Everyone knows that law school is hard. You know that going in, but for many of us, halfway into our first semester there’s a shift from difficult to seemingly impossible. Why is law school so mentally difficult? Why does it make us question our intelligence, our choices, and capacity?
Law school is tough for practical reasons. Mostly, they are retraining you to think objectively. Thinking objectively is difficult to do. It goes against our nature, which often wants to choose a side rather than view everything from all angles. It’s hard to master, and it’s frustrating when you don’t “get” it—especially when you’re used to doing well in school. It’s hard to do, in general, for everybody. But for us, it can be even more difficult when we’re reading cases that set precedent that harm our communities—literally seeing systemic oppression at play and most classmates/professors don’t even bat an eye. I remember a long discussion that took place in my contracts class about pay day loans. Many of my classmates were just brutally dismissive of those in poverty that would seek out this type of help. We’d read the facts of the case and people would make snide comments. And I’d sink into my seat because I knew that my own mother sought this help when we had bills to pay. It’s hard to learn to be objective in situations like this. It’s hard to even want to see both sides of the case. But learning to be objective, anticipating the other side’s theory, is what makes you a stronger attorney. The best thing for your mental health is to go into this process knowing it will be difficult, but necessary.
How can you do that?
One. Keep your eye on the prize. Feeling detached or overwhelmed is typical. Feeling like you made a mistake is normal. You went to law school to fix society’s wrongs and now you’re stuck reading a case about cows and contract law. What is your life? It can feel like you’re a million miles away from reaching your goal, but remind yourself that this is necessary step for your goals. Law school basics will build the foundation you need to be a successful attorney. It will be the tool you use to do the good you want to do.
Two. Seek help. We talk a lot about self-care and that’s important. But when it feels too much, reach out to your school’s counseling center. If the feelings of despair don’t go away after a nice weekend with friends, really consider getting more help. I’m not a medical professional in any capacity (duh) but I wonder how many of you who go from sunny states to Midwest winters are suddenly dealing with bouts of SAD that you’ve never experienced before? Our brain chemicals and hormones have minds of their own. When things feel off seek more help. If things don’t seem that serious, still take time to socialize with friends and family to remember there is a world outside of law school (that you’ll soon get to re-join!).
Three. Look towards the future. Make plans beyond this semester so that you have something to which you can look forward. I don’t just mean your summer job—though that is super important. I mean, really try to put something on your calendar during break that will revitalize you. My 1L year was an emotional roller coaster. I had been pretty semi-estranged from my dad up until that previous summer. After he was diagnosed with cancer, I realized I had to see him. So, I booked a flight to Panama for that summer after my 1L summer internship ended. I had all of spring and most of summer to anticipate the trip, but it helped me keep focus and reminded me that law school wasn’t the only important aspect of my life.
Maybe your big thing isn’t super life-changing—it doesn’t have to be. It just needs to be something you look forward to that reminds you that you’re more than law school and that you’re more than this weird mind game the school is playing. Keep at it, embrace the process where you can, and above all keep reminding yourself that this semester, this week, this day is a moment. A stepping stone to something better.