It’s no secret that studying law can be very stressful. The pressure to get the “right” grades, the competition for jobs in the legal profession and the nature of law itself (murder, GBH and theft anyone?) can all impact on students’ experience of law school. Emma Jones, lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at the Open University, has some valuable insight for those facing arduous times to achieve their law degree.
Stress in itself isn’t intrinsically bad. In fact, there is evidence that a certain level of stress is required to motivate people during their studies and help them work effectively. However, when stress levels get too high it can lead to issues such as a lack of concentration and a sense of de-motivation which can be damaging to both studies and personal life.
Here are some top tips for looking after yourself during your law degree:
Students often argue that they work better when there’s a deadline looming. If that means staying up until 2am the night before swigging energy drinks, then it’s just not true. Using a diary, calendar or smart device to schedule your study time, planning in time to work towards deadlines well in advance and building in time for socialising and hobbies will all help you to work in a more methodical and healthy way.
Reflect on your learning style
At times it can feel like a law degree consists of trying to memorise long lists of cases and statutes. If you become too focused on cramming in legal knowledge, you won’t be doing the most important thing of all – learning how to learn. If you build in time to work out what study techniques work for you (reading a book? Watching videos? Making models of famous claimants out of clay?!) then you will be able to employ them effectively throughout your degree, and beyond!
Manage your expectations
As a lawyer in practice, you are constantly managing your client’s expectations to ensure they are realistic and achievable. It is important to do the same for yourself when studying law. It is easy to get carried away making comparisons with others, or to get fixated on a specific study goal or career path. While it’s great to be determined and ambitious, it is also important to be flexible and open to change. If you are exhausted and miserable trying to get the highest possible grades to get a training contract or pupillage, ask yourself, is it really worth it? There are a huge range of different careers and opportunities out there which you could be equally (or even more) well suited for.
Take the help that’s offered…
Sometimes studying can be so overwhelming, it’s tempting to wrap yourself up in a bit of a cocoon with your books and laptop and shut out the rest of the world. Often, there are people out there who are ready and willing to help you, not to mention plenty of useful resources. Get to know the office hours for your lecturers, look out for additional revision sessions being advertised, post on your university’s study forums, go along to that library session on legal research. All these things are being offered for a reason – to help you succeed in your studies.
…And ask for help when you need too.
If the stress of study is starting to feel too much, or your personal circumstances are beginning to affect your work, don’t hesitate to look for help. Most universities offer some form of counselling service. There are also nationwide helplines such as The Samaritans and Nightline. If you’re not sure where to turn, ask your tutor, they may not be able to give the help you need themselves, but they can signpost you to other places which can.
There is a meme going around social media at present which includes an image of an aeroplane and the words “Lawyers, fit your own oxygen mask first”. This mirrors the instructions during flights to fit your own oxygen mask before that of a child or other companion. It equally applies to law students. If you aren’t looking after yourself, you won’t be able to study effectively. Other aspects of your life will also begin to suffer. So, why not pause, take a deep breath, and be kind to yourself a