client and communicate with the court and all of those things, but it's also important in terms of the taking care of themselves, and the piece of trauma informed lawyering is about preventing toxic stress. And so I talk to them about that, and I think often that's kind of a point of entry in what makes it I relevant even.

Claudia Pena:

Super quick. I think that you actually cannot fulfill your obligations under the rules of professional responsibility without practicing trauma and resilience informed lawyering and advocacy, so I often point to the rules of the ABA for those in the United States, and the California Rules of Professional Responsibility under diligence, competence, and communication. All of those seem particularly relevant to this kind of practice of lawyering.

Myrna McCallum:

Yeah, 100%. Mental health and wellness is something I want to talk about, because it's not lost on me that what we're talking about is trauma, trauma informed, resilience informed approaches to practice. And as I hear more and more stories from law students, law professors, lawyers, judges, police officers, so many people talking about how trauma meets them in their work, and for many people they feel, particularly lawyers and judges, feel a sense of the stigma on saying that this is impacting me. The weight of it is so much to bear that it just drives them into isolation and they get to a place where they can't even see each other because they're suppressing what's happening, they don't know how to process it. In the face of a traumatizing incident that happens in a courtroom particularly, a lot more is happening in these virtual spaces, because you don't necessarily have the same control over whoever's appearing on the screen that you would in a courtroom.

People just feel compelled to continue with the legal proceeding, even though, hold on a second, we were just exposed to something really traumatic here. And so this sort of disconnection investment or whatever practice it is, is really harming people in the courtroom. It's really harming everyone. Lawyers,. I think here in Canada, how I heard lawyers so incredibly traumatized from prosecuting, like the prosecutors on the Willy Pickton case, he was serial killer for those of you in America who murdered so many women here in Vancouver. And I heard those lawyers talk about having to look at all of this graphic evidence and how it impacted them. Some people didn't talk about it, but some people turned to alcoholism and uptick in substance use and abuse. And I think that that's happening more often than not because people don't know what to do with the anxiety, the depression, the isolation, the panic.

We had a Supreme Court judge not that long ago who disappeared for a few... I don't know how long he disappeared for. When he surfaced, he went into the hospital, he disclosed that he had a panic attack, or whatever, and then wouldn't you know it, within a couple weeks of that he retired. And he was very young.

I'm curious about maybe that's the golden ticket to incentivize people to go, holy shit, maybe I need to pay attention to this conversation if my long term prospects in terms of being mentally, socially, physically, spiritually intact is hinging on confronting this thing that shows up in my work all the time.

I'd like to know what you all think. You are the first point of contact almost, because you're helping inform who these people are going to be if they become lawyers. And so Anna, let's start with you. I want to know what you think.


Thanks, Myrna. I think my approach as a professor to mental wellness is to talk about it and talk about it a lot in an effort to normalize it. Until I got into grad school, I saw therapy or counseling as something that you did when you were in acute distress. And I think that that being proactive about mental illness requires a reframing of it.

I have a friend who likes to say, you get the plaque cleaned off your teeth twice a year, how often do you go in to get the plaque cleaned out of your brain? And I love that as a, yeah, this is just part of self care.

I mentioned I'd listened to the episode with Sarah Katz before today, and one of the suggestions that you had there that you talked about doing with your students was getting them to put together a self care plan at the start of the year.

And that's something I incorporated into some clinical students that I oversee at the U of A. I invited them to do that. And I know personally that being mindful about eating well and exercising and making sure that I build in socializing and all that is important. And I try to talk about that with my students.

But I also think a lot about this conversation I had with a senior colleague a few years ago where I said, "Let's go for coffee and talk about how to be more resilient." And she's like, "I'm tired of having to be resilient. Why do I keep being put in these situations where I have to be resilient, where it's all up to me?" And so I have these conversations about mental wellness, but I guess I'm torn, because I don't think that it should be up to students to figure out how to maintain their own mental wellness. And that takes me back to what we've been talking about, which is, how do we change law school to not traumatize, to not retraumatize students? I think that it's that institutional piece that is also really important here.

