Quantity vs Quality: Legal Academia and Mental Health

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It’s Friday, 4pm. You are sitting at your desk, trying to cope with three different big deadlines. The clock is ticking. You can feel the pressure. You realize that you are almost done when an email pops up in your inbox requesting you to work on an additional task before the end of the day. Yes, that’s right, you have one hour before the end of the day. What do you do? Do you prioritize? How do you prioritize? You don’t prioritize, you are expected to do all of your tasks. In today’s workplace, that email will probably mean that you are going to stay long hours and finish all of them before going back to your home and enjoy your well-deserved weekend.

Mental health in legal academia is an increasingly alarming issue. The current “publish or perish” mentality in legal academia comes at great cost for academics as it affects their physical and mental health. Increasing demands for research and publications quantity have contributed to a highly demanding academic climate that affects both personal and professional development. Over the last couple of years, the academic community has fallen into a vicious culture of working long hours, working on weekends and taking additional projects to get through an enormous workload, meet unrealistic expectations and manage pressure. Data shows that universities are causing more than normal level of stress, ultimately leading to mental health problems. Handling the stress of the publish or perish mentality often leads to profound anxiety, isolation and, in cases, depression. Professional burnout also triggers a wide spectrum of anxiety disorders, ranging from eating disorder to even post-traumatic disorders.

It is interesting that in a sector where people are supposed to let their ideas flow and have time to develop innovative ideas, the pressure to publish in quantity ends up robbing the intellectual space, compromising productivity and professional competence. In fact, publishing just for the sake of generating content may actually carry great costs for the employer. For the employer, the quality of work that is posted or published must be of relevance as it is one of the criteria with which they may be evaluated or considered for future opportunities. However, in an effort to comply with requirements to publish more, while juggling to meet different deadlines, work pressure may fuel a perverse system of incentives that compromises the quality of the work. Publishing more pieces but low in quality may have the opposite effect that the one it was intended to achieve. In the long term, the interest of the audience in reading pieces that come from certain “prolific” author or that are posted in a specific journal or blog may decreases as they become increasingly known as a low-quality author/outlet.

It is interesting as well that this culture in academia is in blatant contradiction with what marketing and communication experts recommend in terms of what the consumers want. High quality content leads to an increase in customers/consumers trust as insightful and helpful content may serve to project yourself as an expert in the field. In the end, as Cicero noted “Non enim numero haec iudicantur, sed pondere” (The number does not matter, the quality does).

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The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

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