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Wellbeing in a Law Clinic Setting

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By Catherine Arnold, Director of Sunderland Student Law Clinic

A slogan that recently caught my attention on social media was “We are all battling a storm but we are not all on the same boat”. People are facing challenges but they are different challenges: family circumstances differ and economic pressures vary.

When I took up the post of Head of Clinical Legal Education my focus for students was to develop their practice-based skills. However, I was also keen to focus on maintaining wellbeing and developing good habits in that respect. A legal career is exciting, engaging, dynamic and rewarding and the key to success in any career is to take positives steps to maintain your wellbeing.

When I was in practice the firm I worked at had a set lunch hour at 1pm which helped because it gave staff the focus of when to take a break. I always made sure I took my lunch hour and in later years would spring up at 1pm, go to the bathroom and into exercise gear. You could find me on Newcastle Quayside flying along (in my fitter days) as I marched out on my lunchtime exercise. On my run I would come up with solutions that had been staring me in the face and my chargeable hours would surge in the afternoon because of my renewed energy. I was fit, well and able to cope with the rigours of practice.

The staff in the Law School at the University of Sunderland do a grand job of supporting students both academically and personally. I was keen to join in this effort and press on running wellbeing events to promote good habits amongst students. During world mental health week I managed to persuade a group of students to take a walk to Roker and we enjoyed fish and chips by the beach. It was a small step but a nice break from the stress of the exams at the time and a starting point for my “wellbeing events”.

At the start of this academic year, I set myself a rather ambitious target of doing a wellbeing activity once a month but my line manager gently suggested I aim for two per term and build from there. The Law Clinic held a bake sale raising money for Sunderland Mind on World Mental Health Day. The slogan was “They say a problem shared is a problem halved… So let’s take some time out together, share a cake and just talk for as long as we need” and it went down well with all involved. Another event involved a trip to the Courts in Newcastle combined with a visit to a cat café, mixing up relaxation with pets with an educational visit and a talk from a Circuit Judge.

We support our students as they focus on their assessments and next steps. The wonderful thing about the Law School at the University of Sunderland is it is a supportive community and the staff don’t just care about the grades a student gets, but the wider picture; their wellbeing, their development as individuals and supporting them as they move into their careers and beyond.

As we train the lawyers of the future the staff here remain focused on ensuring they have the skills and knowledge they need for legal practice, but with the right mindset for the rigours of their careers. We work to promote the good habits for wellbeing, open up the dialogue that it is okay not to feel okay, and the wider conversation surrounding the issues.

As we all continue to sail our boats through unsettling times it is these tools that will guide us through the storm.

Male student working on a computer in the Law Clinic

For further information about wellbeing and mental health learn about LawCare, a registered charity that promotes and supports good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community. 

Published: 18 May 2020