Myrna McCallum:

Thank you for that, Anna. But Jeffrey, what do you think?

Jeffrey Meyers:

One of the things I'm starting to ask, and I'm asking my students this and I'm asking my colleagues this, I'm saying, "All right, 1L teachers," I'm speaking particularly to the 1L teachers here, "We've got all our little 19th century categories of law and we continue to zealously administer them in our little areas of the law school." But the reality of what's happening now is that the global pandemic of COVID-19 has really set the world's systems of communications, exchange, culture, social solidarity, for better or for worse, on their ear, and all of the inequities of capitalism, colonialism, all of gender, all of those things are being badly exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19, and the very human connections and solidarity that we build from being in each other's psychosocial and affective space when we are human beings together in person, is lost and intermediated through Zoom, and there's an enormous amount of fear about everyone's individual health and wellbeing, the health and wellbeing of folks, dependents or children or broader extended families, and everybody has different risk assessments.

What I tell my students is, "It's not clear to me what it's going to mean to be a lawyer in 5, 10, 20, 30 years, but very likely you'll be on boards, you'll be involved in not-for-profit work, you'll be a community leader, you'll do some teaching at a community college. People will care about your opinion, they'll come to you for advice. And more likely than not, you'll be involved in some level of governance." So I say, "Look around yourself right now at your own faculty, at the university, at the local and provincial and federal governments as they respond to this unprecedented catastrophe, and ask yourself, what are they doing with the law to respond to this? How is the law facilitating a meaningful response to this crisis? How is the law undermining a meaningful response to this crisis? How is the law conceived in this capacity? What are political choices? What are scientific choices? And what's true, and what's a matter for argument, and what's pure falsehood? How do we conceive of those things? What's our role in a myth and disinformation environment?"

To me, that's the only interesting thing right now. And once we've turned the page on COVID, God willing, then we'll have staring down the fact and reality of the environmental situation, which means that the likely sustaining of our current trajectory will lead to catastrophic disaster for our species, and so that also has to be dealt with by future lawyers if our profession is to mean anything in the future.

To my mind, while we're on Zoom and in the middle of a pandemic and worried about dying and uncertain about the future, we can redirect our minds to solving these big problems and we can really rethink our adherence to the old competitive models and the old case law and black letter and positive law stuff.

Myrna McCallum:

Thanks, Jeffrey. Brittany, I want to hear from you. What do you say to your students? How do you encourage them to prioritize their own mental health and wellness and the mental health and wellness of their colleagues?

Brittany Goud:

Yeah, thanks. First, I demonstrate it. I try not to work a minute past 4:30, actually, and I have a robust surfing side career. I try to demonstrate it. I live well and take care of myself. And I also wanted to share, I agree and resonate with a lot of what you're saying, Jeffrey, and so part of the overwhelm is not having any of the answers, and I have to give credit to my students. Last term, we started a practice of sitting in circle together, following a local indigenous protocol circle where we go clockwise, everybody has a chance to speak. The tough emotions are spoken into the center of the circle. There's no crosstalk. It's not about solving the problems or offering any solutions or anything like that, but everybody gets an opportunity to share how this work and how the content is impacting them. I hosted them in my home last term, and it was an incredible way to just share together and also to have students realize that they're not alone and to collectively take care of each other.

And then there's a park nearby, and so we'd spend time in nature on the way back to the office, and it was huge. It was huge for health and wellbeing. So it's demonstrating it. I don't have the answers. I've heard you say that lots of times on your podcast, Myrna as well, and so it's not about having the answers, it's about creating and holding that space just so we can recognize that we are in this together. It is difficult, and with a bit of food and an opportunity to speak a bit and to hold that with each other, it has done so much. So that's just one example of something we've been doing for self care and mental wellness over here.

