Keep everything in perspective. Law school itself isn’t the endgame. Rather, it’s just a stepping stone to the things you want to do after law school. It may be a very large stone, but it’s still only 3 years and ultimately a pretty small part of the path on your way to somewhere else. So remember, while grades and GPA matter more than they should at the time, they won’t matter forever. You will have the chance to prove yourself through your skills and work, you will go amazing places and have a fulfilling and successful career, and your single grade on the contracts law exam (good or bad) doesn’t change any of that.
Do something once per week with other humans who aren’t law students. As a law student, it is easy to only spend time with other law students. They quickly become your friends, roommates, significant others, and study buddies. People who aren’t in law school don’t really understand the workload and stress you’re going through, and it’s hard to actively maintain meaningful connections during law school with those who don’t get it. But again, law school itself is not the end game. And it is critically important to be able to take a step back from the law school bubble occasionally. So take an hour a week, do something you like to do that’s not law school, and enjoy time with humans that aren’t fellow law students. It can be a class at the rec center learning pottery or an adult beginner dance. Join a trivia team at the local pub. Sign up to be a regular volunteer serving dinner at the homeless shelter or walking dogs at the human society. Find a local yoga or aikido studio. Commit to being a story-time person at a pre-school or library. Regularly attend a church service. Doing an activity (truly, just about any activity), will benefit your mental and emotional health through having connections with other humans that do not care about mock trial and do not understand what law review is. Plus these types of things look good on a resume, so it’s even benefiting your law school persona. I took up watercolor painting during my 3L year because I was so done with being asked about hobbies during interviews and not having a good answer (apparently “surviving law school” doesn’t qualify as a good hobby). But watercolor painting has been such a good thing for me, and my only regret is not having started it years ago. Remember the things you liked to do as a kid or in your life before law school. Find a way to keep that part of yourself alive and fed during law school. Set classes or meetings where other humans expect you to show up are ideal, because it’s far too easy to feel busy one weekend and not make the time, and then suddenly it’s been six months. But regardless, find something to do that forces you to take a little break from being a law student. Your happiness matters. Do something that makes you happy.
Have something in your life that you care about outside of law school. While strongly overlapping with the previous point, it bears repeating. It is so easy to have your entire world be drawn up inside the pressures and stress of law school, it helps have something outside of law school (or outside of being a young lawyer, for that matter) to ground you. I went through law school with two kids in tow, so the caring part was easy. Granted, it didn’t feel easy at the time, like when my daughter was a mouse in the Nutcracker during my 1L fall semester and had all of her ballet tech weeks, dress rehearsals, and performances stacked right on top of the law school semester end and my first set of final exams. I vividly remember trying to flip through flashcards while sitting in the Macky Auditorium, pausing from my half-ass attempts at studying every time the little cluster of mice ran on stage to adoringly watch my child scurry around with a giant piece of cheese. Because I loved to watch her dance. I still made it through final exams, and the rest of law school. And I’m a better human for having had too much other life to care about to overstress each individual piece of law school (see: keep everything in perspective). While I don’t necessarily recommend running out and picking up a child if you don’t already have one as part of your back-to-law-school shopping, having a pet or being truly emotionally invested in your non-law school weekly activity can be highly beneficial. Never forget, you were a whole person before law school, and you will be a whole person after law school. You do not need to only exist as a law student during law school.
It’s ok to change your mind. This is an especially hard one if you came to law school with a really set idea of what you wanted to do. And then you get into those classes and internships and realize… maybe this just isn’t the law for you. But good news, JD holders come in a million different job flavors and you can easily pivot to a different career path. In a similar vein, be open to opportunities that you maybe weren’t looking for. Sometimes going in an unexpected direction can be the best thing for you. And sometimes you don’t get the opportunity to go down the path you wanted, and that’s ok too. Your future isn’t written yet, and while scary at times, that also means it’s full of possibilities to come. Keep going.
Just keep swimming, this too shall pass. It’s going to be hard. Probably in terrible and unexpected ways. But you are a smart and capable human (you wouldn’t be in law school if you weren’t), and you can do hard things. Take it one step at a time. Keep it in perspective. And remember, occasionally channel some inner Ted Lasso and be a goldfish.
Marty Whalen Brown is a Staff Adjudicator at the Office of Appeals in the Colorado Department of Human Services. She holds a J.D. degree from the University of Colorado Law School and clerked at the Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge under the Colorado Supreme Court after graduating.