ANXIETY & INSECURITY
In the competitive culture of law school, where classroom participation often offers the only opportunity to impress a professor besides an anonymously graded final exam, this issue can impose a serious psychological strain on students lacking vocal confidence. In fact, students encountering this affliction should hear that: a they are not alone; b there is zero correlation between their classroom public speaking struggles and their future success in the legal practice; and c they can overcome this hurdle with the right assistance.
Law schools need to acknowledge this obstacle, invite students to self-identify and ask for help, and offer classroom strategies and workable programs tailored for growth. Across the country, law schools offer a vast array of support programs 3 to students struggling in other areas—writing, test-taking, bar passage 4 —but offer very little, if anything, to students with major public speaking anxiety.
The premise of this Article is that a certain cluster of students in every law school experiences severe public speaking anxiety as contrasted with standard low-grade nerves —whether because of childhood upbringing, adolescent or college experiences, or new environmental triggers—and needs support to gain control of this fear instead of repressing it as a perceived weakness.
This Article proposes that, with the right level of awareness and a thoughtful psychological approach, law schools can, and should, develop programs to assist students in overcoming this stumbling block. To do so, law professors first must understand that it is not only confident extroverts who make strong legal advocates. Part IV prompts professors to consider how widespread severe public speaking anxiety may be in their particular classrooms or schools and summarizes how certain institutions have addressed the issue to date.
Fear of public speaking obviously is not a new concept. Unfortunately, legal and other educators devote insufficient attention to this state of affairs. According to Natalie H. Rogers, author of The New Talk Power :. Not only is there an individual silence about fear of speaking in public, there is also a national silence.
Transforming Anxious Public Speakers into Well-Rounded Advocates
In the phobia category, although various esoteric conditions and maladies are cited, there is no listing of public-speaking phobia itself, although it has a name: glossophobia. As a threshold matter, if law schools only welcome eager extroverted public speakers into their hallowed hallways, a significant percentage of the population will be overlooked. Studies vary on the precise ratio of extroverts to introverts in the general population but, according to Laurie Helgoe, Ph. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that introverts 17 or anxious public speakers are less equipped for rigorous legal discourse, schools should consider that these introspective students bring something special to the classroom dynamic.
A quiet student does not correlate necessarily to a lazy, distracted, unmotivated, or unintelligent 22 law student—or one who is not connecting to the material. Quite the contrary, this student very well might have dedicated study habits, a fierce work ethic, and an intense desire to succeed. Classroom leaders should also contemplate the difference between shyness and introversion. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not. Of course, in a law school class, students do not have the luxury to sit back quietly, pondering the nuances of the law, the fair result, or the greater good, awaiting the moment when they feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts.
However, both scenarios can produce anxiety 32 for many introverted students whose preference is to think rather than speak, and can incite extreme stress for a smaller subsection of that group with a more serious fear of public speaking. Professors should entertain the possibility that silent students may have a thoughtful, deeper analysis not yet touched on by the class but which remains hidden by internal resistance to outward expression.
Professor Orin S. Law school is stressful, as it should be to a reasonable degree; after all, the academy trains scholar-apprentice to perform an important and difficult job with moral, ethical, and societal implications. However, it is essential to examine whether avoidable and purposeless stressors detrimentally affect the psychological health of students and future members of the legal profession 38 —especially at a time when students also face unprecedented economic volatility, balancing astronomical law school debt against a shrinking legal job market.
Some analysts hypothesize that law school attracts high-stress personality types, more prone to anxiety than the average person. Soonpaa also analyzed this issue and explained,. This phenomenon occurs partly because students enter law school with distinctive talents or attributes that they often perceive they need to downplay to survive. As Professor Jolly-Ryan poignantly notes,. Some law students do come to law school with great gifts, including people skills.
They possess the ability to empathize and communicate. They are interesting and have backgrounds that can even assist in the legal education and development of other students. Interestingly, studies show that law school imposes more sustained stress on students than medical school does.
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Many educators acknowledge that a moderate level of stress is necessary and can improve learning. However, Adam J. Fortunately, law school administrators and faculty have the power—and professional responsibility 58 —to alter this trend. Just because a student might hesitate at the opportunity to experience a public grilling on Hadley v.
Baxendale does not mean the student eventually is not destined for robust courtroom or boardroom debate. One way to accomplish this metamorphosis without sacrificing intellectual rigor is, as Jennifer L.
This Article also does not purport to tackle the myriad pros and cons of the Socratic Method. However, it is relevant to recognize the effect the Method 66 might have on students who are not readily gifted at public speaking, or worse, experience extreme anxiety when on-call. Accordingly, introverts or naturally introspective students who already experience discomfort with public speaking absorb a great deal of stress in classrooms governed by this Method.
Similarly, the quiet law student often struggles in anticipating the first-year oral argument competition. Obviously, oral argument is not comparable to giving a speech in which the orator maintains control over the subject matter, pacing, transitions, and conclusions. A deeper look at the type of students who tend to waver under such intense scrutiny reveals that intelligence, or fitness for the practice of law, is not the issue. Professors who view students through a single lens risk missing out on these analytical capacities.