Myrna McCallum:

Andrew, what do you think of that? Because I've had so many young... It's the younger ones who are... They're looking for a point of connection, they're looking for practice, how to practice vulnerability, relationality. Do I disclose? Do I disclose that I've had this experience? Do I disclose that I understand this in a personal way? What do you think, Andrew?

Andrew Pilliar:

Well, I'm going to have to give you a personal answer, because what brings to mind is I've suffered with depression off and on for most of my adult life. It's ongoing, it's a work in progress, and I remember being in practice and being so petrified at the big law firm where I was practicing, that I didn't know how I was going to keep going.

I got to a point where I walked into one of the, it's not quite an HR person, but it was a lawyer who was in a position to counsel associates. And I didn't have a particularly close relationship at the time with that person, and I disclosed and I said, "I don't know what to do." And it ended up being the best thing I could have done in that moment, because that was the first time I got a really effective recommendation and a warm handoff to effective therapy for myself. That's not what I expected. I don't know what I expected, but that wasn't it.

But I remember, that's a fraught question. I mean, I can't tell somebody to always disclose. I don't think that's always a good idea. My experience was it has been, it was in that time. But look, I think, Brittany, what you were saying, Anna, what you were saying before, so much that you guys have talked about, is trying to do things to normalize this. And I think it comes back to thinking that we're not broken. We're not into telling students you're good enough, you are enough. And so those things that... Everybody has things. Everybody has things they're going to go through, and that really comes back to what we should be talking about often when we're talking about trauma informed, is trying to listen, to understand, and to recognize that people come with stories, people come with background and context, and to, in creating spaces, try to create those spaces in a way that as much as possible makes it possible to hear those stories and to be human with each other.

I don't know. Like I said, it's a work in progress. But that's the thing that I'd offer, is sometimes... In my case, that moment of disclosure was a bit of a watershed, and I've had others since, like when I mentioned my own mental health in class for the first time is a watershed. Putting it out in the universe sometimes can go a long way, but I certainly don't want to pressure anybody into doing that unless they feel strongly empowered and strong enough to do that.

Myrna McCallum:

Thank you so much for sharing and for demonstrating vulnerability in this space. I really appreciate it, and I know so many listeners will as well. Personally, I'm of the view that we need to normalize a lot of these human experiences, whether it's depression, anxiety, having a background of suicidal behavior, whatever it is. I think we just need to talk about it, to normalize it, because I think in the silencing of it all... Well, silence is violence, right? It's violence to self, it's violence in relationship, it's violence in a profession. It just informs more dehumanizing...It just informs more dehumanizing. It upholds these inequalities. Claudia has a suggestion around mental health, wellness.


Yeah, thank you, Myrna, but Andrew's got me thinking of this quote that the most accurate measure of courage is vulnerability, so thank you for your courage. And what I wanted to share around wellness, and I also want to pose that self care should always go hand in hand with community care. We should always be thinking about it altogether at once.

But the point that I wanted to make around that is actually also relevant to whether or not to disclose. And that is, I think it's really important that we, as professors, and just as human beings, support, encourage everybody to develop their voice, develop their intuitive voice, that internal voice that always knows the answer. But that voice has gotten the blank beat out of them by colonization and systems of power and all of these things that sort of disconnect us from our core.

But if we continue to practice developing that inner voice, we will have the right answer for us, which is usually the right answer for you, very specifically because you are a unique human being that nobody else can replicate. There are very few universal things. Most things are particular. And so the methods of self care or community care that work for you may not work for somebody else, so developing that voice inside of you and all of us mirroring each other so that we can help strengthen it, I think, can help us get there.

Myrna McCallum:

Yes. I'm going to quickly plug that the American Bar Association is going to be publishing a book this year on Trauma Informed Law, A Primer for Lawyers, that was co-edited with me, [inaudible 01:11:02] K Kim Wright and Marjorie Florestal, who teaches at UC Davis. That is coming up this year. So for people listening who are like, "Tell me more. I want to learn more," go and find it, buy it, share it.

