By Vado Porro • February 17, 2010•Writers in Residence
My first year of law school, running was usually the best part of my day. It was my only chance for fresh air, personal space, and time to think about something, anything, that wasn’t the law. It was an opportunity to feel alive. A chance to feel something other than frustrated or confused.
A lot of people will argue that during your first year, your priority should be your grades and your academics, and what little time you have left over should go into sleeping or focusing on your family. They will say that first year is not the time to start an exercise habit, and that if you let your exercise habit slip, that's okay, because you're a 1L and things will get better. 1Ls tell each other this as well. They say that next year, they will be healthy again. The problem with this mentality is that it assumes that second year, or third year, will be easier. And this is the hard truth about law school that 1Ls hate to hear:
It doesn't get better. You just get used to the pain. Once you're used to the pain, you pile on more. You take on responsibilities, you do journal, moot court, student government, clinic. You will probably get a job or an internship. There is no promise that after your first year, you will actually have any more time for yourself than you do right now. If you can find balance when it feels the most challenging, that ability will follow you for the rest of your life.
It may be hard to believe, but athletics are as important a part of law school as briefing, flash cards, and study groups. They can, and will, keep you sane. They will help you focus. They will give you a break and they will get you outside. They will make you more well-rounded. They will give you something to say at a job interview when you are asked, “what do you do for fun?” They will help you remember that fun exists.
Another thing it is genuinely important to keep in mind in law school is the connection between stress and poor health. Sports are a great way to decompress. When I get home from school, I want to sit on the couch and do nothing until I feel like I can face my homework. Taking myself for a run or to the gym lets me face my homework sooner, and feel fresher when I do tackle it. Playing on a sports team with other people gives me a few hours a week when I see non-law students and nobody makes Learned Hand jokes. It reminds me that life is about more than just law school. That was the hardest thing to remember my first year.
Sports also allow you some much-needed human interaction. It's a good way to maintain friendships with non-lawyers, make friends in law school, or generally meet people in your community if you are new to the area. If you do not have a regular social interaction with “normal” people, you will lose your ability to interact with non-lawyers. In the future, this will terrify your clients.
Aside from the physical and social benefits, there is another key reason to take up a sport or athletics: goal setting is important. In law school, most of your classes will revolve around a single final exam, which you may or may not do well on. If you do not set achievable goals in other areas of your life, you will simply start to feel deflated and defeated a lot of the time. Setting a goal and reaching it keeps your self esteem up, and makes it that much easier to face the horror that is law school. Any kind of marked goal, like a race or a competition, will also force you to take time out of your day to dedicate to it.
In law school, it is so easy to become paralyzed by what you think or are told are your strengths and weaknesses. Subconsciously, over time, you will stop doing things because you think you cannot do them. In sports, you face those barriers and you move past them. Achievement, that feeling that comes from crossing the finish line or scoring your first goal or winning your first match, is the fuel that will empower you to do all the other things you thought you could not do.