A recent study from the Harvard Business Review found that lawyers were in the loneliest profession. And while this info might make you think twice about choosing a career in the law, those of us who are determined to stick with a legal career should still be asking, where does this issue of lonely lawyers come from?
I believe that the issue starts, at least in part, with law school. Among those who attend law school, the average rate of depression more than quadruples, and their stress levels tend to exceed those of other grad students, even med students. This means all of those preparing to enter law school really ought to think about how their challenges with stress and mental health in law school will translate into their future careers.
Some may see law school as just a three year slog to suffer through, but where does that really leave you as a lawyer? The alternative is to prepare yourself for the kind of challenges that will impact your well-being in law school that will set you on a good course to cope with issues that arise through your whole career.
To start, here are a few things to keep in mind as a law student or law school applicant to support your own mental health:
Remember that you have value irrespective of your legal career
When you enter a grad program that ranks you among your peers, curves your grades according to how other people performed, and sets you down a career path rife with competition, it’s important to remember that you’re a good person, no matter what happens in your career. Remind yourself that your worth as a human being is based on who you are, just as your admiration for other people is based on their personalities more than prestige.
Get comfortable with a certain amount of failure
In school, there are big failures, like failing out of your program, and there are smaller failures, like saying something dumb in class when you get called on or receiving a disappointing grade in your first semester. The latter are failures that you can survive. To an extent, you’ll need to experience these minor failures in order to reach your goals. If you’re feeling anxiety about finding a job for your law school summer, you may bomb some of your interviews, but those failures are going to give you the practice you need to shake off the nerves and perform your best in the job hunt.
Deciding to go to law school is almost like signing up for failure, because you know that 99% of the time there will be someone who gets a better LSAT score or a better exam grade than you. But by accepting that fact and taking your best shot anyway, you’ll come into the process with a better mindset.
Remember that law school is a privilege
If you get into law school, you are already where so many other people would love to be. And if you find yourself questioning why you entered law school to begin with, remember that law school is still a choice. From the beginning of your first year, you want to keep in mind why you are going to school in the first place, because this is not only great motivation, but it will keep the experience in perspective. If you decide to go to law school because you are passionate about environmental law, keep that purpose in mind when you start to become overwhelmed by things that may have no significant connection to your ultimate goals.
Seek professional help before you’re in a crisis
For some, therapy and other types of professional help for your mental health can seem like something meant for people who “have a problem,” and you may feel that you’re capable of handling your own issues. But when you think about the most critical points in law school, like your final exams or job interviews, you don’t want to wait until you’re in a crisis situation, because that will be all the more difficult to recover from. And since law school is already notorious for stress, someone would have to be from another planet to judge a law student for seeking out the additional support that they need.
The broader issues of loneliness and depression in the legal field are going to take much more work to address, but these trends also let you know that, even if you are one of those feeling lonely, you’re really not alone in your struggles. Many other talented, successful and happy lawyers have faced these same challenges before you, and the legal community is full of solutions to your own experiences.