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A Whole New World: How Focusing On Things That Matter To You Outside of the Law Can Make You More Successful

by Jade Magalhaes

As part of the coursework for Legal Problem Solving (LPS), all students contribute a post to this course blog. Students develop posts from a weekly journal entry, which also is required coursework. The purpose of journal entries is to invite deeper, personal reflection on the subject matter in LPS, reflection being a key component of content understanding and mastery. This course explores how human centered design informs three areas: (1) the delivery of legal services, (2) how we solve clients' (legal) problems, and (3) how law students can intentionally shape their professional journeys. Each student post will touch on one or more of these three areas.

This is the first LPS student post, by Jade Magalhaes, Vanderbilt Law School class of 2019.

As a 2L at Vanderbilt Law School, I was asked to write a journal entry for my Legal Problem Solving class discussing 12 bad pieces of bad advice I would give incoming law students about law school and the legal profession. Before putting my thoughts on paper, I reflected on my experiences in law school thus far, and realized that the WORST advice I could possibly give an incoming 1L was to get so involved and caught up in the law that they forget there is a world outside of school and their job. I’m not going to lie, I had a really tough time during my first year of law school. I mean-- I seriously struggled. While I absolutely loved my school, classmates (most of them), and professors (again most of them), the pressure to succeed was so great that I Facetimed my mom at least once a week to just desperately bawl my eyes out and look for some comfort, I stopped exercising, and even experienced real panic attacks. When grades came back, my transcript told one story-- one of success and achievement. Nevertheless, my mental health and wellbeing told a completely different story. The comfort never came.

Now, some of the advice I got before embarking on this insane journey went along the lines of “Oh honey, don’t worry. You will be miserable and hate yourself for three years, but then you will get an awesome job and everything will be worth it!” Or something like “Those three horrible years will fly by and then you will laugh about it!” Wrong. Research has also shown that psychological distress, dissatisfaction, and substance abuse that begins in law school follow many victims for the rest of their careers. Moreover, lawyers are the most depressed occupational group in the United States and rank fifth in incidence of suicide by occupation.

During my 1L summer, I realized what I did wrong. I had become so OBSESSED with doing well in school, being involved in school organizations, and getting the best 1L job, that I forgot who I was and what mattered to me. Before starting law school, I would meditate, go to Yoga or to some sort of workout class everyday, and volunteer at local animal shelters on the weekends. Now, if you took one look at me during law school, you would find me constantly “on the go,” with bags under my eyes, coffee stains on my clothes, a constant eye twitch (that, believe it or not, lasted about 4 months), and lugging around books and study materials that were taller and heavier than me. You would also often find me drinking one too many at the nearest bar. My peers tried to tell me that I should be happy, after all, whatever I did had gotten me good grades and a solid summer job lined up. But I wasn’t. In the words of the ABA, law school “became my identity.”

A simple mindset shift I now implement day in and day out has already made 2L year infinitely times better than 1L year. Balance. Yes, studying and going to class is important, blah blah blah. BUT. Being out of balance with the other things that matter in your life will make law school a lot harder than it already is. I now take at least one hour a day to engage in the spiritual, physical, mental, and/or social aspects of my life. It is also important to note that perhaps more important than engaging in those activities is being truly present while doing them. I try to not just “get through” the yoga poses while thinking about the brief I need to write before I get cold called by my con law professor tomorrow. I make a conscious effort to let that all fall through the cracks during that hour. I also stopped hanging out at the library for the sake of being at the library, and started spending time with my dog and exploring cool coffee shops and collaborative work spaces around town while I study or do school work (they weren’t kidding when they said that they will work you to death during 2L year). The reality is that there is always something law-related I could be doing, but I now actively choose to balance my life and set them aside or just to not do them to maintain my health and sanity.

The results are clear. I am happier, more physically active, and I don’t dread waking up in the mornings. My mom has even complained that I don’t call her as often as I did last year to chat about my life (see her thoughtful gift I received in the mail below). Don’t get me wrong, I still want to get up in the middle of class and scream every once in a while, but it’s not a constant thought.

In sum, to all of my incoming law students, here is a pro-tip: Being in law school and being an attorney does not mean you should alienate the people, activities, and things that make you tick as a human being. Before entering this crazy legal “universe” you probably had hobbies, non-attorney friends, and causes that mattered to you-- so don’t let go of that because “you don’t have time.” Things like hanging out with non-lawyers, volunteering for a non-legal cause, and exercising for an hour a day will help keep you sane and centered and will probably improve your mental health. Believe it or not, the world does not revolve around your contracts final and the latest law school hook-up everyone seems to be talking about. Sometimes you have to just set your responsibilities aside and go do things that energize you and make your heart warm, because trust me-- there is never enough time.

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