Monday, November 22, 2010
All law students feel the pressure of upcoming exams. Final paper or project deadlines are piled on top of that pressure. Clinic students are trying to get in their final required office hours. Students with court or mediation observations are getting the total time they need. In general, there just do not seem to be enough hours in the day.
And then just when a student thinks she can handle no more, life happens. A computer crashes with all outlines and paper drafts on it. A spiral notebook of class notes disappears when left behind at a coffeehouse. A student gets pneumonia. A best friend dies in a car accident. Parents announce they are getting a divorce. A boyfriend decides now would be the perfect time to end a relationship. The car's transmission gives up the ghost. A younger sibling gets arrested for drugs. Dad files for bankruptcy and can no longer pay the student's rent.
You get the picture. The list is as varied as the students and their lifestyles. The permutations are almost endless. And in some cases, there will be several things happen at the same time or within close proximity of one another.
In each case, the disruption often throws the student into complete disarray. It may be hours, days, or weeks before the student is back to functioning at full capacity. Unfortunately, too many students try to handle these crises by themselves without getting help from resources that are available to them.
Why do they go it alone? There may be several reasons:
- Pride. Most students have always handled things without having to ask for help. They often assume they can just resolve this situation as well. They may not want to let anyone know that they cannot handle the current situation by themselves because they see it as a sign of weakness.
- Embarrassment. The life incident may be highly personal or show the student's bad judgment. Students may be too mortified to explain to a dean or faculty member what has happened to them. They fear that asking for help under their specific circumstances will "put them in a bad light."
- Cultural background. Students may come from backgrounds that require that family business stays within the family. To share about a divorce, sibling's arrest, a parent's bankruptcy, or other personal matters would be seen as a betrayal of the family's trust.
- Lack of knowledge. Students may truly be unaware that there are resources available to them. They may assume that they have no academic options or that low-cost or no-cost resources are unavailable to them.
Here are some suggestions for handling a crisis. Although the procedures, policies, and services will vary from law school to law school, most law schools have resources to help students deal with life's unexpected disruptions.
- Assess what is needed as quickly as possible. Is it going home to be with family? Is it $500 for car repairs? Is it IT help to see if anything can be retrieved from a hard-drive? Is it help from a classmate or tutor/teaching assistant? Is it someone to talk with about the situation?
- Let the law school know what is going on. Talk to the Associate Dean for Academics, the Associate Dean for Student Affairs, the Director of Academic Support, or whomever is the designated staff member. These individuals can explain the options available and make referrals as appropriate. With more knowledge, a student can regain control and choose the best path for resolution of the crisis.
- Follow procedures carefully and meet any deadlines. Every law school has its own procedures for academic options that are available. Deadlines will vary within each school's procedures and policies. Your law school may have some or all of the following available to students with documented problems: rescheduling of exams; extending paper deadlines; withdrawing from a course; dropping to an underload; taking an Incomplete grade and finishing work after the semester is over; taking an In Progress grade and repeating the course the next time the course is offered; taking a leave of absence for the next semester.
- Ask about resources on the main campus of an affiliated university. Law students have often paid fees that include no-cost or low-cost medical care and counseling at the main university wellness center. Universities may also have stress management, financial counseling, biofeedback labs, student legal services, ombudsman services, or other resources that can be helpful.
- Ask about resources in the local community. Independent law schools will often have referral systems to local health providers or counselors or legal services. In some cases, the law schools will have negotiated discounted fees or payment plans. Even where there is an affiliated university, resources in the community will often be well-known by the decanal staff.
- Ask about short-term emergency loan programs at the law school. Although the dollar amounts are usually not large, the payment terms are usually reasonable. Alternatively, depending on timing, financial aid may be re-packaged to provide additional funds for documented medical expenses, purchase of a new laptop, or other emergency needs.
- Get in touch with the spiritual side of life. Studies show that those who pray and believe a higher power is involved in their burdens feel less overwhelmed. Whatever the spiritual orientation, it can be helpful to talk to a spiritual mentor about the problem.
- Realize that law school friends need to focus on exams. The crisis does not have to become everyone else's crisis. It is often more appropriate to turn to non-law-school friends, family, or professionals for support at the end of the semester. Law school friends care, but should not be expected to replace doctors, counselors, or other professional advisers.
Life often intervenes at inconvenient times in law school. Now is not the ideal time to divert attention from studying. However, in reality, it happens. Stay calm. Get help. Do the best that can be done under the circumstances. (Amy Jarmon)