Ahead of the Curve

An illustration of a woman of color sitting on a yoga mat inside the UW Law Library space with legs crossed and meditating. Chairs and tables are off to the right, and Book stacks are off to the left. A wall of windows is at the far end, overlooking Bascom Hill with trees.UW Law’s whole-person approach to education encourages students to think holistically about their wellness.

Training future generations of lawyers and leaders is what University of Wisconsin Law School does. Today, we understand that setting students up for success goes beyond simply teaching them how to take care of their clients; at UW Law, it also means supporting a healthy mind, body and spirit.

This whole-person approach to educa­tion has made UW Law a trailblazer in the law school community in terms of provid­ing student wellness support services and resources.

“We’ve developed a wellness-in-action website that encourages students to think holistically about their wellness,” explained Lauren Devine, assistant dean for Student Affairs at UW Law.

Headshot photo for Lauren Devine.
Lauren Devine

The website addresses multiple aspects of student well­ness, including mental health and safety, personal life, financial and academic.

“It informs them about the various resources in the Law School, on campus and in the community, many of which are free to them as students,” Devine added. “Also, under my predecessor’s leadership, we hired an embedded mental health coun­selor for our students. Some entities now have an embedded services model. We’ve adopted that approach, and it really sets us ahead of the curve.”

In short, having John Schneider in the School is significant.

Headshot photo for John Schneider.
John Schneider

“It’s important that our students have University Health Services (UHS) available to provide diagnoses when needed, but also that the Law School can provide resources and support and services for those students who don’t need a diagnosis, those who just need support during a particularly chal­lenging time,” he explained.

While Schneider works directly within the Law School, he also works collabora­tively with UHS and other area providers to deliver the best care and resources to students.

While significant, mental health and counseling services are just one avenue for supporting law students on their wellness journey. In recent years, the Law Library has broadened its offerings to support stu­dent health and well-being.


More Than Books: Law Library Provides Wellness Resources

“The Law Library places a high priority on supporting the well-being of our law students,” said Associate Dean and Law Li­brary Director Bonnie Shucha. “We offer a range of resources to actively support their mental, emotional and physical wellness alongside their academic journey.”

This includes a collection of books about wellness such as “Yoga for Lawyers” and the illustrated “RBG Workout,” based on former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s regimen.

Headshot photo of Bonnie Shucha.
Bonnie Shucha

But these, along with legal-themed fic­tion and movies, are just the beginning.

The Library also offers a selection of more unique items, including chargers and cords, book stands, standing desks, cush­ions and light-therapy lamps.

Library staff are always seeking to be responsive to the students’ requests.

“One of the pieces we received a lot of feedback on, but which is difficult to ac­commodate, is the desire for more natural light in the building,” said B.J. Ramsay, cir­culation law librarian and member of the Law School’s Student Wellness Committee. “The Library has beautiful, massive win­dows in the Habush, Habush and Rottier Reading Room, but other areas are not as well-illuminated.”

A headshot photo of B.J. Ramsay.
B.J. Ramsay

So, the Library purchased numerous therapy lamps, also known as happy lights.

“It’s not quite the same thing as adding more natural lighting, but it’s as close as we can come since we can’t really do much about the architecture of the building,” Ramsay said. “They’re really popular. And they can serve a double duty in that we have students who also use them as lighting for virtual interviews and meetings. So, that’s a plus.”

The Law Library also provides a se­lection of recreational materials for law students to enjoy when taking a break from their studies, including Frisbees, ping-pong paddles, puzzles, coloring pages and even Play-Doh. Last year, the Library introduced a collection of legal-themed board games inspired and donated by Professor Steph Tai. In these games, students can rule on hot-button issues in I Dissent, investigate food-related crimes as an FDA agent in Chew or draft their ideal bill of rights in Bill of Rights.

The Library also provides space for well­ness activities like weekly guided mindful­ness meditations, which provide students an opportunity to decompress.

“These student-led sessions just started last fall and have been gaining interest,” said Ramsay. “Space is at a premium in the Law School, but we all try to do what we can.”

Last fall, Library staff also created an interactive display called The Wellness Pitstop. The goal was to encourage stu­dents to engage in short wellness practices throughout the day such as deep breathing, being grateful, laughing and connecting with others.

You can find a guide to the Library’s many Law Student Wellness resources online.