Okay. I could talk with all of you all day, keep all of you great minds and hearts here in this space. It's been such a pleasure just being in this space with all of you. Thank you for showing up, lending your voice, lending your time. Time is everything. I appreciate it. I'm going to close our little circle because all beautiful things happen in these little circles. I'm going to close, but before I do, I'm going to do a little round.

I want each of you to share a closing thought, piece of advice to either law students or your colleagues across the world, law professors, legal educators. Reflection. You can share whatever you want to share. I'm going to give everyone one to two minutes, going off Claudia's little rule, one to two minutes, and then we will close this beautiful conversation. I'm going to start with Anna.


I was hoping for a little more time to come up with something. I think that something I've been thinking about a lot recently is joy, and where I find joy in my work, where I find joy outside of my work. And there's so many, I'm going to say narratives, but realities out there that are really bleak, and it is easy to be overwhelmed by that. And I think that for the bleakness that's out there, there's also a lot of joy.

And if you look for it, if I look for it in my day, if I look for it in my work, it just shines that much brighter. And then work isn't just bad news after bad news. I think that one thing I've really been trying to do, especially as the pandemic drags on, is to think about joy.

Myrna McCallum:


Brittany Goud:

Oh, the two things that come to mind for me are I think it's just kind of on the long journey from the head to the heart, and for law students that are listening, it's really helped me to recover from my law school experience, attend to my body through somatic therapies and different kinds of approaches rather than just cognitive behavioral stuff, which is also good, but we store a lot of this stuff in our body, and it's good to move it and get it out. I'm just so interested in that. That's been amazing.

A regulated nervous system has just done wonders for me in my work and in my practice, and that's what's in this for everybody who hasn't bought in yet, is lower cortisol levels. It's an easier way to be, and a more natural and peaceful and settled way to be and connect with people, and it's just really improved my life overall, nevermind just being able to be with and meet with clients and students exactly where they are.

And then the last thing I want to say is I've noticed students will come to me to talk about anything emotional, spiritual, and they'll kind of be talking in a way that they're discrediting themselves, maybe, even baby voices sometimes. What I want to say about the emotional spiritual side aspects of what we're processing in law school is straighten up and speak that with confidence, because it is so critical and important.

This conversation is in its infancy in a lot of ways, and don't gaslight yourself, even if the institution's doing it for you. We need you to say this clearly, and what you have to say is so valuable. Yeah, come with a confidence, if you can.

Myrna McCallum:

Let's go to Jeffrey.

Jeffrey Meyers:

Yeah, I was really appreciating what Brittney had to say there. I think the point that she was sort of alluding to about the students. I see a lot of negative self talk, right? I see students come in to meet with me after their papers, after the assessments or whatever, midterm final assessments, and they don't do as well as they want it to do. They're embarrassed.

They think that I'm reflecting negatively on their intelligence, their propensity to practice law or whatever, which of course I'm not. I only gave them the assessment because it was a structural requirement that I do. I simply could not overcome and keep my job, so I'm sitting there with total compassion for the student and the student is telling me how embarrassed they are and how this doesn't reflect who they really are.

And I just say, "Stop the negative self talk. You have nothing to apologize for." Because most often, these are the students who have been most active, talking to me in office hours, being serious and having real intellectual curiosity about what's going on in the class, and all of a sudden they've been devastated. Those conversations become the emotional conversations. They become the conversations where I get to know the students' human side and I can glimpse maybe some of their trauma, and I can be vulnerable with them, as well.

And not every student wants to go there. You're not going to have a close relationship. You're not going to be everybody's mentor, and so if everybody gets one or two good mentors in a life, it's a blessing. But every year, one or two or three or four students, I know them. I know I'm going to know them for decades.

And I guess what I wish is I wish that we could look at our students in terms of their ethical and intellectual formulation and our role in it way outside of the narrow contours of some kind of learning objectives or outcomes that have to do with the positive law, and I think if we as teachers could do that better, we could get far.

