Research & Articles

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

Research & Articles

Debra is a neuroscience nerd.  She studies how neuroscience research can improve law student and lawyer performance and wellbeing. 

Her seminal work, Killing Them Softly, shines a bright light on lawyer depression, substance abuse, and suicide, and its application of neuroscience to the chronic stresses of law school and law practice depict how law students and lawyers suffer cognitive damage that impairs them from doing precisely what their studies and practices require.  It is one of the most downloaded articles of all Sturm College of Law faculty.  

She followed Killing with Drink Like a Lawyer, using neuroscience research to demonstrate how self-medication with substances like alcohol, marijuana, and study drugs impairs law student and lawyer thinking. 

Her article Food for Thought, examines the neuroscience research on the relationship of nutrition choices and optimal brain health and challenges lawyers to rethink their food philosophy and redesign their anti-aging plan.  

Windmills of Your Mind challenges law students, legal educators, and lawyers to improve their understanding of the impact emotion and stress have on performance, and how building mental strength can empower their professional and personal lives.

Positive Legal Education discusses the wellbeing crisis in legal education and the practice of law, and argues that Positive Psychology findings can help curate a culture of wellbeing in the legal field. 

Leadership Lapse: Laundering Systemic Bias Through Student Evaluations summarizes empirical research demonstrating that student evaluations are biased against female faculty and faculty of color; describes the impact on student learning; details the influence on institutional culture of using student evaluations for assessing teaching quality; and suggests recommendations for evaluating teaching effectiveness in fair and responsible ways. 

Unsafe at Any Campus: Should Reopening College and University Campuses This Fall be a National Priority?, by Peter H. Huang & Debra S. Austin, argues the decision to educate our students via in-person or online learning environments while COVID-19 is unrestrained is a false choice, when the clear path to achieve our chief objective safely, the education of our students, can be done online.  While high density classrooms promote virus transmission and potentially super-spreader events, we can take the lessons we learned during the spring, and provide courses without the stressors of spreading the virus. We argue the socially responsible decision is to deliver compassionate, healthy, and first-rate online pedagogy, and we offer a vision of how to move forward into this brave new world.

Can Professor Austin’s neuroscience obsession help find a cure for what ails the study and practice of law?

Debra was awarded a Hughes-Ruud Research and Development Fund grant to attend 2014 Neuroscience Boot Camp at the University of Pennsylvania.
Debra was awarded a Legal Writing Institute-Association of Legal Writing Directors-LexisNexis 2012 Legal Writing Scholarship Grant to write her article on stress in legal education and lawyering (Killing Them Softly).
Click Here to Read Killing Them Softly


Debra’s scholarship is situated in the Balance in Legal Education literature. She played a key role in developing the AALS Balance in Legal Education Bibliography designed to evolve with author submissions of relevant work.

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Copyright Debra Austin. All rights reserved.

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