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Keywords

Law Schools, COVID-19, Isolation, Social Support, Mental Health, Racial Justice, Public Health, Social Justice, Academia, Legal Education

Abstract

Law students have been faced with unparalleled stress during the syndemic. They must cope with being students during the COVID-19 pandemic but also must deal with stress related to social and political unrest. This essay recommends that law schools apply social support theory in developing interventions to effectively address the needs of law students now and in the future. Social support theory focuses on the value and benefits one receives from positive interpersonal relationships. These positive relationships impact both mental and physical health and promote beneficial short and long-term overall health. However, not all supports are the same, and social support theory can inform law schools on how to properly deploy support to students. There are four categories of social support under this theory: emotional, instrumental, informational, and appraisal support. Emotional support includes offering comfort and empathy. Instrumental support entails providing someone with tangible forms of support, such as money or equipment. Informational support is educating or advising someone. Appraisal support is assisting in self-evaluation, such as by providing feedback. Law schools typically provide informational and appraisal support. However, with students living in a world where outside support may be limited due to social distancing, law schools must be prepared to enhance their offerings to students by providing all forms of support. Law schools must also be aware that there is a difference between perceived support and received support. Perceived support is based on one’s expectation of receiving support when needed, while received support is related to the actual delivery of support at the time it is needed. Perceived support is most positively associated with beneficial health outcomes. Health outcomes are more variable in relation to received support, in some cases even negative. This perceived support is especially important during a pandemic because it may improve student health outcomes, including potentially reducing mortality. To be effective in promoting wellbeing through the provision of social support, law schools cannot simply focus on the efficient delivery of essential instruction but rather must foster the expectation among its law students that it will provide all necessary forms of support.

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