f you’re in the library right now, or (the horror) in class, look to your left. That person’s competitive. I kid you not. Now look to your right. That person’s smart. For real. Pick another person. She’s busy. Another. He’s stressed. The point of this little exercise is to show how law school, remarkably, takes some of the most diversely talented groups of people you’ll ever encounter and makes them all very similar. It breaks them down into a group that faces that same set of issues, rules and conclusions, but approaches them very differently. In some ways, this is a great situation. You can be sure that you’re not the only one who’s confused by hearsay, or freaked out as the hours tick away until your first final. And being surrounded by people with a similar level of intelligence (or LSAT testing prowess) as you with similar interests means you will surely meet some new amazing friends. But, when everybody is fighting for the same small set of A’s, the pressure can make your head hurt.
It’s no secret that grades are important (just like making law review and placing well in moot court competitions), and I’m not going to try and tell you that they’re overrated. The higher your class rank, the easier it is to get a job. But there’s no room on your résumé for a "Things I Thought About Really Hard" section, and no bullet point for "How Important Grades Are." You have got to relax. I repeat: you have got to relax. Almost any practicing attorney will tell you that there’s nothing in law school work that approximates day-to-day attorney stuff. But, most will also tell you that the stress of law school is a good primer for the stress of being a lawyer. So, if you figure a way to keep sane now, you can use it for the rest of your career.
To the bar!(?) Unfortunately it’s not that easy. Listen, I get that there are times when nothing sounds better than hanging out with your friends and sharing a beer (or six). This is absolutely fine, when done, like most things, in moderation. Many law schools have a renewed focus on organizing all kinds of events both for socializing and stress relief. Indeed, it’s part of the draw to some schools these days. From softball leagues to trivia nights, there really is something for everyone. But, for some reason, alcohol is ubiquitous ("OK, team rule is you have to drink a beer if you hit a homerun. Or a double. Or strikeout. Or stand on the field…"). It’s no joke and can get out of control quickly. Not only is this a serious problem, generally, tell me how much you enjoy perusing the UCC after a pitcher of Molson? You’re going to need to unwind on a daily basis, and booze just isn’t an option for that. I get it: you don’t have time to waste. Luckily, grades are only part of what employers are going to look at. You can show through your pastimes what kind of person you are and edge out your competition, all the while keepin’ it breezy. How? Hobbies.
I have two great passions (right now) in cycling and eating. Hell, it takes all I have not to do them both at once every day. But, mayo on handlebars makes for shaky maneuvering, so I separate them. To satisfy my foodie-ness, I write a food blog. Few things are more enjoyable to me than discovering even more of my city and eating (often) delicious food. Eating out serves the dual purpose of getting me out of the library and getting me much needed energy to keep plugging away at the Model Penal Code. And, even though blog writing is like a fourth cousin, twice removed to legal writing, they both use words, and regular writing will help when you have to push through that last paper in the class you thought would be an easy A and turned into a nightmare of antiquated legalese through history, or even working on a last minute memo for your office. Plus, by keeping my blog professional, I can direct potential employers to the site to show them some of the more casual writing I enjoy and that I am capable of maintaining a blog and keeping up with school. You might even say that it allows me to flex a bit of the creativity that is so very lacking in (most) legal writing. A much needed shot in the arm to your artistic side (some lawyers actually have one).
But, what about the 1L 25 (see corollary: Freshman Fifteen)? I just hop on my bike and take off. If I don’t have time to ride, I go out for a quick 3-5 mile run. Four-to-five days a week without fail. Ever tell your doctor you’re stressed-out? And what did she tell you? Exercise! However you choose to get moving, just make sure you do. Sitting in a library for hours at a time will not only atrophy every muscle you have, but will get you pretty depressed, too. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my studying takes top form when I ride my bike to the library. In addition to the free endorphins, I stay ready to race competitively, often for charitable causes. Community service is a common thread among lawyers, and my charitable races distinguish me from other candidates, indeed many attorneys are competitive/fundraising athletes. Know what else lawyers like? Good food.
OK, now it’s your turn. Here’s the first easy thing you have to do in law school: think of something you like to do, something that puts you at ease. Now start doing it. If you’re even a little clever, you’ll be able to use it to your advantage, too. And even if you’re not clever, at least you’ll be less stressed than that guy. The one to your left.