SJ Quinney College of Law, University of Utah


Law students regularly top the charts as among the most dissatisfied, demoralized, and depressed of graduate-student populations. As their teachers, we cannot ignore the palpable presence of this stress in our classrooms—unchecked, it stifles learning, encourages counterproductive behavior, and promotes illness.

By more thoughtfully using cautionary tales, we can actively manage one source of law student anxiety. Although reining in cautionary tales will certainly not be a panacea to law student distress, elimination of all law student anxiety is neither a realistic nor a desirable goal. Fear-based stress, in moderation, can compel students to overcome challenges they never thought possible; it can encourage independent learning; and it can prepare students for the pressures of practice. Yet, fear appeal research teaches us that “fear is wielded most effectively as a scalpel rather than a cudgel.” Indeed, Aristotle long ago recognized the importance of this balance: “If there is to be the anguish of uncertainty, there must be some lurking hope of deliverance, and that this is so would appear from the fact that fear sets [people] deliberating - but no one deliberates about things that are hopeless.