Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law


Debra writes and speaks about how neuroscience and psychology research can improve law student and lawyer wellbeing and performance. Debra’s presentations and interactive workshops connect lawyer wellbeing to performance and ethical obligations, and they are accredited for general and ethics CLE in multiple states.

Feedback Letters & Comments


Dr. Austin,

Thank you again for your visit to Dayton.  Many have commented since you left how great the program was.  You have sparked some minds into looking deeper into the issues of wellness.  I have scheduled a video replay for Nov 15 and signed 5 attendees today alone.  You have made an impact on Dayton!  Thank you!

Tyler Wright
CLE & Special Events Coordinator
Dayton Bar Association

Feedback regarding 3-hour Well-being Skills for the Effective Lawyer Workshop on 9-19-19

Optimizing the Lawyer’s Brain: Improve Well-being and Enhance Ethical Performance Plenary, Multi-track Federal Criminal Defense Seminar, Defender Services Office Training Division, Hilton Denver City Center, Denver, CO, August 17, 2019.

  • Debra should be giving lectures to every major law firm, if she is not already, in the country. I loved it! I want to learn more. I sometimes felt like she was talking about me and what I was thinking. Really powerful stuff! You should have her at every conference. I am jealous that I did not have her to talk to when I was going thru my first year of law school.
  • This is so important me. I was so glad that there was something like this offered.
  • Debra took a difficult subject, at the end of a long seminar, and presented it well.
  • Great way to end the seminar. Fun and informative.

Mindfulness and Lawyering: Working on Your Inner Game, June 23, 2017
​Presentation via Skype, due to a family emergency for Wyoming Trial Lawyer’s Association Convention
July 11, 2017

Dear Debra,

​Thank you for speaking during the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association convention again this year.  We very much appreciate your efforts to present and your flexibility.  The topics and research you discuss are so important to our members.  We were pleased that you could share your expertise.  Your presentation on mindfulness was valuable and an excellent finale to our program.

​Thank you for sharing your expertise and helping to make the convention another great success.  A donation will be made in your name to the Harrell Scholarship Fund as a thank you for speaking for us.

R. Todd Ingram, President
​Maria Shanor, Executive Director

Professor of Lawyering Skills & Director, Leadership Honors Program
Hacking the Law Student Brain
Sustaining Practices for the Legal Profession Course, University of Dayton School of Law
Presentation given via Skype. May 15, 2017

June 6, 2017

Dear Dean Smith,

I am writing to let you know of the wonderful recent experience I had working with Professor Debra Austin. I have followed Professor Austin’s work since the publication of her groundbreaking law review article Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die from Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance. Her scholarship is, simply, essential reading for anyone interested in wellness in the legal field. 

This summer, for the first time, I am teaching a course on contemplative lawyering. Among other things, the course requires students to engage in a meditation practice. With this unusual component, I anticipated (correctly) some student skepticism. Thus, it was important for me to share with students the hard science of how meditation and other contemplative practices affect the brain, mood, and performance. I thought immediately of Professor Austin and invited her to be a guest speaker in my class.

Professor Austin responded promptly and with utmost and impressive professionalism. Within days, she had developed a custom presentation for my class. Professor Austin then joined us for an hour by Skype. Her presentation on neuroscience and the best practices for brain health was thorough, engaging, and convincing. We are still using her remarks as a point of reference. In short, Professor Austin was able to synthesize the scholarship on a very complex subject and make it fascinating, fun, and relatable.

You are so fortunate to have Professor Austin on your faculty. She is truly a leader in the dynamic and fast-growing field of law student and lawyer wellness, and I am so grateful that she is a generous and gracious colleague as well.

With regards,

Susan C. Wawrose

Presentation to the 2016 Kansas Judicial Conference. Wichita, KS 
Judicial Wellness  

From: Denise Kilwein, Director of Judicial Education
Kansas Courts
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2016

You gave another great presentation!  I reviewed the evaluations and note the judges gave you high marks.  Here are some of their comments:

  • This should be a required session for all judges.  Very informative and useful.
  • This is a great program!
  • A very good speaker.
  • Great presentation, materials, and resources.
  • Wonderful information I would not otherwise have the opportunity to hear.  Thanks.
  • Well done.  Great topic.
  • The presenter knows her stuff.

Brain Power: the Neuroscience of Cognition, Stress, Self-medication, and Brain Health, Cody, WY (2015)

July 24, 2015

Dear Debra,

What a pleasure it was to have you in Wyoming for the Wyoming Trial Lawyer’s Association convention. Our members were excited to have the opportunity to learn from you. Your presentation on the brain and handling stress was interesting and insightful. We had many positive comments from the convention attendees.

The reviews from this year’s convention have been excellent. Our attendees were very pleased with our faculty and the mix of topics. Your presentation added to the diversity and quality of the program and was definitely a highlight.  

