Law School Has Gone to the Dogs (Seriously, Actual Dogs)

It’s no secret that I am a HUGE dog person.

My husband and I treat them like children. They know us as Mama and Dad (um, we're not hippie parents who go by first names). They’re on our holiday cards. And we miss them like crazy when we’re at work or on vacation.

Weird, you say?

Fine, be judgey like that. But there’s no mistaking how much joy, stress-relief and unconditional love they bring to our daily lives. In fact, it’s science (as Ron Burgundy would attest).

As a result of said science, the use of therapy dogs has become commonplace, especially in the wake of horrible tragedies. Therapy dog organizations have traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to soothe victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Virginia Tech shooting and 9/11. Even the U.S. Military employs therapy dogs at overseas bases as well as at home for veterans.

And schools.

Yale was one of the first to feature a therapy dog. Monty is a therapy dog owned by one of the law librarians. Students can check out Monty (like a book) for 20 minutes of play and snuggle time during certain times of year. Turns out Monty’s so popular that he’s always got a booked schedule.

California Western School of Law, University of Louisville, George Mason, Emory, University of Arizona, Stetson and University of San Francisco are just a smattering of some other law schools who have invited therapy dogs to campus during finals season.

Despite my love for doggies and support for the mainstream use of therapy dogs, I was still quite surprised when I learned that law schools have been providing therapy dogs for law students during finals periods.

Why the eff wasn’t I excited?

Maybe it’s because this seems to equate law school final exams with surviving some kind of trauma. While I couldn’t agree more that law exams are the worst and cause a lot of undue stress, it’s certainly not on par with surviving a violent tragedy.  Right?

Or maybe I’m more surprised that therapy dogs aren’t made available to law students more often. Although finals really suck, I can’t say I wasn’t similarly stressed or burned out during the rest of the school year. What about during on-campus interviews? Or moot court competitions? Or in the first few weeks of being a 1L? Or when freaking tuition bills come out or grades are posted?

While I applaud law schools for taking steps to ease law students’ anxiety, I would like to see them making more permanent policy changes in the way law school operates.

How about addressing the underlying reasons for law student anxiety, depression and burnout rather than attempting to minimize the symptoms?

More than just providing mental health services, I’m talking about addressing the real problems that plague students: overwhelming student loan debt, bleak job prospects, overly competitive school environment, professors who don’t have teaching skills.

I know I would have felt a hell of a lot less stressed if I weren’t paying tens of thousands of dollars per year for schooling that made me pretty miserable.

Going to class might have actually been enjoyable if all of my professors put more effort into making the material accessible, relevant and fun than into hiding the ball and ignoring practical applications of the law. (There were a few great profs, but you know what I'm talking about.)

And don’t even get me started on the limited assistance of career services beyond on-campus interviews.

Although these issues are being discussed by law school administrators and policy makers, the ABA’s recent panel presented by the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education revealed that no one can agree on which reforms need to happen. Of course not.

So until real reform is achieved, I suppose I'm ultimately grateful that law schools are welcoming therapy dogs and providing them as a resource to their students. But I hope students push for more frequent doggy visits or even resident therapy canines that are available year-round.

Next stop: dog-friendly law firms!?!

What do YOU think about the use of therapy dogs in law schools?