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Law school is a highly demanding experience that produces stress even in the most competent and self-confident students. The workload is heavy, competition can be intense, and feedback on performance is limited, especially during the first year. Although stress cannot be completely eliminated, you can ease the pressure by developing realistic expectations, tuning into your personal needs, and striving for a work-life balance. You succeeded in getting into law school and you will continue on a successful path if you combine a healthy scholastic attitude with common sense. As Lawrence S. Krieger, a researcher and law professor observed, “The universal fallacy is that the road to happiness runs through the top of the class.”
Focusing on non-competitive, achievable goals such as doing your personal best and learning as much as you can, will do more to ensure your success and happiness than will striving to please others and pushing into the top 10 percent. While it’s true higher grades make it easier to get interviews and usually equate with higher entry-level salaries, high grades don’t necessarily translate into a more satisfying career. Psychologists and economists concur that pay is only one of numerous determinants of job satisfaction, and many of these other factors are actually more critical than income.
Other stressors that are less readily apparent involve learning to “think like a lawyer” through which you master the analytical function separate from your values, emotions, and beliefs, and the lessons that train you to look for weaknesses, counter your opponent’s position, and defend your own. While these are legitimate tools of the profession, it is easy to become so absorbed in learning and practicing these new skills that they spill over into other aspects of one’s life. Your sense of self depends upon your ability to remain aware and accepting of your values, beliefs, and feelings, and a must win/be right mentality and critical approach will surely harm your relationships.
Reserving time to relax and socialize is necessary to maintain a healthy balance during law school, but routinely using food, alcohol, gambling, or video games to escape the academic “grind” can create additional stress and lead to addiction in the long-term. When planning free-time activities, include friends and seek physical ways to relieve stress such as walking, bicycling, massage, and bowling, in addition to movies, sports, meals, and other pastimes. Keep in mind that if tension is building to a high level during the week, the work of law school is not the cause—more likely it’s the anxieties and self-imposed pressures mentioned earlier. Unless you change your attitudes, no amount of “blowing off steam” on the weekends will improve the situation.
As law students, you are valued members of the legal community who are eligible to access services provided by the New Mexico Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program (NMJLAP). NMJLAP offers confidential professional and peer assistance to help you identify and address problems with alcohol and other drugs, depression, and other mental health/emotional disorders. NMJLAP’s purpose is to help reduce the public harm caused by impaired members of the legal profession and to improve the health and welfare of its members by facilitating early intervention and treatment.
Are you struggling to maintain a work-life balance? Are the episodes of excessive drinking, overeating, or gambling becoming routine? Do you have concerns about your ability to “hold it together?” If any of this resonates for you or a classmate, know that you’re not alone and that NMJLAP is here to help. Call us to discuss your concerns and explore your options, and take a look at the other NMJLAP web resources.
Peer Advisor Model
An individual in recovery helping another creates a powerful relationship that can have a tremendous impact on the healing process. An attorney who has “been there” can ease the initial fears of law students and provide unique support and direction. Call NMJLAP at (505) 228-1948 for more information and referrals to peer advisors.
This group will be meeting every Monday night via Zoom. The intention of this support group is the sharing of anything you are feeling, trying to manage or struggling with. It is intended as a way to connect with colleagues, to know you are not in this alone and feel a sense of belonging. We laugh, we cry, we can BE together. Request Zoom Link
In addition, a listserv has been developed by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) to provide a confidential email vehicle for law students who want to get, or stay, clean and sober while in law school. This is an opportunity for students to connect with and ask questions of their law school peers throughout the US and share their experience, strength, and hope. To be added, interested law students should contact NHLAP's Executive Director, Cecile B. Bartigan, directly at email@example.com. Students should be prepared to talk a bit about their history and about their need and desire to communicate with other law students facing similar challenges. Matthew will make the final determination to add a student to the listserv and will provide each student with the rules and regulations regarding use of the “Students in Recovery Listserv.” When a student graduates and is admitted to the Bar, he/she will be removed from the listserv.