Advice from the Trenches for Incoming 1Ls: On the Importance of Self-Care  

Advice for Incoming 1Ls Part II (Importance of Self-Care)Please welcome back guest writer Kala Mueller, Director of Public Interest Programs at the University of Nebraska College of Law. Kala has been talking to her upperclassmen students about advice they would offer incoming 1Ls, and, this week, discusses the importance of self-care.

This is the second in a series of posts exploring the themes that emerged when I asked some of the law students I work with to tell me what they wish they would have known as they prepared to enter law school or what advice they would give to new students. If you’ve already read the first post on the rigors of law school, you know that you’re going to be challenged in ways that you’ve likely never been challenged before.

The demands of law school can have a tremendous mental and physical toll, and unfortunately, self-care is often put on the back burner. The number of law students that struggle with anxiety and depression is staggering, so it’s important that you take care of your mental health. If you’re not convinced that self-care is something you should prioritize over the next three years or can’t fathom how you’ll do so, I hope the advice below will enlighten you.

Create a Schedule

If you’re faced with a decision of whether to finish your reading for Contracts or go for a run, it’s not hard to see which option will win out virtually every time. Rising 3L Cady Troester noted that “[s]ticking to a schedule can make all the difference.” She said that in addition to scheduling time for sleep, physical activity, and things you enjoy, you should also make an effort to eat well. “Studying is important, but self-care is equally vital.”

Rising 2L Madison Huber agreed that “it’s a good idea to create a schedule for yourself and be disciplined in following it.” This should not only include academic responsibilities like reading, creating outlines, and taking practice tests, but also “plenty of downtime […] even though you’ll often feel guilty for it.” According to Huber, “If you’re not recharged and engaged, chances are that your time studying won’t be productive.”

Don’t Lose Sight of Who You Are and Why You’re Here

Self-care doesn’t always take the same form. One of the rising 2Ls I reached out to spoke about her creative personality and how important it was for her to find ways to release her creativity, which can be a real challenge in law school.

I’ve always had various creative outlets my whole life and that was something that I was missing 1L year. I ended up making all of my outlines by hand with sharpies simply because staring at words on a screen/page was getting to me. I’m still trying to figure out a balance between releasing my creativity and being efficient.

Think about the things that fed your soul prior to law school and make an effort to continue doing them (even if it’s on a less frequent basis) or incorporate them into your new routine. For example, if you love running, there are lots of law-related podcasts you can listen to while you’re exercising (if you’re into that kind of multitasking).

The same student also cautioned against losing your personality, noting, “My creative personality landed me a research position simply from my interactions with the professor in class and the deliverables I presented.”

Another rising 2L, Stewart Guderian, recommended that incoming students “think about why they are coming to law school and write it down or find a quote that helps remind them.” She found this to be helpful to revisit when the semester got overwhelming.

Use All Available Resources and Engage in the Law School Community

Multiple students mentioned the importance of being an active member of the law school community. There are lots of great people and opportunities within the law school that can make the experience a little less difficult and much more enjoyable.

Here’s what rising 2L Shannon Bond had to say on the topic of “getting involved” outside of the classroom:

It is important to spend some time in law school not thinking about law school (yes, you will have time to not think about law school). Join school organizations, volunteer in the community, attend school social functions. Remember that while law school is about learning to “think like a lawyer,” lawyers also need to know how to do things like socialize with lawyers and non-lawyers, get to know people, understand the goals and concerns of others, generate clients, and maintain clients, among other things. Also, getting to know your fellow classmates, whether that be through activities and organizations or otherwise, is important because they are your future coworkers, colleagues, or contacts if you ever need advice, want a job change, or end up sitting across the table from them in a negotiation or litigation.

Let me add that in addition to the practical benefits of getting to know your classmates that Bond mentioned, there is tremendous value in simply having friends as you navigate the ups and down of law school. As Troester said, “Find a few good friends at school that you can rely on during the next three years. A support system is important and only the people going through law school with you can really understand it.”

Set Expectations Early with Family and Friends

As noted above, it can be incredibly difficult for those who are not current or former law students to understand just how rigorous this experience is. Although they may be well-intentioned, pressure from family and non-law school friends to maintain the same level of involvement in family affairs or social activities can leave you feeling guilty. This is not only bad for your mental health, but also a distraction.

On this topic, Guderian offered the following advice:

Make sure to let your family and friends know when you will be available. I talked with my mom and she knew to email me between Thanksgiving and finals instead of call so that I would be able to call her when I was free. I also did a few friends trips before law school, because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to be as available as I am normally. I also made my holiday plans in advance because I didn’t want to do anything for Thanksgiving, but had family time during winter break.

Establishing boundaries for the coming year with those you are closest to can help to avoid disappointment and hurt feelings.

One Final Piece of Advice

Please read this post from attorney Kendra Albert. Although Albert’s post was inspired by their bar exam failure, the message behind it is equally relevant to the experience you are about to embark upon: “[N]o matter how well you do in law school, or in life, tying your self-worth to how well your accomplishments stack up to other people’s expectations sets an impossible standard that you will do yourself harm trying to reach.” Do your best, give yourself grace, and remember that your level of success in law school does not determine your value as a person and, in many cases, even as a lawyer.


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About Kala Mueller

Kala Mueller is the Director of Public Interest Programs at the University of Nebraska College of Law. She received her B.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she served as a senior editor for the Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society. Before joining the law college, Kala worked as a prosecutor and with a civil litigation firm where she practiced primarily in the area of personal injury defense. She lives in Lincoln, NE with her husband and three sons.

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