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by Shelley Awe | August 05, 2020

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August is here, which means a new school year is right around the corner. As a law student, you already know the importance of academics, extracurriculars, networking, and the need to focus on those things during the upcoming semester. But no matter how busy the school year gets, there’s another crucial component to think about: taking care of you. Especially in these pandemic times, it’s important to invest time into taking care of yourself both physically and mentally. With the never-ending to-do list that law school throws your way, it can be hard to hit pause and focus on other things—but not only is self-care important for your physical and mental health, it is the best way to maximize your performance as a law student. You can only function at full capacity if you charge your batteries first.

The start of a new school year is a great time to set some self-care goals. Here are some ideas on how you can take care of yourself this year.

Plan a regular social activity. It’s amazing how much easier it is to get work done when you have something to look forward to, so get an activity on your calendar! This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant; it could be as simple as watching your favorite TV show with a glass or wine or scheduling a standing phone date with a friend or family member. Building an activity like this into your schedule allows you to plan around it—which is way less stressful than trying to accommodate last minute plans when you’re busy with school—and serves as consistent motivation to stay on track so you can enjoy the break.

Take a full day off every week. This might sound impossible, but I promise it is not. When I was a law student, no matter how busy I was, I always took off one day a week. Knowing I would get a full day to do ANYTHING I wanted, including catch-up on basic personal needs like grocery shopping and cleaning, kept me more motivated during the week. It forced me to use my time more wisely the other six days so I was positioned to take my day off without guilt. (But even if you don’t check everything off your to-do list, take your day off—unless you have an urgent deadline.) A day away from school work serves as an important reset before a new week. Let’s face it—law school is stressful. You need some time away to blow off some steam and regroup. When you sit down again the next day, I promise you’ll feel more clear-minded and productive.

Focus on you—not your classmates. One of the biggest sources of stress in law school can be your own classmates. Of course, it’s wonderful to make friends, join study groups, and socialize outside of class—but set some boundaries. Be careful about comparing yourself when it comes to study habits and grades. Everybody has different strengths and strategies for getting through law school, and just because your classmates are saying they’re doing one thing, it doesn’t mean they really are (and if they are, it doesn’t mean it’s the right strategy for you). You got into law school on your own merits—you’re no less competent than any of your peers. So trust your instincts and do what’s right for you. I suggest letting the phrase “swim in your own lane” be your guiding principle.

Pick the right study atmosphere. Part of “swimming in your own lane” includes studying the way that works best for you. For those of you who have the option to use on-campus study spaces this fall, consider whether you really work best when you’re surrounded by classmates. Some people find this motivating, but don’t be ashamed to study at home instead if you find that being around others just adds stress. And the same goes for study groups. If you don’t learn best in a group setting, don’t feel like you need to join a study group. Plenty of people study on their own throughout all of law school (myself included) and do just fine.

Stay connected to your non-law school community. It can be easy to get wrapped up in law school and your new law school friends—but don’t forget about the people in your life outside of law school. It’s important to stay connected to the people who care about you and have helped you get this far in life. Check in with your family and friends every now and then. They’ll be glad to know you didn’t forget about them—you don’t want to find yourself graduating law school without any of the people you knew before you started. Plus, keeping in touch with people from the “outside world” provides a breath of fresh air and some much-needed space away from law school.  

Exercise. If you’re not already in an exercise routine, get into one now. There is no limit to the benefits you receive from regular exercise: stress relief, better physical health, improved ability to concentrate and perform in school—the list goes on. You don’t need a lecture on why exercising is important. But if you don’t establish good habits early on, it can be easy to let your physical health slip to the wayside. Start a routine now so that you’re already in the habit when classes start. You don’t need to do anything extreme. Crossfit or ultra-marathons are not a law school requirement—a walk or a quick yoga class will do just fine. 

Meal prep. Meal prep adds real benefits to your health, wallet, and schedule. Even if you’re attending law school from home, planning and preparing meals for the week can be a huge burden-reduction that allows you to focus entirely on school. You don’t need to be a chef to get into the meal prep lifestyle. Simple meals like salads, rice bowls, or soups are great options. If you’re a grazer like me, you can whip up various snacks and side dishes to munch on throughout the week. There are tons of recipes and resources out there—here’s one great starting point.

Use campus and outside resources. Your law school has resources in place to help you succeed as a law student, so take advantage of them. This includes your professors, career services, and mental health services—and these resources are all still available remotely. We’ve also compiled a list of mental health resources for lawyers and law students here. You are not alone in your journey to becoming a lawyer, so don’t be ashamed if you need to reach out for help. That’s exactly what these resources are there for.

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You are more than just a law student, so don’t forget about the other parts of you. Taking some time to care for yourself will put you in a much better position to succeed in school and beyond.

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