Program Participant Luis Aleman's Speech at the Class of 2019 Graduation
Luis A. Aleman
Luis Alberto Aleman received his B.S. in Political Science from the University of Central Florida in May 2015 and his J.D. from Stetson University College of Law in May 2019. He has experience in personal injury litigation and is fluent in Spanish. He participated in the pilot program and benefited tremendously from mentorship, leadership training, networking, and "coming out of his comfort zone." Mr. Aleman moved back to South Florida to be closer to his parents. He currently works at a law firm and is studying for the Florida Bar Exam.
Although I don't have a formal presentation, I do want to tell you about the DAP program and what it means to me personally. When I applied for DAP, I was interested in accessing the curriculum, modules, speakers, and mentors that it offered.
I approached the DAP program as an opportunity for an introverted person, such as myself, to push out of my comfort zone. I knew that it would allow me to do more in law school than just hoping that I never got cold-called in class. DAP gave me what I was seeking for: opportunities to grow in a setting with people I could relate to.
During the DAP tryout process, I remember I was so nervous before the group interview. Until the very last moment, I was debating with myself on whether I should go or not go into the interview. I remember saying to myself, “Why does it matter if I go or not? It’s not for a job or a huge sum of money. Blow it off and save yourself the stress." However, I knew, and I felt it in my stomach that if I didn’t go, I would feel like I failed.
When I went to do the presentation portion of the interview, I didn’t have anything prepared, so I winged it. From my perspective, I thought my presentation was terrible. However, in the end, I was comfortable with the way things had turned out because I did not stay home worrying or thinking about "what-if." Looking back, I'm glad that I did that presentation, it was the first opportunity that DAP gave me, and I am thrilled that I took it.
A week later, I was delighted to receive an email inviting me to participate in the Diversity Access Pipeline Pilot Program. Due to the lack of funding, I wasn’t able to get a scholarship to go towards Bar Prep Materials; however, that is not what I wanted. I knew that this program could offer me valuable opportunities and experiences that money could not buy. These experiences included obtaining a mentor who I could relate to and trust. It also included hearing speakers who were insightful, accomplished, and who faced or have faced both the same challenges that I have experienced thus far and the ones that I have yet to see.
I grew up in South Florida as the only child to Guatemalan immigrants. My mom had her associate's degree, and my father didn’t finish middle school. Growing up, my experience in school was quite different. Spanish was my first language, and while in school, people had a difficult time saying my name correctly. For a long time, I did not understand why some people would look at me funny or eat the same food that I ate, such as tortillas and black beans. Although I grew up feeling different, I knew that I felt the most comfortable around those who were not the majority. The challenges that I experienced growing up, a lot of people will never understand, no matter how hard they try to or how genuine they are. I think that to understand an individual's struggles or challenges, you have to struggle, and I loved the fact that the DAP Program has given me comfort to know that I was around others who knew struggle just as I knew it.
Being in the DAP program gave me purpose, and I enjoyed every module I participated in. I never left a module in Tampa, thinking to myself, “Wow, I really wasted my time tonight! ” Each module was a new and unique opportunity for me to grow; we touched on leadership, mental wellness, federal clerkships, mentorship, community service, and more. After each module would end, instead of leaving Tampa tired, I felt energized, and I felt alive. Every time I drove home, I had my windows down, music up, cruising, filled with satisfaction.
I will miss participating in the DAP program, and I want to thank Joseline and all those who helped put the program together. Thank you to the module speakers and presenters who dedicated their time to the DAP program.
However, I do have one last thing to say. I almost didn’t make it out here today, not because of the same nerves that I felt during my interview presentation, but because today is a hard day for me. My close friend Miguel passed away a year ago today in Orlando. As some of you may know, I have a huge interest in immigration law, and my friend Miguel was a Dreamer. He had received DACA status many years ago and wanted nothing more than to stay in this country. He had been here for over 15 years. He supported his mom and his little sister. He worked two jobs. I got into this field to help people like him, and even though ultimately he wasn’t able to follow his dreams, I would like to speak to this room and the universe to say that I will follow my dreams for the both of us. (Miguel and myself).
