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Surviving law school

Updated: Mar 23

The truth is that law school is HARD. Top of the list would have to be the

  • workload,

  • content,

  • assessment, and

  • competitive environment.

And then there’s the fact that everyone else seems to be more under-control, intelligent, capable and all-together sorted than you (which is not true btw).


So what do you do? Options include

  • leave law school,

  • work like a crazy person to get on top of everything,

  • stop caring,

  • become totally stressed out, or

  • try all of the above.

None of these solutions are likely to help. So instead, why not give these four strategies a go - all supported by personal and anecdotal experience 😁


Don't compare yourself with others


Did you know that comparing yourself with others is the number 1 cause of unhappiness? I know because the Dalai Lama XIV says so! (see The Art of Happiness)

You see it turns out that (unfortunately) we all unconsciously compare ourselves with others. Although, from a developmental point of view, this is a helpful technique when we are young as it helps us to develop our understanding of who we are, it's actually pretty unhelpful when it comes to being an adult (or law student) operating in a really competitive environment.


Research on social comparison theory has found that most people evaluate themselves against others in areas such as attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success. And while this can provide us with motivation to improve key areas of our life, it can also result in deep feelings of dissatisfaction, guilt, remorse and anxiety if engaged in too much or in contexts where there are always people doing more or better than you.


So, as hard as it may be, we have to work on reducing how much we compare ourselves to others if we want to be happy and cope with life and law school. This means setting our own goals, focusing on our own strengths and character, and generally being more realistic (and positive) about how capable and successful we are.


It is also good to remember that your law school colleagues are probably some of the most ambitious and driven people on the planet. Not really the best people to be comparing yourself to heh?


Focus on what you need to learn


This might surprise you but almost everything you need to know at law school can be learnt. No one is born knowing how to read a law judgement, write a case note or what a subpeona is.


Moreover, there is a structure, order or technique to everything you need to do at law school - and these can be leant. Whether it's how to answer a problem question, write a legal essay, read a 500+ page case or develop a strong legal argument, you can learn how to do these things in the same way you learn legal terminology and content (knowledge + practice). And once you have learnt the structures and techniques of all the things you are finding difficult – it is likely that your marks will improve, along with your confidence and ability to cope.


Don't let go of your life outside law school


It’s very easy to let law school dominate your life. The workload is intense, there are lots of activities you can get involved in, and there's always someone doing something you feel you should be doing too (like doing work experience, finding a part time job, securing an internship, taking up a position on a committee or getting offered a grad job).


While these activities might be important, focusing too much on them is a quick pathway to stress and exhaustion. And - perhaps more importantly - when you do decide you need a break, it is possible your outside life (friends, family, interests) may not be there to support you if you don't put the effort in along the way.


Don't be an island


Many law students keep their struggles and doubts about law school or their progress to themselves. They don't share them with family, friends, other students or academic staff for fear of appearing like they are not coping. But as Kathryne Young notes

"When I asked alumni what advice they wished they could give their former selves, dozens said they should have asked for support: from professors, the law school's administration, their family, a counselor or psychiatrist, mentors or ...supervisors, or their law school peers ... And you can guess how many law alumni wished they had asked for less help? Zero."


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