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Meet Weaver Fellow Elise Lucas '11

Elise Lucas“Law school at its core teaches you to think like a lawyer,” says Elise Lucas ’11 about her UC Law experience thus far. “I’ve been here a year and a half and can see the growth and changes in my thought processes. It gives you a healthy sense of cynicism.”

Lucas, a Cincinnati native, is working as a fellow for the Glenn M. Weaver Institute of Law and Psychiatry. “It [Weaver] sounded like a good opportunity to get involved,” she said of her decision to become a fellow this year. In addition, Lucas has a deep interest in psychiatry. She majored in psychology for her bachelors degree from the University of Cincinnati. However, while completing her degree Lucas realized she didn’t want to become a psychologist. After investigating and weighing her options, Lucas decided that her next step would be law school. “Since I was still interested in the field, I thought that this would be an interesting bridge between the two.”

Lucas says she has learned a lot since being involved with the program. “I have gotten to see aspects of criminal law and civil law. Mental health law is almost like a hybrid between the two. Of course, mental health issues arise in criminal contexts (not guilty by reason of insanity, for example) as well as in civil contexts (tort damages for intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress). But civil commitment issues are very much akin to those in criminal law, even though it is considered ‘civil.’ My experience as a Weaver fellow has given me great insight into the differences and similarities between civil and criminal mental health issues.”

What’s A Fellow Do?

Weaver fellows take several classes related to mental health law and law and psychiatry. In addition, they interact with University of Cincinnati Medical Center psychiatry interns interested in forensic psychiatry, reviewing cases and discussing current issues and trends in mental health and their application to the law. “The forensic psychiatry fellows offer a lot of insight,” Lucas commented. “We learn a lot from each other. There’s a cool dynamic between us.”

In addition to classroom discussions, fellows participate in a journal club. They meet with local attorneys and mental health professionals to discuss recent scientific articles. “These are academic discussions and there’s lots of friendly banter,” Lucas said. “It’s interesting to see the professionals on both sides and what they take out of the research.”

Fellows also assist with institute programs and symposiums. Currently, they are helping to plan a CLE collaborative program with the Center for Practice to be held on December 18, 2009. Titled “Client Troubles? Perhaps It’s Time for a little Psychiatric Help,” the program will highlight how lawyers can and should recognize mental illness, regardless of what type of law they practice. Next semester, the fellows, along with the forensic psychiatry fellows, will conduct a mock trial/commitment hearing. The law students will act as attorneys and the medical students will be the “expert witnesses.” They are also planning to host a monthly movie night to watch and discuss a movie related to mental health law (for example, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Primal Fear).

The Best Part of Law School

Along with working as a Weaver fellow, Lucas is a fellow with the Ohio Innocence Project. Also, this year she worked part-time for a local attorney handling various projects, including drafting wills, filing liens, conducting legal research, and handling administrative tasks. “I got to see part of the civil side of law and a snippet of criminal,” she said. “I could see the similarities and differences.”

Akin to what many UC Law students say, the best part of her law school experience, thus far, has been the camaraderie between her classmates. “Even though we’re competing with each other, we want each other to succeed. I’ve heard horror stories about law school students sabotaging classmates and UC Law isn’t anything like that.

“After being here I’ve confirmed for myself that UC was the best choice for law school,” she continued. “UC Law has so much to offer—programs, institutes, a well-rounded experience. There’s opportunity to learn as much as possible.”

Support Means Everything

Lucas, mother to four-year-old son A.J., says that she wouldn’t be able to handle the rigors of law school without the support of her family and her boyfriend Chris. “He is my biggest supporter and he gets me through the toughest times of law school,” she said. This is especially true now as she starts the job search process. “The rejection letters can be a real blow to the ego,” she laughed. “It is really a reality check. The economy isn’t helping things either!”

Though she’s undecided about what type of law she plans to practice eventually, Lucas realizes that the classes and other activities she has participated in as a fellow have shown her that mental health issues are pervasive throughout all areas of law. “Regardless of the type of law I eventually choose to practice, I will forever be empathetic toward those with mental health issues. It is extremely important for all attorneys to understand this and I am grateful for what the Weaver Institute has taught me.”