Interview with Joe Bankman, Stanford Law Professor and Law School Wellness Project Creator


This is @Joe_Bankman .

He’s a pretty amazing guy. After teaching law school at Stanford for many years, Joe decided he wanted to broaden his experience and background, and he went back to school, achieving a degree in clinical psychology in his off-hours (!). Here’s a great article from Stanford Lawyer Magazine about this decision. In it, he says,

I never intended to quit my day job. But my scholarship and policy work were venturing into behavioral psychology and the law, and I wanted to understand more about human behavior.

Now @Joe_Bankman’s putting his experience to good use, working on a project that’s near and dear to this voyager’s heart. Along with Sarah Weinstein, he’s creating the Law School Wellness Project, the first anxiety and stress related resource specifically targeted at law schools and law school faculty.

Joe and I met a few months ago after he had read a post of mine. I was thrilled to hear about his project, and asked him if he had the time to share some of his insight with us here in an AMA. He said yes!


Hi @Joe_Bankman – I am so happy to get to talk to you about this fantastic project. Thank you for doing it in this kind of odd format. The initials AMA stand for “Ask Me Anything” and this format is borrowed from Reddit. Here’s an article of the top 2016 AMAs from Fortune. I expect ours to top the list in 2017, hahaha.

Really, how this works is I (or others who visit) ask you questions and you just answer right here inline! I hope it will be fun.

First question: What’s the latest news about the Law School Wellness Project? When last we talked you were still looking for the right collaborators to help with momentum.


Great article. Great Project! Thanks!


Thanks for the sweet words, Meredith. As you know, I am a big fan of Beautiful Voyager. In fact, the aim of the Wellness Project is to emulate Beautiful Voyager, and other projects, by creating a community around wellness in the legal profession.

The big news is that, due to the generosity of a law school graduate, we were able to hire Sarah Weinstein to run the project. She’s a lawyer and a therapist (with a practice in the Bay Area) with great ideas and energy. We’ll have a number of new blog post and a podcast coming up on substance abuse in the law.


A podcast! That’s very exciting. I can’t wait to hear more and update this thread with details as they emerge. I am honored that Beautiful Voyager would influence the Wellness Project in any way and can’t wait to see it grow and grow.

Tell me this, @Joe_Bankman Question #2: Why do you feel that stress, anxiety, and wellness are important topics to tackle for students in law school?


Well, stress and anxiety are important topics for everyone. But they are especially important for law students. Studies show that law students have the anxiety of a “normal” population when they begin law school: some struggle with anxiety, and some don’t. After a year, law students as a group are much more anxious than the normal population. This anxiety doesn’t disappear after graduation. Lawyers are more anxious (and, not surprisingly, more depressed) than the rest of the population. They have four times the average suicide rate.


Whoa! I had no idea that the stats break down like that! @Joe_Bankman, do you have any idea how that compares to medical schools, for example? Or business schools? Do we have any idea what it is about law schools or being a lawyer that leads to this kind of outcome?

(Of course, I now wonder if it’s a coincidence that I come from an entire family of lawyers…)


At least one study showed law school was worse than medical school. I’d guess law school is worse than business school, too. One reason for the strong relationship between law and anxiety is that the practice of law, you are judged on how well you perform and there is often an opposing attorney whose goal is to make you look stupid. That can make anyone anxious. Law schools train students to deal with this by calling on them in class and giving them hard questions. So law schools “import” the anxiety that lawyers face. In addition, in law school students work and are graded alone, instead of in teams (as in business school). This increases isolation, which probably increases both anxiety and depression.


When we were growing up, we never understood why our father was always on the offensive with all of his questioning…of everyone! Everything always felt like an interrogation. This training def could point to why that is. Despite this pattern with my dad, both of my brothers (who are identical twins) went to law school, as did their wives. I sent them this thread, and one of them wrote back:

Lawyers are very stressed, more now than ever. For the most part, lawyers carry large debt most of their lives, are underpaid, and trained to question, distrust, and advocate – not good for the head nor the heart. I know very few happy attorneys who I graduated with. If you want to be shocked, look up the stats on alcoholism amongst lawyers versus the normal population. So glad that I didn’t fall into the traditional lawyer “pie eating contest” and that I’m no longer practicing.

I never thought of that issue of being trained to “question, distrust and advocate” before.

**Question for you @Joe_Bankman: Do you think this is how law school has to be? Is inherent in how it works intense stress? Or are there things that could change for the better that would help young people face this career?

(I am really loving this conversation, btw. Thank you so much for your time!).

Bumping to see if @Joe_Bankman might see this question above ( I know how busy you are!)


@Joe_Bankman has a new podcast out called WellnessCast – Subscribe on itunes!