The only other thing I'll add, and I know I'm sensitive to time, is the big realization I had in my life when I decided that I wanted to be a teacher and when I thought about what kind of a life I wanted to create as a teacher, recognizing that that was going to be the main thing in my life, my main valence, I realized that I had to disabuse myself of any fantasy, conscious or subconscious, that every student was a potential me, that every student that I worked with was some less developed or future self that I could then pick out and help to craft maybe into an even better me.

Because I knew from my own personal experiences, even where mentors are well intended, where that idea is in the ether, it invariably does not lead to good things, so I had to radically know each of my students for who they were, and then allow myself the preference and kindness that sometimes I felt for people I identified with, but really lean into, really lean into understanding life experience and uplifting and helping.

And this now comes into class, it comes into race, it comes into gender, because I'm privileged. I've had the privilege of being a white male. My father was a lawyer. I have members of my family three generations back who were lawyers. I walked into law school and I was ready to go. Dad prepped me. But that is not everybody, and that is not the type of lawyers that we need.

I see these students who are privileged have so much self regard. They come in on the first day of school, they slap me in the back, say, "Hey Myers, how you doing? I heard your class is great." But then I have a student, first generation law student, person of color, indigenous person. They're anxious, they're feeling awkward. A lot of people suffer with imposter syndrome, but this is some next level imposter syndrome, so how do I edify those people and allow them to become powerful voices when they emerge from law school?

And as I said, it's my last comment, when I listened to your student podcast and I heard those UVIC students at a second and three L level, I thought of my colleagues teaching there and I thought, "Whatever's going wrong, there's got to be a lot going right, because these folks are going far, because they found their voice, they found their truth, and they're going to be powerful people." We need to create more law students like that, and that's on us.

Myrna McCallum:

Thank you, Jeffrey. Woo. I felt that in my bones. You're right. You're right, you're right. Zara.

Zara Suleman:

Yes. I felt that. Before I go into my points, I just wanted to say the one thing that I heard from students, I knew it, but then when I heard it, I knew it more, is that students said to me again and again, "Seeing you as a BIPOC instructor is really important to us," and not just a BIPOC instructor, but a BIPOC instructor who's doing critical work and trauma informed work, so not just a BIPOC instructor who's following along with the system, that is actually wanting to change the system and talking about how the system needs transformation.

And so more of that in universities and colleges or wherever people are teaching people, we need to see ourselves. We need to see ourselves in the transformation process. But what I would say to students is remember we're doing human work, not legal work. We're doing human work. Be kind to yourself. Choose kindness. Whenever you have a choice between being unkind or being kind, be kind.

And then I think the thing that I tell people in law school, and what was really important for me, is find your people. Find your people. Surround yourself with your people. Be with your people as you go along this journey, because it's hard. But somewhere along the way, you will either have your people with you, your kin, your kindred, your people that are sacred to you, or you'll find them along the way in those classrooms when you make eye contact or even in Zoom or in other ways that we're doing this now.

But surround yourself with your people. And because the journey is long, it's longer than law school, this journey we have is life, and so you'll find your people and be around your people.

Myrna McCallum:


Andrew Pilliar:

I'm going to borrow two words that I've heard from folks in this group and then add one of my own, and then first is joy. I agree with Anna. Finding moments of joy, recognizing those for what they are and recognizing that those are things that each of us can have, and that is very, very important to find and to make space for.

And then, Myrna, you've talked a lot recently about humility and the importance of that, and that's resonated a lot for me, and the idea that being in the world with humility is a very good thing. I think law school for me was about being told that humility was something to hide and to move away from, and I think that was an error.

