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.
Make adjustments to your lifestyle
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.
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.
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 anymore.
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.
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.
Exercising is another extremely important component for reducing burnout. If you are starting to feel exhausted from working night and day in the library take a break and go for a jog.
Reduce your alcohol consumption
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.
Start a new hobby
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.
Find something within the law you really enjoy
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.
Spend time with friends
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.
Stop spending time with toxic people
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.
Wake up earlier
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.
Get better organized
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.
Everybody in law school experiences some feelings of burnout during their law school career. The way we handle it, learn from it, and develop ways to avoid it in the future is what’s important. I hope this article has helped you in reducing burnout in law school!