Thank you, Luis A. Aleman
The content in this article is not the exact original version and has been edited for publication purposes. To watch Mr. Aleman's delivery of the original version of his speech, check out our YouTube page or click here.
Congratulations to our Scholars!
Congratulations to Class of 2020 scholars, Kishnee Theus (l) and Marcia Frith (r) who graduated from WMU - Cooley Law School this past January.
Congratulations to Journey to Esquire's Class of 2019 program scholar and graduate of WMU - Cooley Law School Jemima Pierre Zetrenne for her admission to The Florida Bar.
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Wellness in the Legal Profession: Addressing the Issues Created in Law School That Spill Over Into Practice
Assita Toure received her J.D. from Stetson University College of Law with a concentration in Social Justice Advocacy. She was the 2018-19 President of the Black Law Students Association. She earned a B.A. in Political Science from the University of South Florida with a minor in Criminology. Ms. Toure was part of the Pilot Program Class of 2019 of the Journey to Esquire: Scholarship & Leadership Program. She currently practices law as part of the 13th Judicial Circuit's Office of the Public Defender in Tampa, Florida. Visit her LinkedIn page for more information.
I. Introduction Over the past few years, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of lawyers who have substance abuse issues. Numerous bar associations throughout the country have initiated conversations about these rates. Still, the actions they have taken have not done much to cure these problems among members of the profession. In 2016, the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation published their study involving nearly 13,000 practicing lawyers. It found that between 21 and 36 percent of lawyers qualified as problem drinkers and that approximately 28 percent, 19 percent, and 23 percent, respectively, were struggling with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress. The most alarming part of this study, however, its finding that younger lawyers in their first ten years of practice had the highest rates of drinking and depression throughout the profession. In this article, I will address the need for wellness initiatives in law schools to help law students find healthier wellness and coping mechanisms before they enter into the legal profession.
II. The Issue As a law student, I experienced the ease with which I formed poor habits. I have also seen how they can spill over into law practice. The entire process of law school is stressful; and poor wellness habits begin to form at the outset of our 1L year. The first year of law school is an experience that only those who have been through it can understand. There is pressure to comprehend and digest the assigned material, cold-call anxiety, stress from the overall competitive atmosphere, all combined with issues students may already face in their personal lives. The aggregation of all these factors prove difficult, even for those who come to law school with healthy wellness habits.
Within the first year, students pick up unhealthy habits- such as sleep deprivation- to keep up with the competition and maintain class rank. These unhealthy habits often result in an overall negative mental state that many students feel they lack resources with which to cope. Students experiment with alcohol and other illegal substances to relax, and these coping mechanisms quickly become habits or addictions.
Fifteen law schools and over 3,300 law students participated in the Survey of Law Student Well-Being, which released it results in 2016. It found the following: "17 percent [of students] experienced some level of depression, 14 percent experienced severe anxiety, 23 percent had mild or moderate anxiety, and six percent reported serious suicidal thoughts in the past year. As to alcohol use, 43 percent reported binge drinking at least once in the prior two weeks, and nearly one-quarter (22 percent) reported binge-drinking two or more times during that period. One-quarter fell into the category of being at risk for alcoholism for which further screening was recommended.” These statistics make it very clear that there is a significant problem with the way law students deal with stress and shed light on the growing need for wellness in law school programs.
One of the most worrisome aspects about the rates of illness listed above is many students, aware of the issues they have developed, refuse to seek help to address them. The study found that “42% of students needed help for poor mental health but only about half sought it out.” Some of the reasons for this reluctance to seek help is the perception of a lack of confidentiality and an overall concern that seeking help will harm their chances of practicing law.
Law school is hard work, and students who go through the process do not want to out bar admission at risk, so they ignore the clear signs of their need for help. Other factors cited by the students as discouragement from seeking help included: job or academic status, social stigmas, privacy concerns, lack of time, and the belief that they can handle the issues on their own. Students’ overall reluctance to seek help may be one factor explaining why law student wellness has not changed significantly since the last student survey of these issues from the 1990s.