We enjoyed meeting you in Cody. Thank you for sharing your expertise and helping to make this year’s convention another great success. A donation will be made in your name to the Judge Alfred C. Harrell Endowed Scholarship Fund.


Emily Rankin, President

Marcia Shanor, Executive Director

Professor of Law and Director, Legal Research and Writing
Don’t Forget the Brain: Using Neuroscience Developments to Humanize Legal Education
Presentation to the Association of Legal Writing Directors Conference. University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Memphis, TN. (2015)

June 22, 2015

Dear Dean Katz,

I’m writing to let you know of the impressive presentation given by Professor Austin at the recent 2015 Biennial Conference of the Association of Legal Writing Directors in Memphis. I have often wished I had more supported, and more extensive, information to give my students about their well-being during and after law school. I fear my standard advice of “drink more water and less alcohol, and get more sleep” usually draws nothing more than bemused, or amused, inattention. Now, however, I have an arsenal of information and data with which to persuade my students to live more healthy lives.

Professor Austin’s presentation was titled “Don’t Forget the Brain: Using Neuroscience Developments to Humanize Legal Education,” and it certainly lived up to its title. It covered even more than the title suggests, however, and Professor Austin’s enthralled audience learned about the importance of diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and gratitude practice. And while it might be easy to think that Professor Austin was preaching to a choir of audience members who knew and accepted the things she was talking about, I should be clear that in my case she certainly was not. I’ve been to one yoga class. I fell over many times and haven’t been back. As to diet and exercise, one look at me would tell you that I might understand the concepts but am not a model for their efficacy. And while I am mindful and grateful for meat and potatoes, those are clearly not the concepts Professor Austin had in mind.

Facing an audience of skeptics like me, Professor Austin weaved a skillful, and devastatingly persuasive, narrative about the ways in which all of these concepts – singly and in combination – work to produce healthier students who are able to concentrate more, think better, and perform at a higher level, than they would were they to continue their more traditional, and less healthy, eating and exercise practices. Given the alarming data about the ill physical and mental health of many law students and lawyers, there seems no doubt that Professor Austin’s work is of the utmost importance. We in Memphis were fortunate to hear her talk, and were even more fortunate in being primed to read what she has written, and will continue to write, on this topic, and – as you surely know – Denver is a fortunate school to have such an accomplished, innovative, and engaging scholar on its faculty.

These national conferences feature many presentations and the quality can vary from speaker to speaker. Even when both topic and speaker are interesting, I am not always moved to write a letter praising them. But Professor Austin’s presentation was one of the most interesting, and important, that I’ve seen in quite a while and I thought it was important to draw your attention to the very positive impression of the University of Denver law school we all formed (or, in my case, had reaffirmed) as a result of attending it. Thank you for your support of Professor Austin’s work and congratulations for having such an impressive colleague.

Very truly yours,

Ian Gallacher

Presentation to the Kansas Judicial Conference. Topeka, KS
Judicial Job Performance: Steps for Maximizing Cognitive Function & Effectiveness

From: Denise Kilwein, Director of Judicial Education
Kansas Courts
Sent: Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Thanks for participating in our Judicial Conference.  I reviewed the conference evaluations and note that your program received high ratings.  Here are a few of the comments from participating judges:

  • Interesting program.
  • Very knowledgeable speaker – good presentation.  Thanks for the scientific basis for these good common sense practices.  I can’t wait to begin implementing them.
  • Fantastic information, and so very well presented.
  • Fascinating!
  • Good suggestions and recommendations.
  • Very interesting program and the references to the books and articles are appreciated.
  • Very interesting subject.  Helpful hints.
  • Great program and speaker.  Bring her back.

Thanks again for helping to make our Judicial Conference a success.  I will look forward to working with you again.

Presentation for the Kansas Judicial Center.  Topeka, KS
Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: The Neuroscience of Cognitive Wellness

From: Denise Kilwein, Director of Judicial Education
Kansas Courts
Sent: Thursday, October 3, 2013

I enjoyed meeting you last week.  I reviewed the written evaluations.  You received excellent evaluations/comments.   Here are some of the comments:

  • The session was informative.  I plan to follow up with the positive suggestions.
  • Thank you for the resource materials.  I plan to use them.
  • I enjoyed learning about the science behind why exercise is important to brain function.
  • I really enjoyed this presentation  It was very interesting and I learned a great deal.
  • Very helpful.  I think this is so helpful for so many people ignoring their health to try to advance their careers/goals.
  • You can tell the presenter has a genuine interest in this subject and genuinely wants to help others with her knowledge.  Very enjoyable.
  • Unbelievably great presentation of fascinating information.

Thanks so much for doing the program for us.  We all enjoyed it.

"Your presentation on mindfulness was valuable and an excellent finale to our program. Thank you for sharing your expertise and helping to make the convention another great success!​"

Maria Shanor, Executive Director of Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association

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