News - Capital University Law School

Nicole Root Awarded Prestigious Writing Prize

9/13/2018  -  Capital University Law School student Nicole Root, L'19, remembers very well the first day of her Professional Responsibility class, and the impact that it would soon have on her.

That day, Professor Lance Tibbles talked about a report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which seeks to improve health and welfare among the legal profession. He also told his class about a former student who had recently committed suicide.

Root had been planning to write her law review paper on a topic related to her preferred practice area – multifamily housing, senior living and healthcare financing. But hearing Professor Tibbles, she said, “I knew I had found a passion. I also realized that if I was going to spend the next year of my life researching and writing a paper, I wanted it to be on something that had the potential to make a difference.”

Root’s paper, “Our Brother’s Keeper: Why Law Students Should be Required to Report Their Colleagues’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Problems,” would earn her Notre Dame Law School’s Smith-Doheny Legal Ethics Award, which includes a $2,500 prize. Root joins past law school students from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cornell and Georgetown University, who have been previous recipients of the award.

“The article was a recommendation that we, as law students, have some accountability for those around us that are struggling,” Root said. “While attorneys are subject to their state’s Professional Responsibility Rules, [notably Rule 8.3, which requires reporting of certain unprivileged ethical violations by other attorneys], law students have no responsibility to report, or even ask their fellow students if they are O.K.”

She said she believes if law students have a requirement to assist their fellow students, they would be more likely to do something, even if it’s just telling someone that they are there to talk, if needed. She feels it may also prompt struggling students, worried about the threat of being reported, to seek help.

Root credits Dean Rachel M. Janutis, who was her faculty advisor for her law review paper, with providing assistance during the process. “Not only was she an enormous help with writing the paper, she was such a pleasure to work with that it made the whole process an incredible experience.”