Law Student

Law Student

Managing Stress
By:  Steven Traeger

Editor’s note: The Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program offers resources to help law students, attorneys, and judges with wellness issues such as stress and anxiety. Visit to learn more.

When the excitement of starting law school wears off, first-year law students are confronted with the reality of their course load and often find it difficult to manage the inevitable stress associated with the new adventure. The onerous reading, case briefs, outlines, memos, exams, and the ever-present fear of being “called on” takes a toll on every student. The environment puts students against each other in competition for the best jobs with the highest salaries in an already oversaturated job market. When combined with other stressors, students often have a difficult time coping with law school altogether. If navigated correctly, the law school experience can be something that builds the necessary skills, knowledge, and habits to competently enter the practice of law. If navigated incorrectly, though, law school can be a draining experience that makes students dread getting out of bed in the morning.

The concept of the overwhelming stress associated with law school is not new or otherwise extraordinary. Anyone who has been to law school can think of a classmate who could not have a conversation without complaining about something. There is a plethora of books written about how to manage the process. My school even has a mandatory course for first-year students to make sure they are adjusting to law student life. After the first year however, this guidance tends to disappear.  Now, as a 3L, I have recognized that regardless of how we manage to get through our first two semesters, “life” can happen at any moment to anyone and developing a method to manage stress is critical for both students and attorneys alike. Managing stress is an area where people truly differentiate and everyone must find their own techniques, but I want to share some methods that have really helped me not only get through the last five semesters, but get through them while enjoying the process.

The absolute most important thing I can do for myself is to put everything I am dealing with in perspective. Often, we tend to micromanage one little thing and put all of our physical and emotional energy into it. Very rarely is that one thing as important as we treat it. Treating a paper or memo as if your life depends upon it can be a good driving force to complete it, but if this mentality is to the detriment of everything else, it can, and often does, do more harm than good. When we micromanage or worry about things that are out of our control, such as class rank, we truly waste energy and create undue stress. This is when perspective needs to rein our thoughts in. Often, I must consciously take the time to think about whatever is worrying me and look at it relative to the “big picture” and the realistic long-term goals that I have made for myself. Recently, I found myself putting too much of my energy into trying to create a schedule that allowed me to graduate with a certain concentration. The schedule was going to make my last semester very challenging. When I looked at “the big picture” I saw that it was not going to effectuate my immediate goal of graduating and passing the bar, so I dropped it. Only after making that decision did I realize how much stress it had placed on me; it was instant relief.

Another mechanism that I have found critical to enjoying my time in law school is allocating time to do the things that I really love. Having hobbies has allowed me to create a system of effective self-discipline. I regularly tell myself that after I finish this task, or this day, week, or even finals, I get to do X. It really is amazing how that can provide motivation to complete a task when I otherwise would have procrastinated until the last minute, which would have caused more undue stress. I have friends who use their lifelong hobbies such as golf, playing music, yoga, exercise, and video games as breaks from law school. But, I have found that learning how to do something new is the most refreshing break, even when I am very busy.

About a year ago, I stumbled across some YouTube videos produced by a woodworker who builds beautiful furniture with minimal hand tools. I was fascinated by his work and over the last year have slowly acquired his tools and have used his videos to refocus my mind after a busy day so I can wind down to go to sleep. Although I have not built any furniture yet, watching the process and learning the theory behind how to handcraft something was a way for me to find relief from the law school monotony. Having something fun to learn about has provided me with the motivation to finish my school work. It also provides me with a great distraction to unwind in the evenings. I am not recommending woodworking as the key to managing stress, but I am suggesting that you find something that can really distract you from any stressors that an unconscious mind tends to wander toward. 

Overall, because the legal profession is often accompanied with stress, managing stress is critical to both the health and success of law students and attorneys. There is no single correct way to manage this stress, but finding a healthy way to do so is paramount to having an enjoyable career. 

Steven Traeger is a student at Texas A&M University School of Law and serves as the State Bar of Texas Law Student Division chair and law student liaison to the TYLA Board of Directors. He can be reached via email.

Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.

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