Saturday, December 10, 2005

Give It a Rest

As exams wind down, I think we would do our students a great favor if we reminded them to rest over the holiday break.  The first-year students are especially worn out, physically and emotionally; and the upper-division students often take on more than is realistic as journal opportunities, moot court competitions, clerking positions, and clinical experiences become available. 

All of that hard work is fine if it is kept in perspective, but it is easy to lose perspective both in law school and in the practice of law.  Too many lawyers are workaholics, and their personal lives suffer for it in ways that are often unfair to their families and unfair to the lawyers themselves. 

Whether that tendency to overwork is created in law school or is inherent in the types of people who enroll in law school, it behooves us to counter its pull on our students.  We are the first examples of legal professionals many students  have ever seen up close.  They look to us for guidance as to the right way to practice law; and they take our words to heart, probably more than we realize.  So we should be circumspect about the messages we send.

One of the great professional skills, I have always thought, is the ability to pursue excellence without unnecessarily sacrificing life's other important concerns.  If our students are going to master that balance, they need to begin doing so in law school.  The profession is not particularly forgiving, and pressures always exist to do more and do it better.  Those who enter the profession unprepared to manage those pressures in healthy ways are very likely to be molded by those pressures in ways they will later regret.

The concern always exists, I suppose, that we will encourage the slackers to slack or fail to prepare our students for the hard work of practice; but that concern is probably overblown.  The hard workers needn't be sacrificed to make certain the less motivated step up their efforts.  In fact, between the two, I'd rather spend my energy taking care of the dedicated, hard working student.

So let's tell our students to give it a rest over the holidays.  Let's tell them to take a few days and pretend they are not law students, or clerks, or journal editors, or whatever else wants to take them away from their personal lives. 

Let's remind them that, as someone once famously remarked, no one on his deathbed ever wished he had spent more time at the office.  Better to figure that out now, before it's too late to do anything about it.

And while we're at it, let's remember it for ourselves.  Let's step back from the incessant demands of our profession and, for a few days, say, "Oh, give it a rest." (dbw)

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