“Some people don’t think about some of these items like chargers and Frisbees as wellness related, but it’s all about help­ing the students take a level of stress off, whether that’s giving them tools to study more comfortably in a space or giving them a tactile activity to take their minds off their studies,” said Ramsay. “It’s all import­ant, and it all adds up.”

The students have also taken up the call to action themselves through activities to support their physical, mental and emo­tional health. Take the Law Run Club, for example.


Students Build a Wellness Community

In Fall 2021, five first-year UW Law stu­dents got off to a running start.

Even though they didn’t know any­one outside the walls of their classes, they shared a schedule and a passion for running. Thus, the UW Law Run Club was born.

Headshot photo for Emma Hawley.
Emma Hawley

“We would all meet up after our con­tracts class,” said Emma Hawley, now a 3L and founding member of the club. “As new law students, we found running to be an important part of our mental and physical health. It got us outside and away from our studies for a bit, and it allowed us to con­nect with each other and our peers in ways we never imagined.”

Running along the Lakeshore Path was a way to take care of themselves holistically.

“We left so many classes confused as 1Ls, and we didn’t have the confidence yet to ask questions in class, so we found the Run Club as a way to not only remain active physically, but it became an outlet for us to ask our peers questions,” said Hawley. “We would talk about everything from partic­ularly challenging topics from class to the best restaurants in town. It was great to be able to connect with other fellow students outside the classroom, in what can be, at times, an isolating field of study.”

Each week during the semester, mem­bers of the group meet to run three miles along Lake Mendota. Some choose to run the full distance to Picnic Point. It’s a real “build your own adventure,” said Hawley. The goal is always accessibility, however.

“We’ve tried to create a space for ev­eryone to participate and gain the physical and mental health benefits of the club,” said Hawley.

Though it’s sometimes difficult keeping the club up and running (pun intended), especially in finding a time that works for multiple participants, Hawley said the re­wards far outweigh any of the challenges.

It’s been fun to see and “kind of sur­prising” how quickly word of the club has spread, said Hawley, who is working with members of the group to ensure the club continues.

“It’s incredible how many faculty, stu­dents and staff across the Law School and broader Madison community are interest­ed in joining us, even Dean [Dan] Tokaji,” she said. “We’re even considering working toward a networking run with some of the Supreme Court justices. It’s just incredible how this little club has allowed us to ex­pand into an even larger community than UW Law. It’s really something.”


An illustration of succulent plants sitting in pots and casting shadows across the green background.Change Is Coming

Jodi Klagos, a third-year UW Law student, sees growing recognition that law schools and the legal profession must address the stress and often unhealthy coping practices in their ranks.

“There seems to be a growing recogni­tion that law school and the legal profes­sion are stressful, and many of the ways in which people cope are not healthy,” said Klagos, who has been heavily involved in wellness initiatives at UW since her second year. “People also recognize that to be able to serve others, it is important to take care of yourself first.”

While Schneider says he’s seen a shift in the stigma around mental health decreas­ing, there’s more to do.

“I’ve noticed a significant divide in how our student body sees mental health when compared with the regulators of the profession (e.g., boards of bar examiners), for example,” he explained. “Our students view mental health the same way they view physical health, meaning just as they would have no qualm about going to the doctor to treat an injury, our students feel comfort­able contacting a mental health provider when emotionally distraught. However, talking to a therapist typically necessitates a diagnostic code to bill insurance which, in turn, could be misunderstood as a more serious or chronic impairment. Suddenly, their path to becoming a lawyer may have gotten more challenging. We want to en­courage and not punish help-seeking.”

Headshot photo for Jodi Klagos.
Jodi Klagos

In general, he said, he’s “optimistic” to see the stigma falling away.

“More and more students will see me in the hall and tell their friends to come see me for help,” he added. “I hear professors and judges, and there’s always a plug in their discussions for taking care of yourself, and I see a really big shift in this direction, and that makes me hopeful.”

While much progress has been made, there’s still more to do.

“Last academic year, the Law School hosted several listening sessions with our students,” explained Devine. “They obvi­ously love John, but we need more resourc­es. We’re offering as many unique services to our students as we can, but we do have financial limitations. Through the help of our alumni, we’re hoping to continue improving our students’ experiences in this area. They deserve the very best. And we’re going to continue providing that.”

Read more about wellness initiatives in our interview with Jodi Klagos.

By Kassandra Tuten | Illustrations by Danielle Lamberson Philipp