Law in Contemporary Society

Daring to Build Better Lawyers

-- By ConnorHudson - 06 Mar 2022


The Adaptable Mind: Neuroscience, Psychology, & Law School

When I dropped out of law school, I wanted to kill myself every day for over two months. The exhaustive struggle between my rational mind and malignant subconscious accentuated that legal education fails to sufficiently consider the lawyer’s tool, vulnerability, and mechanism of operation: the human mind. By never directly confronting the subject of human consciousness, through neuroscience and psychology, law schools leave student potential unrealized and perpetuate the pathologies plaguing the legal profession, including frequent depression and suicidal ideation (NEW YORK BAR ASSOCIATION).

One potential solution is to develop such precepts as an overarching competency of legal education through student study and application of these concepts to themselves through a first-year reading group employing proven pedagogy – The Adaptable Mind: Neuroscience, Psychology, and Law School. By teaching students frameworks of cognitive sciences, legal education can evolve by impressing how the way wire our brains catalyzes success, reducing burnout, increasing resilience and satisfaction, improving empathy, and building better lawyers. This is not a call to altruism, as student benefits will inure to schools with the humility to embrace a shift as transformative as it is trite.

An Illustration

My arrival at, unceremonious departure from, and return to Columbia Law School illustrates that this is not unbridled idealism, but a moral and utilitarian imperative. On March 15, 2020 -- the dawn of the epidemic -- my mother passed away following an extended battle with cancer, necessitating that I leave my senior spring at USC and move home to Tucson to care for my siblings. While I would never shirk this responsibility, these circumstances framed Columbia as an end to my ordeal.

I arrived to abject isolation. Amidst the rolling hills of pompous praise heaped upon Columbia's "most competitive class yet," no one dared question whether we were equipped to undertake a bleak semester in a desolate New York. For me, the requisite contemplation arrived late, as depression sapped my energy, undermined my retention, and cast me off towards despair. Thankfully, before I could succumb, I found a fleeting clarity to leave.

In the intervening year, I found myself wanting for basic skills and seeking an uncertain equilibrium to stake my return upon. Next fall, I met the same canned hypocrisy -- you are "brilliant" enough to be autonomous where we abdicate responsibility but must succeed within unflinching, corrosive custom. From my terse glance inside, I knew the questions I needed to answer to fulfill my singular goal of survival, and I struggled alone with the recognition that every battle from now on would begin, an end, with that organ that endows us with our fundamental humanity – an observation that must be made explicit in legal education

The Adaptable Mind Reading Group

The Blueprint

The recognition of the [][centrality of our minds to any form of success]] has spread across disciplines and must become a core tenet of legal learning. The Adaptable Mind can be seamlessly implemented by emulating the best practices of peer institutions. The foundation would be built on the successes of Harvard Business School's "Leadership and Happiness" course (SYLLABUS) and Yale Professor Laurie Santos' lauded "Happiness and the Good Life" course.


This curriculum would surround and supplement the 1L year, distinguishing the knowledge conferred as uniquely suited for application across doctrinal areas, and iteratively in student lives, establishing basic psychoanalytical competencies.

Two sessions at fall's outset will present fundamental questions to frame 1L as a period of self-actualization, liberating students from apocryphal conceptions of success in law school. Before Legal Methods, students would participate in a workshop entitled "Who am I?" prompting students to reflect on their motivations and set untainted goals before mechanistic pressures incentivize conformity. At the end of Legal Methods, students will be prompted to consider what habits will be personally required in "How Do I Work?" These workshops will reduce the infantilization of higher education (Footnote 1) by granting students the agency to determine their approach to law school and highlight how intellectual diversity necessitates individualized approaches to human interactions.

Subsequently, the group will proceed through five two-week modules, personalizing growth, developing empathy, and destroying false conceptions of isolated suffering, with topics including Why Do We Sleep, Why Your Brain Feels the Way it Does, Positive Psychology, and the Power of Emotions. To increase engagement through autonomy, students will elect between two sub-topics of study and apply the learnings either through a reflection on practical implementation or by attending a mentor-led discussion. By doing so, the group will situate students as individuals in a shared experience and allow them to prioritize their needs without fearing derogation for vulnerability. Further, by understanding how psychological inputs affect cognition, students will develop a humanistic understanding of legal action, centering their gaze on the individuals and institutions who compose the law in practice, rather than its abstractions.

Institutional Benefits

Equipping students to understand the subtle inner workings of themselves and those around them is not a plea for administrative sympathy, as the alternative ignorance stifles intellectual innovation and leaves value unrecognized. By framing 1L as a time of self-actualization, the Adaptable Mind will help preserve the freedom of thought required for the continued evolution of observing what the law is and imagining what it can be. Additionally, by underscoring a humanistic theory of legal action, schools can accelerate student progress towards their full potential and highest point of contribution. Finally, by bolstering subjective success, first-movers can improve enrollment by achieving a meaningful competitive advantage over peer institutions.


By making the human mind a central tenet of legal education, rather than an ancillary instrumentality alluded to ad nauseum in the constructs of the law, such as persuasion, intent, and motive, educators can promote a brighter future for the legal profession by daring to take a novel, incremental step to build better lawyers.

Footnote 1: Infantilization of Higher Education


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r7 - 04 Jun 2022 - 23:44:35 - ConnorHudson
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