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Managing stress

Lessons from my Law School experience

This was me everyday

Stress, everyone at some point in their lives has dealt with it. Whether it’s from school, work, love or just life in general, stress can greatly affect our psychological and mental well-being, as well as have negative effects on our bodies physically. For me, the most stressful period of my life was when I was in law school. I never thought that it would stress me out the way it did, but it did. I developed an ulcer and I lost weight I already didn’t have in the first place.

In law school, the curriculum consisted of five compulsory courses; professional ethics, corporate law, property law, civil and criminal litigation. The deal was, we had to pass all of them in order to be called to the bar. Doesn’t sound so stressful right, just read and get over the pass mark? Not really. The way it works is, the questions are set from all 20 topics and 5000 or more subtopics of every course, so we had no idea what the questions would be, we were just storing internets worth of information. Now as I said earlier, passing all the courses was key so if you failed any other course, other than the professional ethics course, you had to re-sit, just the course you failed, however if you failed the professional ethics course, you’d have failed all five automatically and you’d have to re-sit all five as many times as you fail..no pressure. If you didn’t fail any, but you got say a D in one course, just one, the D counts as your overall grade, regardless of whether you got A’s in all the other courses.

Coming from the university where studying was a breeze, this was one of the toughest things to grasp; that I would be judged on my weakest grade. In the university, we only needed to maintain a minimum of a 3.5 CGPA to graduate with a second class upper so we weren’t worried if one grade was way less than the others. Four A’s and one D wasn’t that detrimental to your GPA, and even if the first semester didn’t go so great, you had the second semester to make amends. Most times, we were even taught six topics per semester and then we had exams with six questions from each topic to answer four, so most times we would just read the four we already wanted to answer and that was it.

So imagine coming from this university system and being thrown into the law school system, having at the back of your mind that one fatal mistake could ruin your whole result.

The thought of it alone was stressful. And the number of books and laws we had to read and drafts we had to learn was ridiculous. I mean, I was worried that I was worrying too much and that worrying too much may cause the thing I was worried about to come to pass. And it wasn’t just the thought of the pending bar finals and the workload that stressed me..oh no, there was more.

So in school, they had told us that we were to sign the attendance sheets before and after class. If we missed either the before or the after signing, it meant we did not sign for the day and that would not count in the general calculation of the 75% attendance required to write the exams….come on!

If that wasn’t enough we had to go to courts and chambers for six weeks each, observe the practices, fill daily logbooks with our observations and comments, have them signed daily by the judges of the courts and principals of the law firms, make PowerPoint presentations of our experiences and knowledge gained, present those PowerPoint slides and go through portfolio assessments (sort of like interviews) which, if we did not pass, would disqualify us from writing exams.

I’m not done.

We were also to prepare and participate in what they call ‘mock trials’ which were as the name suggests, trials, where students played every part from the judge to the defendant(s) to the bailiff. All while reading our books and ensuring we have sufficient knowledge in every course to prevent coming back to take the exams again, learning drafts and learning calculations that we did not sign up for.

When I tell you, that I have never ever been stressed in my life about anything, like I was stressed about passing law school, believe me, I’m not lying.

But here I am today, writing this article, so clearly I made it through.

One of the things that helped was talking about it. I remember one time in my dorm room my roommate, another friend and I were talking about school and how it was so stressful and I just broke down. I started crying uncontrollably. It was like a breath of fresh air knowing that I wasn’t just overreacting or inadequate and that others were actually going through the same thing. I opened up and told them how I had felt alone, and how I felt like the pressure was just too much. They told me that grades weren’t the definition of my intelligence and that even if something were to happen and I didn’t make my desired grade, it wouldn’t take away anything from me. They gave me examples of people who were disadvantaged by the system in terms of the final grade who still got employed by the top firms in the state, those who still made it to become judges or own their own law firms in the end. Sometimes when you’re stressed about a decision or a step you’re about to take, talking about it with friends might help.

Another thing I do when I’m stressed is I talk to my mom and/or my older brother. When we were finally writing exams in law school, after I had written the third paper, I felt like I didn’t give it my all. As with all papers I started to remember answers I should have written, answers I unfortunately confused with others and answers I said I would go back to but I didn’t. I was in a state of absolute panic. I called my mom and I explained to her what had happened and how I was afraid that I’d let her down. She told me not to worry, she said whatever I make, whether or not it’s a First class, all that matters is that I pass and I get called to the bar. She told me how it wasn’t worth panicking over something that wouldn’t matter in a couple of years. She said, “That one’s gone now, focus on the next one” and that was all I needed to hear because she was right, in a few years only experience would matter.

When I’m stressed about something sometimes I just sleep too. Sleeping is a way to ease stress and often times we are stressed because we haven’t had the required amount of sleep and we’re working times two our normal capacity. In law school sometimes when the thoughts started creeping up on me and I started to feel the pressure again, especially when I was going through notes and I started to realize how much I had to cover, I would just sleep. Sometimes, it’s important to take a break and rest because stress even slows down productivity. Just sleep.

Finally, all work and no play they say, you know the phrase. If you’re feeling stressed but not sleepy, take a fun break. In law school, one weekend my friends and I traveled across state to a waterfall. It was so beautiful and relaxing. We had our own baskets of food and drinks and even played some games while we picnicked by the falls. It was amazing. On another weekend we went paintballing in town. We also frequented the mall and on one occasion went to a pottery village near the school.

Stress is not something that we can completely avoid, but we can take steps to reduce it. The complications of stress and the time, efforts and cost of alleviating those complications; such as heart disease, hypertension and stroke among others, are way worse than just taking steps to reduce stress.

Remember, Health is wealth. 

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