Amy Wegner Kho

A Life Outside Law School—Understand Stress

This summer I am keeping busy at an internship. While I am learning so much about the law and regulatory agencies, I have also noticed blaring differences between traditional law students and myself, a part-time law student. The other two legal interns are two men, both are traditional students in the day program. Both are unmarried, and live with roommates in rented apartments. Neither of them have another job, so they are working at the internship 35 hours a week or more.

I, on the other hand, am balancing this internship with my regular full-time job, a four week class in legal profession, and my family commitments. I am only able to go into the internship three mornings a week. It has been a challenge to keep myself from comparing my internship with theirs. They have different responsibilities than I, and because they are there all day, every day, they are learning and doing so much more than I. While I’m thrilled that the lawyers gave me the opportunity for this internship, and are willing to work with my full schedule, I often find myself stressed out and wishing I could be a traditional law student so that I could have the “full” experience.

However, since I am not willing to go back and start 1L year over, I wanted to share some things I’ve learned as a full time employee, wife, and mother in law school. First, understand stress; and second, understand time management.

Understand Stress

Law school is usually the biggest stress law students have ever faced in our life. We’re juggle school, work, and family life. We have the dreaded student loan looming after graduation, and even before that we have to battle and conquer the bar exam. We worry about grades, about our peers, about the curve. Listening to a recent lecture in my Legal Profession class about stress, I found myself starting to sweat. I had to take deep breaths to calm myself down.

So the big question is, “How do you manage stress?”

There are several ways of coping, including exercise, mediation, and spending time with family. I’m a big fan of taking naps, long walks, working in my garden, or simply cuddling with my son on the couch and watching cartoons.

There are several common signs that you’re not coping well with stress.

  • Have you experienced changes in your sleeping/eating?
  • Have you felt that everything is hopeless?
  • You are living in a fog?
  • You can’t control your anger, and often have arguments with family and friends?

Law students typically do not handle stress well. Studies have shown that almost 2/3 of law students use alcohol to relax or relieve tension. About one student in five indicate that they use substances to get away from pressure and problems. Four out of ten graduating law students complain of depression.

Even after law school, stress does not miraculously go away. In the course of their career, 10-15% of lawyers will experience substance abuse. Approximately 50% of disciplinary actions involve substance abuse. The legal career has surpassed dentistry for ranking first in depression.

In order to deal with stress, it is essential to exercise, have good nutrition, develop (or maintain) rewarding relationships, and clarify your personal values and daily satisfiers. You know you can control your stress, when you are able to relax at will, anywhere or anytime.

Time Management

I think the key to defeating stress is time management. Time management has been linked to stress management and organizational efficiency. Understand your moods and how your mind functions throughout the day so that you can use time more effectively, do your important work when you are the most effective (early morning/late night). It is a complete waste of time for me to try to write a paper at night after 9 p.m. I know that, so I have to organize my schedule so that I can write and do homework first thing in the morning, for instance, check out a previous post about my daily schedule.

Every law student is different, despite the fact that we are constantly compared against each other (evil ranking). While we need to keep perspective about law school, understanding the basics of time management is key. Develop a routine, write up a weekly schedule, and try (yes, try!) to stick to it. A recent article in Student Lawyer, gives guidelines for how many hours an average law student needs to study: 

“Full-time students can complete all study tasks each week in 50 to 55 hours. Part-time students need approximately 35 to 40 hours per week for these same tasks.”

What about you? How do you deal with stress? Does having a set schedule and routine help you cope with stress? Or does it just stress you out more?

–Amy L. Jarmon. “Balancing Law School with Life.” 
Student Lawyer. March 2013, Vol. 41 No. 7, pg 18.

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