Going through law school can be stressful. To help understand some of the things that law students stress about and for tips on reducing stress for law students, I have interviewed psychologist Patricia G. Rice, Psy.D.
Tell me a little about yourself.
“I am a licensed psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania, where I maintain a private practice in Philadelphia and am a Staff Psychologist at Rutgers University in Camden. I obtained my Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, and have been in the field of mental health for over 30 years. Many of those years were spent in the field of substance abuse treatment , and I continue to provide continuing education programs to other mental health professionals on treating substance use disorders. In my work at Rutgers approximately half of the patients I see for therapy are law students. In my private practice I see a variety of patients but do much of my work with law students, attorneys and individuals with substance use/abuse problems.”
What are some things that law students stress about?
“Every law student is vulnerable to their own particular set of stressors, and each year of law school tends to have its own particular challenges. However, there are a number of stressors that many law students experience at some point during law school.
Not only do law students have to adjust to the sheer volume and intensity of the work required, they also often struggle with the way in which talents and skills they relied on in college may not work well for law school. For example, some students are surprised to find that although they were great narrative or creative writers in college, they must struggle to learn legal writing. Similarly, many are dismayed to discover that study habits such as ‘all-nighters’ and last minute cramming that sufficed in college don’t usually produce quality memos, briefs and exams.
Many law students find the lack of feedback in most courses stressful; grades are based predominantly on briefs, memos and/or final exams, so there are not many indicators to tell a student how they are doing. Ways in which they must learn to think about the law may feel alien and confusing to students who normally process challenging material easily. It is stressful dealing with a different way of thinking in which the answer to everything seems to be ‘It depends — — .”
For many law students, the intense and aggressive competition, the almighty GPA and the quest for the ‘Top 10%’ wreak havoc on self-confidence. For all but the gifted few, coming to terms with diminished status among the ranks of the best and brightest can be excruciatingly painful.
Social isolation resulting from intense demands, conflicting priorities and shaken self-esteem can lead to depression and chronic anxiety. Financial pressures are often intense.”
What are some stress management tips for law students?
“It will be helpful for law students to assess their strengths and limitations honestly, and to locate the resources they need as soon as possible. For example, if the ability to stay organized and stick to a study plan has never been a student’s strong suit, it will help to utilize the schools learning resource or counseling center for some input. If a student has a learning disability and needs formal accommodations, it is critical to obtain the required evaluations before starting law school. Short'”cuts and quick fixes that worked as an undergrad may not work in law school – digging out of a hole in law school is a much more formidable task than it was in college for most. Forget pride and get help.
Being realistic about finances and planning accordingly is important. Even part-time law students will have limited hours available for employment.
Don’t go it alone! Join a study group; get connected with your peers. Develop a social network to prevent isolation; nothing promotes depression and/or anxiety than being without social support, especially in a highly demanding environment like law school. Try to minimize family obligations and maximize family support.
It’s understandable that many students want a 4.0 GPA, to make law review and have a spot in the top 10%. But that means 90% won’t make it there. It’s important to remember that grades are only one factor in building a desirable resume; joining, or even starting an organization in which the student can demonstrate leadership, building expertise and networking with recognized experts in an area of special interest ‘” these ‘” not just grades – help build a resume.
It is stressful for law students to compare themselves with other students. This is not entirely avoidable given the competitive nature of law school, but everyone needs to find their own way, the way that’s right for them. The fast track to a corporate corner office is not for everyone. Public service is not for everyone. Every law student needs to follow the path that suits him or her.
Law school should include fun, but it is not the time to explore better living through chemicals. By the time a student suspects that his/her partying is interfering with studies, it is probably already a problem. It is much smarter to see a therapist sooner than later. Substance abuse problems will be an issue at bar application time, but it will be a bigger issue if the student cannot document that they obtained treatment and addressed the problem.
Regardless of the problem presented, all college counseling centers are there to help, and they maintain strict confidentiality. But if the student is uncomfortable seeking help on campus they can find professional help through their state or local lawyer’s assistance program ‘” most states have them. Referrals for treatment can be obtained in a totally confidential manner for substance use, stress related or other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.
Try to find a work-life balance. Yes, it’s an over-used phrase but the concept is still important. Study, work, play, socialize, eat decent food, get enough sleep and find some way to exercise.
Although stress and hard work are inevitable, law students can meet the challenges if they self-assess, utilize resources, take care of themselves and get help when they need it.
The following are some resources and professional help for law students:
ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs (CoLAP)
The College/University Counseling Center
The Learning/Study Center
Lawyers Confidential Helpline 1-888-999-1941
State Psychological Association directory of providers
Academic Advising Office
Career Counseling Office
State/Local Lawyers Assistance Programs
Thank you Patricia for doing the interview on stress management tips for law students. For more information on Patricia G. Rice or her work you can check out her website on drpatriciarice.com .
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