Analysis of the statistics described above makes it easy to see why there is such an overall issue with mental illness in the legal profession. While bar initiated wellness programs are still essential, it is time to shift focus to the way students develop those habits in law school. A study conducted on lawyer wellness by Lawrence S. Krieger and Kennon M. Sheldon provides the statistical analysis to confirm that problems with mental health begin in law school and further supports the need to create solutions that start in law school. Starting at the source is crucial as it is the best way to prevent the creation of issues that are seemingly beginning before students even reach the profession. Promoting wellness in law school is the best way to give future attorneys the necessary skills that they will need to cope with the many stressors that come with the practice of law.
III. Solutions Initiatives to increase wellness in law school should not be limited to enhancing student resilience and detecting the disorders that exist. Identifying the source of the problems that may stem from organizational practices and assessing changes that will support student wellness should form the basis of law school wellness initiatives. If legal educators continue to ignore the stressors associated with law school, their inaction may suppress the overall learning capacity of students and intensify mental illness.  Based on a solution-oriented mindset, law schools can address these issues proactively.
One of the first solutions law schools can implement is hiring at least two professional onsite counselors. This proposal provides students a readily accessible resource: confidential talk therapy with a mental health professional about any issues, personal or professional. It also provides access to counseling to students who have no other resource. Two onsite counselors will meet the tremendous need in law school campuses. Many students want the opportunity to speak with a counselor. But they get discouraged with long wait times and limited appointment slots. Ensuring that there are adequate resources, for the students who choose to get help, addresses the issue of access.
Because many students recognize that they have an issue but do not seek help. Thus, law schools should implement a mandatory course on wellbeing during the 1L year. In this course, students can not only get information about the rates of alcohol and substance abuse for law students, but also where they can gain some advice on how to deal with the challenges in law school. To support a program like this, law schools should train their professors in courses as well so that they can learn how to relate and help their students with mental health and substance abuse issues. The two onsite mental health professionals can also teach these courses. A program like this will stress to students the importance of keeping up with their health and wellbeing and give them insight into the negative consequences of ignoring their mental health. The training that professors get will provide them with the tools to help students after their 1L year as well.
The last and more obvious suggestion is for law schools to discourage or eliminate alcohol-centered events altogether. Showing students that it is possible to network without alcohol consumption is very important. Many of the social events sponsored by law schools have free alcoholic drinks offered at unlimited amounts, aka “open bar.” This tradition of drinking alcohol during networking events should be carefully examined. Law schools can model for their students positive steps to address the increasing rates of alcohol abuse by law students. It is equally important that law schools make a formal statement to their students that they have chosen to discourage alcohol intake at school events to encourage health. Transparency is paramount. If students see that the law school takes the issue seriously, then they will be more likely to do so as well.
IV. Conclusion Wellness in the legal profession has been a hot topic recently, but an area that needs more attention is law schools. Ensuring that the future generation of lawyers knows about the high risks of alcohol and substance abuse of those in practice is critical. But equally as important is giving students the resources necessary to help them maintain their wellness. Many attorneys who have alcohol and substance issues formed these habits in law school. If we are able to help students while they are still in law school, we will be able to decrease the rates of abuse in the profession. We can help students in law school by encouraging them to seek help.
Recently, the Florida Bar's Young Lawyer Division launched the #StigmaFreeYLD campaign to remove the stigma that comes with seeking help for mental health and abuse issues among lawyers. Also, the newer bar application, which was effective on November 1st, 2019, encourages applicants to seek help for problems with mental health and substance abuse and also notes that seeking help will not hurt their application. Being a lawyer is tough, and if we can be proactive in our approach to deal with it before there is an issue, we can help so many more people.
 P. R. Krill, R. Johnson, & L. Albert, The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, 10 J. ADDICTION MED. 46 (2016).
 J. M. Organ, D. Jaffe, & K. Bender, Suffering in Silence: The Survey of Law Student Well-Being and the Reluctance of Law Students to Seek Help for Substance Use and Mental Health Concerns, 66 J. LEGAL EDUC. 116 (2016).