Managing stress

Managing stress effectively is possible, but it's important to learn the appropriate skills early in your legal career.

Most people find applying to law school a very stressful process. But it’s just the first step toward a generally stressful career. Learning how to manage your stress early on can save you an immense amount of grief and anxiety in future years. 

There is much you can learn right away from the application process itself. The LSAT, for example, presents a situation you are going to see repeatedly: a high-stakes timed test following a lengthy preparation period. You’ll see this next as a law student, where most of your courses will be graded based solely on your performance on one timed test at the end of the semester. 

After three years of this, you’ll spend an additional 10 weeks preparing for the Bar Exam: another high-stakes timed test, but this time the stakes are whether you’ll be allowed to actually pursue the career you’ve been preparing for over more than 3 years.

If you become a litigator, the stress keeps coming: lengthy preparation for a few minutes or hours before judge and/or jury, this time with your client’s life, finances and/or well-being at stake (not to speak of your own reputation). And you likely will not be handling just one case at a time, but many. 

So as you go through the application process, take some time to pay attention to how you’re handling the stress. Which parts cause you the most anxiety? Why? What helps you relieve stress in a healthy manner?

On these pages you’ll find some discussion of and links to resources about various stress management strategies. Pick and choose among them—what works for one person might not work for the next. And if you stumble upon a tip you think others would benefit from, please send them along to the Pre-Law Advising Office.

And here’s the requisite disclaimer (because I may not be a therapist, but I was once an attorney): The suggestions, tips and strategies you’ll find here are not coming from a trained or licensed or certified mental health professional of any kind. They are mostly a collection of commonsense advice from a concerned advisor, professor and former supervising attorney based on my experiences in life and work, and supplemented with advice from mental health experts. Take them for what they’re worth to you, and nothing more. I hope they’re helpful.

You’re not the only one stressing

Every law student who has ever entered a law school class has a moment (at least one) of feeling that everyone else knows something they don’t. Everyone else is on their game, understands this whole mysterious process that is playing out before them, but you alone somehow missed more »

Face down your worst case scenarios

This is probably the most successful and most popular stress management tool used by litigators and other lawyers. Part of your job as an advocate will be to help your client weigh the advantages and disadvantages of various courses of action, and to objectively predict and plan for the more »

Finding balance

There are two main elements to finding balance between your work (applications, LSAT prep, law school, and eventually, lawyering) and the rest of your life.  The first is developing and using good time management skills. The second is finding fun, healthy and productive things to do with the more »

Finding a healthy outlet

Both your brain and your body need to take a break from the work of your law school applications, and vegging out in front of the TV, surfing the internet, and scrolling through social media posts can only get you so far (and sitting on the couch doesn’t more »

Alcohol and substance abuse

Alcohol and substance abuse are serious problems for lawyers. As many as 1 in 5 lawyers is an alcoholic or addict. A significant percentage of lawyer discipline cases—as much as a third or more, in just about every state—involves problems related to addiction (those client funds can look pretty more »

Getting support

The good news is there are all sorts of resources to help you manage your stress.  The first is your friends, classmates and colleagues.  They are dealing with many of the same stressors as you are, and can at the very least sympathize. (And simply sharing your more »