Friday, July 29, 2011

Managing stress and anxiety

The last few weeks have been a perfect example of the stressors in the study and practice of law. 

Our summer program students have received their grades for their first law school exam.  For many, they had never been near or below a median score before in their academic lives.  Currently, they are struggling with their first legal writing assignment and the uncertainties of how to write something that is in a totally new genre.  They are feeling overwhelmed by the task and the approaching deadline for the first draft.

The bar exam has just finished the final day of three.  For a number of bar studiers, the last month was discouraging and stressful.  Rather than feeling ready, studiers confided that they had hit a wall and were struggling to get back on track.  As is typical, the bar exam has held surprises - topics or nuances not expected on the exam.  Bar review courses work on probabilities; no one but the Board of Law Examiners ever knows for sure what to expect.  Bar takers have looked more exhausted, worried, discouraged, and stressed as each day has passed. 

First-time law clerks have discussed their adjustments to their summer jobs.  The reality of the seriousness of the practice of law and the responsibility that goes with every assignment has begun to hit home.  Real people with real problems depend on the law clerk's work product.  It is no longer the world of Blackacre, exploding packages, and hairy hands.  The pace of work and lack of instruction can be frightening if a legal employer provides little initial structure.  As thrilling as real legal work may be, it is also stressful.

Stress managment is a critical skill for law students and lawyers.  The legal world is prone to overwhelming amounts of work, constant deadlines, and very important decisions.  It is no secret that lawyers often succumb to alcohol or drug abuse to handle the stress.  Relationship problems are also well-known because of the demands.  

Our law students need to learn stress management early in their careers.  They need to learn how to keep balance in their lives and prevent stress as well as how to cope with stress when it occurs. 

  • Managing time carefully rather than letting it escape can prevent stress. 
  • Learning to recognize and minimize procrastination can lower stress. 
  • Following healthy sleep, exercise, and nutrition routines can help reduce stress.
  • Keeping in touch with friends and family can create a support network to counteract stress.
  • Talking to someone about the stressful situation can alleviate the "aloneness" and provide possible solutions.

There are many useful resources for coping with stress.  Some examples are:

  • Larry Krieger's booklet: The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress 
  • Law School Academic Success Project: Wellness pages for law students
  • Numerous law schools have information on stress management on their academic support web pages.
  • Numerous university counseling or health center web pages discuss stress management techniques.
  • Type "stress management techniques" into your favorite browser for a multitude of websites with information.

The most important thing to remember is that stress can lead to other health problems if not handled in a positive way.  Prevention is better than cure.  (Amy Jarmon)          

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