Law school is stressful, there is no getting around the fact that for three years law students are subjected to an inordinate amount of hard work, competition, and stress. Mental exhaustion inadvertently happens to the best of us, and law students are not immune to feeling burnout.
Burnout in law school comes in many forms and happens at different times in the life cycle of a law student. There are a number of triggers that can cause burnout in students, sometimes it hits after receiving a bad grade, other times you might just grow weary from the constant focus on studying.
I first began feeling major burnout during my second year of law school. I finished near the top of my class 1L year and I had a summer associate position lined up but I was still miserable. Law school had become boring, the law itself was uninteresting, and I did not love the idea of selling my soul to a Big Law firm for the next three or four years. Luckily, I got out of my slump through some of the techniques I discuss below and I am a better person for it.
Whatever the cause of an individual law student’s burnout it can be avoided or at the very least mitigated. In this article, I will discuss 8 ways for you to avoid burnout in law school.
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Healthy Lifestyle Changes to Combat Law School Burnout
You hear this from fitness nuts all the time. Every period of stress you deal with can be managed through an hour session at the gym. Well, I’m not going to try and sell you on the idea that lifestyle adjustments can relieve every feeling of burnout that you might ever have. However, I will say that lifestyle adjustments have made an enormous difference IN MY law school career and avoiding burnout and it can probably do the same for you.
Defining a Healthy Lifestyle for Law Students
If you are a 1L and you are hard at work competing with other law students to obtain high grades being in relatively good shape can make a huge difference in your energy level, ease of sleep, and overall mental health.
What do I mean by “relatively good shape”? I mean 1) don’t eat like crap, 2) exercise, 3) and maintain a relatively stable sleeping schedule.
The Shift in Dietary Needs from Undergrad to Law School
If you enrolled in law school right out of undergrad you might not have faced the music yet. The music is that we are not 18 or 19 years old anymore, most law students are in their early to mid-twenties and the truth is that our bodies don’t respond to a heavy diet of junk food as well as they used to.
My typical meal in undergrad was two packs of ramen noodles mixed with some vegetables I had sitting around, maybe a piece of chicken, and a couple of Miller Lites. No more, I gained fifteen pounds my 1L year trying to maintain a similar diet and my body did not appreciate it.
Reevaluating Dietary Choices for Optimal Performance
I’m not saying that you need to be feasting on kale, carrots, and quinoa for lunch and dinner, but I am suggesting that if you are not putting any thought into what you consume you need to start. A healthy diet is good for your energy level, mood, and consequentially it is good for grades.
Incorporating Regular Physical Activity
Incorporating regular physical activity not only offers a break from the mental strain of studying but also provides tangible physiological benefits that can counteract feelings of burnout. Exercise, be it jogging, yoga, or even a brisk walk, promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural mood elevators. These “feel-good” hormones can help reduce anxiety, improve mood, and boost self-esteem.
Additionally, physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, enhancing cognitive functions and aiding in memory retention. This is absolutely critical for law students absorbing vast amounts of information. Dedicating just 20-30 minutes a day to some form of exercise can serve as a revitalizing break, clearing the mind and preparing it for more focused study sessions. Beyond its mental advantages, this habit helps in building stamina and resilience, attributes essential for the long-haul nature of law school and the legal profession.
Limiting Alcohol: A Strategy for Mental Wellbeing in Law School
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that alcoholism is a common problem within the legal field. Law school is stressful and so is being a practicing attorney for many people. When people are stressed out frequently they tend to turn to alcohol for short-term solutions. Unfortunately, alcohol is a choice and sometimes it turns into dependency. Even if you don’t drink to deal with stress, but you go out a lot over the weekends and drink heavily this can contribute to feelings of burnout.
Among other things, frequent alcohol consumption has actually been linked to more long-term stress because of the negative impact that alcohol has on your brain and body.
I am certainly not telling you to quit drinking, but capping your alcohol consumption at a reasonable amount might have an impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing in law school.
Finding a Hobby: A Refreshing Escape from Law School Stress
The two best things I did in law school to make it significantly more manageable are that I adjusted my diet and I picked up a new hobby. There is no such thing as a human-robot (at least not yet?), even in law school. No one can focus on law school all day every day without getting burned out. One of the best things you can do is simply take your mind away from the law and create some distance.
For me, I found that distance in boxing. Boxing might not be the safest hobby by a lot of standards but it checked a lot of boxes for me. It is an extremely physically demanding exercise so I got in better shape, I have met lots of people completely unaffiliated with the law school, and it serves as a place where I can go when I feel burned out with the law.
If you are going to take my advice and get a hobby I strongly recommend that you do something that does not require a lot of brainpower. You are finding a hobby to unwind, not to find somewhere else to put your lawyerly brain to use. Sports, hiking, drawing, painting, writing, fishing, and yoga are all great ways to unwind.
