Journal of Leadership and the Law

The Holistic Tool Kit:
A Look at How One Law Student is Making a Difference

Evan FreemyerBy Evan Freemyer L’16

Beneath the pile of casebooks and the strewn case briefs lies not just another haggard law student with circles under the eyes and highlighter war-painted on, but also a person, a human being.  It is so easy to become wrapped in the world of class and studying we forget about the world outside and who we were before this journey began.  This is the life we expected, the life most lawyers have experienced and told stories about for generations.  However, for Shoshanna Silverberg this concept of law school is not the approach that best serves tomorrow’s attorneys.  Rather she has built an outlet where law students can express their individuality, where bar exams and outlines are not simply the cookie-cutter, box shaped methods we have grown to dread.

Shoshanna is a 3L at Elon University School of Law and began writing a blog titled Holistic Tool Kit, which provides a new perspective on the law student experience.  Shoshanna’s hope is to provide students present and future with this same outlet and an understanding that change is coming to the legal field.  She also hopes to remind students that there is life beyond eight hours of study, 400 pages of reading, and a hopeless dread of being cold-called.  This summer Shoshanna sat down with Camille Hill and explained more of her thoughts on what it means to be a “holistic law student.”

Holistictoolkit screenshotCamille: Explain a bit about your blog and its purpose.

Shoshanna: The idea is to create a space where law students can express themselves across boundaries we traditionally tend to keep separate from our discussion of law or legal education. The vision is to build a community of students and young lawyers connected to who we are as human beings.  (In a sense, HolisticToolKit.com is an added dimension to the experience of our legal education.)  I want law students to know there is a community for them to share their experiences as whole people, as passionate human beings whose lives consist of more than studying for the bar.  I also want law students to be aware that leadership is about living by example, and when you feel positive about the way you are engaging in the world, sharing what you are doing gives other people a model to aspire to.  It shows that living a 'holistic' life is possible, even in the trenches of law school or our early years of practice. Another dimension of what HolisticToolKit.com offers is the opportunity to hear about alternative ways of doing things, ways of finding a work/life balance that we aren't educated about in school.  This includes integrative practice models, where other elements of our training from other degrees or certificates or just in life can be leveraged as part of our business models.  Again here, I would say we are offering a model for leadership in law in the twenty first century.

C: Why do you believe this is so important?

S: I think it's important because we don't receive this kind of education in law school.  The traditional concept of a lawyer is someone who dresses in boxy suits every day, who is trained to be pessimistic and strategic and fact-obsessed to the point of either not having a personality, or to the point of being a real jerk.  Lawyers, in many ways, are out of touch with who they are as human beings and with who everyone else is because "they" are not lawyers. There is a major rift here between who we all are as people and what opportunities there are for us to be of service, and between who we are within and who we feel we must present ourselves as, as lawyers, in and to the world.

C: What inspired you to begin this blog and what have you learned along the way, what do you expect to learn from the experience?

S: I think the idea here of a work/life style balance is what we're talking about.  So it's not just that who I am shines through (can be seen) when I'm not working.  A really basic example of this could be posture.  Many of us go through our days not even thinking of how we are holding our bodies -- we are conscious of how our body language conveys power to other people, and so we might adjust our stance in court to be more confident or intimidating.  Or perhaps when meeting with a client we may tilt our head in a certain way or crinkle an eyebrow as a means of expressing empathy (such rote cues are taught in law school as a substitution for teaching the skills of actually knowing how to connect).  But what about when we are not performing for others?  How about when we find ourselves beneath 400 pages of reading we need to get done in the next two hours? How about when we've been working on a brief at the computer for eight hours straight?  How do we hold ourselves then?  What kind of posture do we have?  This matters because how we sit directly impacts the internal condition of our organs.  It impacts our blood flow.  It impacts the quality of our lives, which in turn, impacts our capacity to be productive later on in our professional lives.  So the point is there is this connection between wellness in every moment and the quality of our work, which again, loops back and impacts the overall quality of our lives.

When we learn to engage in the work that we do with integrity -- in this example it's postural integrity -- we train ourselves to be in integrity all of the time.  Or we at least increase our odds of success in this vein.  And what I would say is that HolisticToolKit.com is about giving us ways to explore these connections, so that we can cultivate skills for better living within every moment, and not just when we 'get off work' or are out for a run, etc.  It's about finding a sense of internal and external balance all the time, so that then when we choose to perform, say in a court room or in a triathlon, we have a more sustainable foundation for engaging in that behavior.  We're, as it's called in the meditation world, grounded.  We're "in our bodies".  (And in a world where the model for success is not being in our bodies, this kind of practice holds major, major value.)

Ms. Silverberg is not alone in this thinking. The Florida State University College of Law (FSUCL) has taken up the issue by classifying themselves as a “Humanizing Law School.”[1]  FSUCL hopes to inform the legal community of the issues surrounding legal education, particularly, substance abuse, depression, excessive work, etc.  Through innovative methods FSUCL hopes to alleviate the problems and give legal educators an alternative to the traditional methods.  Other schools of law are already attempting to create a more holistic legal education; for example, Georgetown Law and Duke School of Law.[2]

Following the interview Shoshanna asks that we all take a moment to look inside ourselves and consider the things, which make up the core values of our lives.  She challenges us all to begin charting our lives according to those values.  Law school being what it is, it’s easy to lose yourself, not in the library, but in the course of learning.  It is easy to become jaded and forget why you wanted to become a lawyer.  It is easy to lose sight of normal and to begin hyper analyzing everything.  But, if we want to make a difference, if we want to change the way society looks at lawyers and how future students will engage in legal analysis we must begin with ourselves.  “The goal, and the crux of this site, is to help people find that space where, again, who they are on the outside can meet this more internal knowledge or perspective.  And once you are there, then you can start to understand what kind of work/life style choices we are talking about...” Shoshanna Silverberg.  www.HolisticLawStudent.com.



[1] See http://www.cuttingedgelaw.com/page/humanizing-legal-education.

[2] See http://www.law.georgetown.edu/campus-life/health-wellness/lawyers-in-balance/ and http://www.dukechronicle.com/articles/2013/10/30/law-school-promotes-wellness-students-part-larger-push-grads.