Mind over Matter: Keeping Your Sanity in Law School

Virginia Capital Trail

by Emily O’Hara, 3L

In law school, you may face similar challenges to those you experienced while studying in college or while working at your job. Some familiar challenges may include lack of sleep and increased stress. In law school, you may also experience new and unique challenges. Law school requires students to complete a lot of reading. Additionally, class and extracurricular activity schedules may lead students to be at the law school from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm. Even when you do have a break in your daily schedule, there is always something that you could be doing to get ahead. At times, law school can be overwhelming. Here are some tips and tricks that can help you practice mindfulness and manage stress. These tips can also be of use as you continue preparing law school application materials!

10 Things You Can Fit into Your Schedule to Prevent Mental Burnout – Lessons from a 3L:

  1. Set a Timer for 10 or 20 minutes. Close Your Eyes.
    When feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or tired – take a moment for yourself. Some people call this meditation; some call it napping. Either way, it is helpful to rest your brain. You have been reading and looking at a computer all day. It is time to give your eyes a break!
  1. Engage the Other Side of Your Brain.
    Play some music, doodle, or color in your adult coloring book. Do something creative that makes you happy. Sometimes focusing on something other than law school assignments can help you feel refreshed when finishing those last few tasks on your to-do list.
  1. Set Reasonable Daily Goals.
    If you like to make lists and notice that you are not checking off as much as you would like, reevaluate what you are completing throughout a day. Take the time to reorganize. Prioritize the bigger assignments and the assignments that are due the next day. Leave some time to watch your favorite TV show or read a book for fun.
  1. Learn How to Shift.
    When you cannot complete those tasks on your daily to-do list by the end of the night, do not panic. Look at the rest of your week and find time to reschedule. Trust yourself and your process – you will find the time you need to complete everything.
  1. When Stressed, Think in Increments of Time.
    You’re looking at your calendar. There is so much going on this month! There is so much going on this week! If you start to feel overwhelmed, look only to what you have to complete today. If your list for today seems overwhelming, think only about what you have to complete this morning, or within this one hour.
  1. Do Not Feel Guilty. Take Time to Relax.
    You do not have to feel guilty for taking a moment for yourself! Sure, there are 100 other things you could be doing for school. But taking the break now will result in less burnout later on in the semester.
  1. Block Out Time Each Week to Visit with Friends. Try NOT to Talk About Law School.
    Having a social life in law school sometimes seems impossible, but it is necessary. Block out time each week to go out to lunch with your friends, see a movie, or go to dinner with your significant other. Try not to worry about upcoming assignments or stress about all the reading you need to complete when you get home. Take the time to decompress and enjoy your time as a young adult. Explore your new law-school town with new friends.
  1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others.
    We are all on different paths. We all have different goals. We all have different life experiences. One person’s version of success looks vastly different than his neighbor’s version of success. When it comes to the study methods you use for exams or the jobs you are applying to for your summer internship – stay true to yourself.
  1. Keep it All in Perspective.
    Law school is HARD. That is why most people do not do it. By even considering law school – you are embarking on a path that most of the population will never walk down. Be PROUD of how far you have come so far. One wrong answer in class will not impact your academic performance. One poor grade will not impact your ability to become a great lawyer. Remember why you are here. Remember your goals. Do not let small failures discourage you.
  1. Ask for Help When You Need It.
    We all need a little extra help now and then. Go to your professor’s office hours and tell them you are struggling. Ask for an extension on an assignment if you cannot complete it on time. Talk to your support systems about your concerns and anxieties. Visit the counseling center. At William & Mary Law, you have endless resources. People are here to help. Use them.

The Making of a Mentor – Helpful Steps for Finding Your Best Mentor Fit

Networking at the Oliver Hill brunch!

by Yasmine Palmer, 2L 

It should come as no surprise that navigating law school and the beginning of a legal career can be difficult for many. Whether you are struggling to understand the elements of negligence in Torts class or stressing about the 1L summer job hunt, any number of situations can lead new law students to feel a little lost. One of the best things that you can do in situations like these is talking people who have been there before—people like your mentors!