Rediscovering Your Passion: Engaging Legal Internships to Reignite Interest
You are tired of reading these old cases in Con Law from the 1800s and you are absolutely sick of reading these antiquated rules in Property Law. I get it, I was there and I think everyone at some point starts to think whether the law is really for them. A lot of your readings are boring, justices write in verbose language that could put anyone to sleep, and your hour and a half class could probably be taught in thirty minutes.
Lots of law students feel this burnout at some point, and one of the best ways to get through it is to volunteer somewhere. Take a legal internship, but stick to an internship that you are actually interested in. Finding a legal internship that you really enjoy can reinvigorate your interest in the law and in finishing law school.
Building Positive Connections: The Importance of Social Time in Law School
I see 1Ls forget about this all the time. Some students get sucked up into such an extremely heavy studying routine that they forget to live a little. Making connections and networking in law school isn’t all about professional development. You have an opportunity to meet a lot of legitimately interesting and smart people in law school, and saving time for new friends is a great way to relieve stress.
Additionally, these connections can serve as a supportive network during challenging times. Sharing experiences, study techniques, and even just casual conversations over coffee can provide perspective and a much-needed respite from the rigors of legal study. Furthermore, establishing a balance between academics and social interactions fosters emotional and mental well-being. Remember, camaraderie and understanding from peers who are going through similar experiences can make the journey through law school more bearable and even enjoyable. It’s essential to strike a balance and allow yourself to connect genuinely with your fellow students.
Cutting Ties: Keeping Toxicity Out of Your Law School Journey
Everyone has that one toxic friendship/relationship from college. There are individuals out there that are miserable and they tend to drag everyone around them down to their level. Stay as far away as possible from people like this because these kinds of people bring drama wherever they go. Sure, maybe you could afford a toxic person or two in high school or college, but you simply can’t afford one in law school. Your mental health will not allow for it and law school is simply too much work to make room for these things.
The Early Bird Approach: Reducing Stress by Adjusting Your Sleep Schedule
I certainly do not purport to be a doctor, but I believe and some studies have shown that going to bed early and waking up early helps reduce overall stress. That being said, it’s law school and I understand that law students typically don’t have the luxury of leisurely picking how much sleep they are going to get that night.
Being an early riser might not be something that you can attain on an everyday basis but it is something that you can strive for. I was not an early riser until I realized a few months ago that if I wanted to keep boxing I would have to be at the gym by 5:45 AM because my schedule did not allow for another time. More recently since COVID I get up at a more reasonable 7 AM, but when work begins to compound I’m sure I will revert back to early mornings.
I suggest that you give waking up early a try and see how you like it after a few weeks. You might find that you can get more work done and you feel better.
Mastering Organization: Time Management Tips for Law Students
Sometimes law students get burnout because they feel that they are always doing too much with too little time, and they aren’t getting the results they want. There could be a number of reasons for this but one of the most common reasons is that you simply are not organized enough.
Law school is an extremely busy three years and it requires a level of time management and organization that was non-existent in college. If you feel like you have too much to do and not enough time I suggest that you think about your time management skills.
In becoming a better time manager you should think about major distractions that you might have (cell phone/social media) and how to eliminate them. Creating and sticking to routines is also helpful for many people.
Embracing Mindfulness and Meditation: Mental Anchoring in the Midst of Stress
While academic rigors take a toll on the mind, practicing mindfulness and meditation can be transformative tools to navigate the rough waters of law school. Mindfulness means staying present and fully engaging with the here and now. Meditation is just a practice where individuals use techniques, such as mindfulness or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity, to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.
For law students, these practices can help in several ways:
- Enhanced Concentration: By grounding oneself in the present, distractions fade away. This makes study sessions more productive as you can focus better on the task at hand.
- Emotional Regulation: The legal field is not just about logic and reasoning. Lawyers often deal with emotionally charged situations. Mindfulness and meditation can help students manage their own emotions and become more empathetic listeners.
- Improved Memory: Mindfulness has been linked to better memory retention, a boon for students who need to remember vast amounts of information.
I did not develop a solid meditation routine until I was six months or so into my New York City Corporate M&A job. I, like many other new lawyers, found it incredibly difficult to shut off my brain at night. I was always worried about the next email or the next late night emergency. Meditation ended up being a boon to my ability to fall asleep reasonably quickly.
One of the benefits of a mindfulness or meditation practice is that they don’t require a big commitment. Just dedicating a few minutes each day to sit quietly, breathe deeply, and focus on the present can make a difference. There are also several apps and online resources specifically tailored for beginners. Over time, this practice can become a sanctuary from the pressures of law school, offering moments of peace and clarity amidst the chaos.
Final Thoughts on Overcoming Burnout in Law School
Every law student, at one point or another, grapples with the daunting shadow of burnout. Yet, it’s our approach to these challenging moments, our resilience, and our commitment to self-care and well-being that truly define our law school journey. Seeking balance, fostering positive connections, and prioritizing your mental health are paramount as you navigate the complexities of your legal education.
This guide aims to empower you with strategies to not only survive but thrive during your time in law school. As you move forward, remember that your journey should be enriched with passion, determination, and a strong sense of purpose.