Handling the Demands of Law School

by Anne Chambers, LCSW

Congratulations on your decision to attend law school. You will be joining a learned, respected, challenging and interesting profession. You will have an opportunity to learn how to help protect the rights of others and help people dealing with difficult circumstances. Your hard work in law school will continue after you graduate. In 2010-2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that a third of attorneys work 50 or more hours a week.

Pressures of law school can include long study hours, lots of reading, high expectations, competition, concern about whether you will be successful, internal and external pressures, working your way through the character and fitness process, dealing with the prospect of student debt, finding the right job and preparing to take the bar exam.

Maintaining your balance in law school can help you stay grounded and happy. Some suggestions are to focus on your most significant demands, eliminate optional demands on your time and learn to moderate your response to unavoidable stressors. Eat well, rest well and care for yourself. Maintain connections to those who support you. Recognize the difference between effective legal skills and day to day life skills and practice them accordingly. For example, the ability to make convincing arguments may serve you well in court someday, but may not serve as well around the dinner table.

Pay attention to your student debt load. With the rise in college tuition costs throughout the nation, students with advanced degrees are facing the prospect of taking on higher debt loads. If you are financing the whole thing, think twice about financing extras or all of the living expenses for you and your family. Pay attention to ways to minimize the amount of debt you accumulate. Before you graduate, have your a budget and pay down strategy ready. This way when you graduate and your income level rises, you are prepared to make the most of it. Starting to watch your bottom line now may help you achieve financial security and all that goes along with it faster.

A recent ABA Journal.Com article indicated that for class of 2011 law school graduates who obtained full time legal employment lasting at least a year, the median was $60,000 and the average pay for new associates was a little under $79,000. Higher average starting pay was still found at large law firms. Some recent graduates did land salaries over $100,000, but the number of those jobs dropped. More new attorneys went solo than in the past. A quarter of those who obtained their starting job reported they were looking for something else. The expectation of a six figure salary straight out of law school may not be realistic right now, so plan accordingly. Attorneys recently ranked as the fifth best paid profession overall.

Law students and lawyers are at increased risk for substance abuse, depression and marital and family concerns. Approximately 30% of law students report they have abused alcohol and 9% report use of illegal substances. One in twenty five law students reported feeling they needed help to control things. Regarding mental health matters, an above average number of law students reported feeling depressed. Self reports of anxiety and depression significantly higher than the general population or medical students. In 2011, a little over one in five new matters for MOLAP involved law students. Law students most often seek assistance to address substance abuse, cope with character and fitness concerns, depression, anxiety, attention deficit concerns, family matters and the transition from law school to the rigors of professional practice.

Take good care of yourself now to stay on top of your studies. Continuing to do this after you graduate could help you stay ahead in your career. Sources of support during law school include family members, classmates, colleagues, academic advisors, student health and counseling centers, and career centers, just to name a few.

Best wishes for your success!

The Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program (or MOLAP) is a free, confidential counseling program for lawyers, judges, law students and their families. Services include assessment, counseling, skills coaching, and informal referrals as indicated. Services are free and confidential.

If you would like additional support in coping with the stress of law school or another personal concern, feel free to contact MOLAP at 1-800-688-7859.  

Bibliography

  1. Brady, Jim, LCSW. Keeping the Edge: Professionalism without Burnout, MOLAP PowerPoint, 2012.
  2. Brady, Jim, LCSW. Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program Annual Service Report, Missouri Bar, 2011. 
  3. Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, American Bar Association Website, www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance.
  4. DSM-IV-TR: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Ed, Text Revision. American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC, 2000.
  5. Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program.  Straight Talk about Law School, 2012.
  6. Krieger, Lawrence S. Straight Talk About Your Career Choices: Avoiding the Mistakes that Create Unhappy and Unprofessional Lawyers, pp. 7-9.
  7. “Lawyers,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition, US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, pp. 1-2.
  8. Weiss, Debra Cassens. “Lawyers Rank No. 5 for Best Pay; Doctors Top List.”ABA Journal.Com. American Bar Association, July 3, 2012.   
  9. Weiss, Debra Cassens. “Median Starting Pay for Associates Is No Longer in the Six Figures; Figure Drops 35% in Two Years.” ABA Journal.Com. American Bar Association, July 12, 2012.