Forming meaningful connections with mentors provides you with a pool of wisdom and insight to dip into when questions or concerns arise as you begin to chart your chosen legal path. But first, you have to find them!

Here are four steps that can help kick-start your search:

Step 1: Determine what kind of relationship that you’re looking for

Mentorship relationships can take a variety of different forms, so it is essential that you first sit down and decide what kind of relationship(s) will best suit you. Are you looking for someone who can offer guidance relevant to your academic struggles? Someone who can help you organize and develop your job search strategy? Someone who can provide both? Do you want someone who works in the field that you’re interested in or will any practice area do? Do you want something more professional or personal?

These are some of the questions that will be helpful to ask as you figure out what kind of mentorship relationship you would like. It’s important to note here that you can—and should—have more than one mentor. While a cabinet of ten mentors offering different opinions from different backgrounds may be a bit much, it’ll be more beneficial than not to have three or four people to whom you can turn to for guidance.

Step 2: Do your research

Once you have determined what kind of mentors you are looking for, start looking for them! The first place people often look is their personal network of friends and family. Maybe your uncle is a lawyer or you have a family friend who knows someone working in the legal field. That’s a great place to start.

After you’ve explored those relationships, another helpful place to look are past professors and/or employers (with whom you have or had good relationships with) who are working in or adjacent to the legal field. Given that you’ve taken classes with or worked for these people in the past, your pre-existing relationship with them will serve as a useful foundation on which you can construct something new.

Another great group of people to consider are your law school’s alumni! Many schools, W&M included, have information banks that contain the names, practice areas, and contact information of alumni that are made open to students W&M has a great program specifically tailored to connect 1L students with alumni mentors—more on this later.

The last group I’ll mention, though certainly not the least, are your upper level classmates. Who better to guide you through law school than people who were in your position just one or two years before you?

Step 3: Make connections

For people directly related to or closely connected with you, a phone call or friendly email may be all that you need to get things going. An email with the following information will be useful when reaching out to the more distant connections:

  • An introduction (or reintroduction) including your name, where you attend school, and your year
  • Brief reminder of how you’re connected (i.e. whether you met at a professional function or were connected through your neighbor)
  • An indication of your awareness of and interest in what they do/where they do it
  • A request for a phone call or meeting, during which you can further discuss their work and overall career

Sending out emails like this is a simple step towards establishing professional connections that may one day rise to the level of mentorship. Some emails may go unanswered, but do not let that discourage you from continuing to send out messages. This also happens to be a great way to establish informational interviews with people working in places where you might be interested in getting an internship!

Note that the above list does not include asking them to be your mentor. Particularly when reaching out to people that you’re not very familiar with, this is a question that you’ll want to bring up later, once a substantial rapport has been established. Sometimes you won’t need to ask at all and the mentorship will come about organically.

Step Four: While you wait to hear back from those you reach out to, utilize your school’s resources

William & Mary offers a variety of opportunities for students to find mentors, both inside and outside of the law school. The 1L Co-Counsel Program and the Student Bar Association Mentorship Program are just two of them.

1L Co-Counsel Program

Sponsored by the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs, this program pairs 1Ls (“Junior Counsel”) with qualified and experienced alumni (“Senior Counsel”). Senior Counsel “share experiences and wisdom gained during their professional journey while volunteering their time to mentor, advise, and guide [their Junior Counsels].”

SBA Mentorship Program

At the beginning of each school year, members of the Student Bar Association (SBA) pair 1L mentees with a 2L or 3L mentor. Using information gathered from detailed forms sent out to every member of the student body, SBA tries to pair 1Ls with upper level students based on projected career interests, extracurricular involvement, first-year schedules, and more.

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Finding mentors is important but the process can take time. The phrase “you get out of it what you put in” certainly applies to mentorship relationships. Once you have laid the foundation for mentorship, it is essential to be intentional about engaging your mentor and being open to the advice and guidance that they have to offer. I hope that this has been helpful!