An Empirical Study of 1Ls at a Midwestern Law School.
By Richard C. Reuben and Kennon M. Sheldon
48 Southwestern L. Rev. 1 (2019)
This is the first empirical study to assess whether mindfulness meditation training can help law students with stress, focus, well-being, or academic performance. The results were positive on all measures except for academic performance, which was inconclusive.
Forty-seven University of Missouri School of Law students participated in the study over a two-year period. All students took a survey using standard scales to assess their stress, focus, and well-being when they enrolled in the study in the fall, and at the beginning and end of their training.
Students in the test group participated in a weekly mindfulness training during the eight weeks leading up to first year, fall semester final examinations. Students in the control group took the training in the spring semester or completed the surveys but didn’t take the training. There was no attrition. All students who took the training were asked to practice mindfulness for 15 minutes a day every day during the study. The average was 10 minutes a day five days a week.
We found students in the test group were more stressed, less focused, and unhappier than students in the control group at the beginning of the training. However, they caught up with the control group by the end of the study on all three measures.
More significantly, the test group’s trajectory over the eight weeks was one of consistent improvement on all three measures, while the control group’s declined. That is, students in the test group were less stressed, more focused, and generally happier heading into first year, fall semester finals than they were midway through the fall semester. Those in the control group got predictably worse. The academic performance data were inconclusive, although there was meaningful anecdotal evidence suggesting it helped many members of the test group as well.
Exit surveys upon graduation three years later found most respondents believed the training helped them throughout their law school careers, even though the majority reported gradually stopping their daily practices after the study ended. Respondents overwhelmingly believed law schools should offer mindfulness training to interested first-year law students, and a significant majority indicated that a support structure within the law school would have helped them continue their mindfulness practices after the study.
While the study leaves open many questions for future research, it does suggest that mindfulness meditation training can help at least some first year students manage the rigours of the first year, and put them on a constructive path for their professional careers.