A bad experience with the Socratic Method certainly can discourage students from participation, rather than helping them gain confidence. The assumption was if you did it long enough, you would get over it. As Janet E. These types of surface-level programs never will unravel the core condition. Look at it like putting out a fire where there is a lot of billowing smoke. You need to identify the source of the fire in order to extinguish it. Without adding this critical component to the mix, no amount of tools, tips, or other how-tos for auditioning, interviewing, speechmaking, or presenting effectively will produce results that last.
The only reasonable solution is a method that will eliminate the fear and its devastating effects. Extroverted students and professors might not readily understand the depths of the stress and anxiety for some classroom colleagues and might wonder what all the fuss is about. It might seem illogical. It is exactly this lack of logic that makes this phenomenon so frustrating. When there seems to be no logical reason for the anxiety and it still hits, a logical person becomes understandably frustrated.
When that logical person is accustomed to feeling competent, in control, even powerful, feeling helpless to prevent the anxiety can be even more frustrating. Whether a student has experienced public speaking anxiety for most of his or her life, or if law school is a fresh trigger, the root cause is internal and needs to be excavated.
The first step is to take time to reflect upon negative or critical messages received in the past. Esposito encourages individuals to consider. This creates a feeling of shame and a fear of embarrassment and humiliation in exposing [their] true sel[ves] in front of others.
The “Silent but Gifted” Law Student:
Second, law students may have adopted—whether years ago, or in their first few months in law school—certain self-defeating fables that recur in their internal dialogue, and replay in their minds during spotlight performance scenarios. Third, students may be restrained by more deeply-rooted psychological barriers that take more dedicated focus to exhume, such as: 1 fear of criticism or being judged negatively fear of being characterized as different by our peers ; 2 fear of forgetting; 3 fear of embarrassment or humiliation; 4 fear of failure or success ; 5 fear of the unknown; and 6 fear of bad past experiences.
Fourth, students must study and observe the ways anxiety manifests in their physical bodies. Shortness of breath, a rapid heartbeat, shaking, sweating, and breaking out in hives are normal physical and biological reactions to stress. There are surprisingly simple ways to recognize and control these responses, such as breathing techniques, physical stance, and channeling excess energy into tangible objects like podiums, pens, and desktops.
Finally, once individuals become aware of and process the foregoing negative sound-bites, personal fables, hidden blockages, and physical manifestations, they can work on re-framing and re-inventing themselves as they prepare for specific public speaking opportunities.
affirmations for overcoming shyness and social anxiety through service and compassion Manual
Many respondents acknowledged an awareness of students struggling with this challenge, but indicated that very few students come forward to discuss it openly or seek direct help. The low frequency in student reporting could stem from a reluctance to admit a perceived weakness, thus presenting difficulty in accurately quantifying how many students at a given law school, or law schools nationwide, experience public speaking anxiety, or would benefit from a program which would directly address the matter.
Anecdotally, however, students are willing to discuss the issue when specifically asked in a safe non-judgmental forum. In a non-scientific, and recognizably small, study, four sections of LRW students at Chapman University School of Law, totaling seventy-two students thirty-six first-year students who just completed their year-long LRW course, and thirty-six second-year students who completed their LRW course in the — school year were asked if they would be interested in completing a ten-part questionnaire that the Author developed regarding fear of public speaking in law school.
Twenty-four students responded, revealing they had experienced at least some form of public speaking anxiety in college or law school. Many of these students stated that no one in their academic career had ever asked them about public speaking anxiety. Some students who completed the questionnaire confided that they dreaded going to certain classes every day for fear of being on-call. Some experienced panic and anxiety the moment they were called upon in class, or if their responses to questions did not go well.
The students explained that their fears tied to the Socratic Method and oral arguments related mostly to possible embarrassment in front of peers, public perception of a lack of intelligence, and worry that poor performance correlated to their future ability as a lawyer. According to these students, the onset of public speaking anxiety came during varied life phases, ranging from childhood, to high school, to college, to law school. Students remarked:. It led to me leaving home at the age of Almost all the students who completed the questionnaire articulated a desire to overcome their fear of public speaking, and believed it would be helpful for law schools to recognize this issue more overtly.
Notably, most of the law school administrators and faculty who answered the email query indicated they have no formal program in place specifically related to extreme public speaking anxiety issues. As described in Section V below, only two schools out of the 41 who responded offer specifically tailored programs.
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Nonetheless, many respondents acknowledged the reality of this concern. Diane B. I know the fear is out there—I saw it with some excellent legal writing students. I wish that Cornell students were immune from fear of public speaking. In schools with no formal public speaking anxiety programs, professors tend to handle public speaking issues through general class-wide oral argument workshops, classroom lectures, public speaking course offerings in the second or third year, one-on-one counseling, or for more serious cases, referrals to university-based professional counseling services.
For oral arguments, for example, some schools offer extra preparation sessions, focusing on practical advice for standing at the podium, general performance anxiety, strategies for handling questions, and practice in a non-threatening environment.
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