And then the last thing which I'll offer, and I think the humility opens the door for this, and this is something that's close to the core for me, is curiosity. Life is long. The world is a wonderful place. It can be. And curiosity about that and being able to find things that you can be curious about and indulge that curiosity, that's been a lifeline for me so much, so that's a way of thinking about things that removes some of the competitiveness and affords an opportunity to feel yourself. That's gotten me there, and maybe that's of use to others.

Myrna McCallum:

Thanks, Andrew. We're going to go to Sarah, and then we'll hear from Claudia.

Sarah Katz:

One of the themes that's come up several times in our time together has been lifelong learning, and I think it ties into this theme of humility, Myrna, that you've just been talking about. I was introduced to trauma informed practice when I was already a practicing attorney. It was not a thing that ever was. Even the term was not something I was familiar with as a law student.

And when I shifted gears from a legal services career to academia almost 10 years ago, it was sort of a new concept to like, "Oh, we're going to bring trauma informed lawyering into this law clinic and do this thing," and there's something that feels incredibly full circle about just being in conversation with all of you and seeing how these ideas have not only gone out into the world, but are coming back to really influence legal education.

One of the things that my students always hear me say every year is that the best part of my job is that each year I create new colleagues. Each year we graduate new classes, and they go off into the world and they practice law, and I feel like part of this journey of seeing the relevance of this notion of trauma informed lawyering, I love the term resilience lawyering, is seeing that it can have such broader implications for our profession.

And the way we do that is actually starting with legal education, and that's what goes out and influences the profession. I just love that we're even here having this conversation, and it gives me actually a lot of hope and inspiration for the future of our profession, because we're able to be here and be in conversation with each other.

Myrna McCallum:

Thanks, Sarah. Me too. My hands go up in gratitude to all of you. Claudia.


This is so fun, Myrna. Thank you so much for inviting me. This has been of a blast. My final thoughts are relevant definitely to law students, also law profs, lawyers, perhaps anybody, and that is that we are at our best when we are the most whole possible. And I don't mean whole having healed from trauma, I mean whole bringing in all the parts of yourself that make you who you are.

You get this weird message in law school or legal training that you can only bring that part of yourself, the very logical, analytical, linear, fill in all the blanks of the myths of what lawyers are made of, and it's actually pretty harmful to be fragmented, to be fractured in that way. Compartmentalization, I think, is a good short term survival tool sometimes, but it's not a good long term strategy.

And when you get that message as a law student, it transfers as a law professor, as a lawyer, and people find themselves being a sliver of themselves. And that's why it's so painful and it's really unsustainable. My last thought is around bringing all the parts that make you who you are. I teach at the law school. I'm also faculty director of the Prison Education program, but I'm executive director for National Arts Organization. And it's my existence in the art world that really informs everything that I do as a professor and as a practitioner, and vice versa.

It's really fulfilling to show up in that whole sort of way, but I don't want this to suggest that you showing up as whole means that you've got to do it all, because that's also something that I think is really harmful, this idea that anybody that serves vulnerable communities or does public interest of social justice work, people carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

And so the last two things I want to say is, doing your best with what you have right now in this moment is all we're called to do. And that's different from yesterday, and it'll be different from tomorrow. But just right now in this moment with whatever spoons you have available to you, which is a disability justice concept on capacity, that's it. Nothing more than that.

And Myrna, you got me thinking of, I think his name is Robert Benham, who was a chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, and he has this really good quote where he said, "The first professions in society were the clergy who healed the spirit, the doctor who healed the body, and the lawyer who healed the community," so we should try living up to that.

Myrna McCallum:

Well, that was today's episode. I really hope that you enjoyed this conversation listening into all these wonderful, beautiful people talk about trauma informed lawyering and the benefits of bringing that curriculum into law schools. If you have any feedback, any thoughts, anything good to say, you know where to find me on social media.

I would ask you, if you haven't already, please leave me a rating and review if you love the show on Apple Podcasts, as well as Spotify. You can now leave a review there. Thanks so much for tuning in. Until next time, take care everybody.

This episode was recorded on the traditional ancestral and unceded territory of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam people.