Exam extensions form another type of trauma recognition. In 2014, large numbers of students petitioned for extensions in light of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police officers. Students at Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School, and Georgetown University Law School asked their administrations to allow extensions on final exams for students whom the national spotlight on police killings of people of color had given mental-health-related issues.


After Ferguson, trauma recognition advocates asked that exam extensions be available to any student who requested one based on racial-climate-related trauma. Students seeking extensions argued they should not have to “prove” their trauma to school mental health professionals in order to qualify for extensions, since national events spoke for themselves. The medicalization of trauma after a massive, violent event frames the violence itself as extraordinary—obscuring the ongoing social causes—and the personal consequences of violence as “disordered.”[1] While psychological practices are crucial, the argument goes, when there has been a widely felt event, psychiatric practices have as much potential to collude with oppressive social forces, allowing or encouraging violence, as to disrupt them.[2] Thus, schools were asked to acknowledge the mass trauma rather than subjecting individuals to psychological examinations.


Many opponents decried the exam extensions on the same basis often used to reject trigger warnings: law students should learn how to push through intense adversity in order to become successful in their careers. In essence, law students were told to grow up and learn how to ignore anxiety like “real” lawyers do. Yet, young lawyers learning to be more careful about their mental health might mark the beginning of a healthier legal.[3] Research shows that lawyers are prone to stress-related illnesses, including burnout, insomnia, clinical depression, gambling addiction, and substance abuse.[4] Approximately 15% of lawyers will encounter some form of depression during their careers.[5] Surveys reveal that as many as 18% of lawyers will develop problems related to substance abuse, compared to approximately 10-11% of the general population.[6] Those professional lawyers expressing hesitancy regarding exam extensions demonstrate the problem: the legal profession has yet to acknowledged the need for change in its discourse about mental health.[7]

As William Desmond wrote about the 2014 exam extensions:

Where some commentators see weakness or sensitivity, perhaps they should instead see strength – the strength to know when our cups of endurance have run over and when the time for patience has ended.[8]


For the sake of better mental health in the legal profession, awareness and strength to know one’s own boundaries should be encouraged.



[1] Marie Lovrod & Lynda R. Ross, Post Trauma: Medicalization and Damage to Social Reform, Atlantis: Crit. Stud Gen., Cult. & Soc. Just. 35.2, (2011).

[2] Id.

[3] Scott Mitchell, Mental Health in the Legal Profession, Div. & The Bar, (Sep./Oct. 2007).

[4] John W. Clark, Jr., We’re From The Bar and We’re Here to Help You, GPSOLO Mag., Vol. 21(7), (Oct./Nov. 2004), http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/octnov2004/werefromthebar.html.

[5] Andrew Imparato, Mental Illness in the Legal Workplace, Div. & the Bar (May/Jun. 2005).

[6] Clark, Jr., supra 4.

[7] Alex M. Johnson, Jr., Think Like a Lawyer, Work Like a Machine: The Dissonance Between Law School and Law Practice, 64 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1231, 1240 (1991).

[8] William Desmond, Delaying Exams Is Not a Request from ‘Coddled Millennials, Nat. L. J., (Dec. 22, 2014), http://bit.ly/1Zm7tqW.