Everyone knows that someone has to be cold-called on first, but until Professor Margaret Howard pursed her lips and looked my way, I never really thought it would be me. “Ms. Sharpe, tell us about this case.” It was me, on my first day of law school, in my first class of law school, reciting the facts of Lucy v. Zehmer to the 5’1”, positively withering Professor Howard. The good news is I survived. You will survive your first cold call too, and, believe it or not, you’ll probably make it through the next three years. Here are some tips on coping with the stress from this massive, harrowing journey.
1. Take care of your tender, tender body.
I gained 40 pounds in law school, and kept a very strict diet of black coffee, wine, cheese, pasta, and the pizza served at every legal research or SBA event. My exercise consisted of carrying books into the law library and out of the law library. And guys, honestly, what I saw as being diligent and prioritizing my work didn’t even really pay off in the rankings. Don’t do that to your mom.
Here are a few quick things that will help you take care of your body and clear brain fog.
- Take a 30 minute walk a few times a week, and don’t take your outlines with you. This is time to clear your head.
- Eat good fats (yes, I’m talking about avocados). They will give your brain the lipids it needs to fire your neural pathways.
- Stretch for five minutes every couple of hours, to help your back with the scholar’s posture you’ll be fighting forever.
2. You are going to need a can-do attitude, but a “can-do-it-ALL” attitude will sink you.
You start your first semester of law school thinking that you will outline every day, have time to read supplements, all between the hours of 8:00 and 5:00. Spoiler alert: that’s borderline impossible. I didn’t manage my expectations, I needed one of those sunshine lamps that turns you into a mermaid. Ask for help before you need it, or you, like me, will find yourself in the fetal position for first-year finals. (See that alliteration? You love it a little.)
3. If you don’t want to do the things, do not do the things.
Why, oh WHY everyone at Washington & Lee School of Law thought law school football league was the greatest and most important thing in the universe after Marbury v. Madison, I will never understand. I felt so pressured to jump on that, and many other, bandwagons. Sometimes, I regret not giving myself more social time in law school. Most of the time, however, I am proud of myself for making choices about what I did and did not want to do. You can give yourself permission not to like things, as long as you also make some happy choices about how you want to spend your time. Which brings me to…
4. Try not to hate everyone and everything.
Maybe I just was mad at my grades, or really competitive, or just feeling bad about myself, but I did not care for my classmates. Incidentally, none of them really liked each other, either. By my second year, I had a few very close friends, but we also got into a bad negativity loop. I cannot stress enough how nasty that feeling is. A good way to gauge if you’re becoming too negative is to evaluate your recently used emojis. If they look like mine did, it will be
My wish for you is to see something more like this.
Surround yourself with people who care about you, and whom you care about, and try to enforce some positive habits around those folks. They will thank you for it later, too.
Law school is TOUGH. If you can take care of your body and your brain even a little, it will go a long way toward helping your studies, your anxiety levels, and your belief that there are good things in this world outside the law library.
And yes, if things go south, you, like me, can lose the weight and end up a slightly acerbic, bitterly brunette, hot-yoga-evangelist Southern housewife with one too many pairs of Birkenstocks. Hey, things could be worse.