My Concern

Relationships and personal life

Law school is described by many as “all-consuming”. That simple statement makes it easy to see why many law students are challenged to manage their studies and their personal life. Partners, children, and even your personal wellbeing can take a backseat to courses, exams, extracurricular and volunteer pursuits and your job search. Those choices can leave you feeling guilty, conflicted and worried about the potentially lasting consequences.

I don’t have time to take care of myself

While adjusting to law school in first year and then juggling various commitments and goals in your upper years, time for yourself is often the first thing you sacrifice. Sometimes when you try to take a break to relax or have fun, the feelings of stress and anxiety don’t stop. You may return from your break feeling more tired and even guilty about the lost productivity. Your relationships and mental and physical health may start to suffer and, with it, your academic and professional performance may decline. It can feel like you are running from one deadline to the next without having the time to stop and catch your breath.

Here are some things to consider:

It might be tempting to view your law school years as short-term sacrifice for long-term gain. Avoid this if you can. Chronic self-sacrifice can lead to a whole host of negative outcomes, including mental health challenges that can follow you into law practice. Instead, try reflecting on your broader life goals and experiences. Think about what matters most to you — not just academically and professionally, but also emotionally, physically and spiritually — and then set boundaries to ensure your priorities are protected. You might, for example, value your weekly coffee date with friends. It is not possible to do it all and be everything to everybody. There are numerous things that factor into your well-being and it is important to be able to find the balance that works for you. At times that may mean dropping certain commitments to give yourself more free time for self-care. Be sure to surround yourself with people you can lean on (and who can lean on you) to help you maintain your priorities and balance.

Even though I had some very successful years within my previous career before law school, I was a little more than overwhelmed at first. I soon found out that I wasn’t the only person that felt this way. I also found out that the Student Success and Wellness Office was an excellent resource for helping me navigate this new adventure and taught me how to organize myself while approaching my legal education. Ontario Law Student, Class of 2015
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I’ve lost someone I love

If you lost someone you love soon before starting law school or sometime during your legal education, you may be finding it exceptionally hard to cope in all aspects of your life. Whether this is due to death or the breakdown of a valued relationship (romantic, friendship or familial), the feeling of loss and grief can be overwhelming, intense and seemingly unbearable. You might feel that you should be able to compartmentalize or that you should be able to maintain a clear distinction between your personal life and professional or academic life. It may feel as though your loss has sidelined you, making it difficult to eat, sleep and focus on law school, and ruining your chances of turning your education into what you had hoped and planned.

Here are some things to consider:

It’s important to know that your feelings are valid and that not only is it next to impossible to turn off painful feelings to focus on school, it’s usually unhealthy. Seeking support for grief and loss of relationships due to breakdown, separation or divorce, or death is critical, whether it is from a friend, family member, peer supporter or mentor, professional counsellor or therapist, support group, spiritual counsellor or advisor. Depending on your comfort level, you might choose to disclose your situation to someone in your law school student services office in order to get academic support/relief.

If you are not feeling ready to seek support, meditation and journaling can be helpful. Some people also find helpful coping strategies in grief recovery workbooks. Above all else, give yourself permission to take the time you need to grieve and recover. Everyone experiences loss differently and sometimes the feelings can be intense, long-lasting and difficult to overcome.

How do I balance studying and parenting?

Juggling law school and parenting responsibilities can lead to a ceaseless cycle of long hours, guilt, impatience and more guilt. Perhaps you chose to study law to make a better life for your family. It may seem counterproductive, then, when your family appears to be the ones paying the biggest price — both literally and figuratively — for that decision. On top of an already demanding schedule, you’re coping with concerns about your family’s finances, lost time with your children and the practical challenges of managing things like illness, appointments and activities. The stress of keeping it all together might well leave you feeling exhausted and irritable and then even more guilty when your patience wears thin.

Here are some things to consider:

At some point, most parents face the realization that they can’t do it all. Now might be the time for you to acknowledge you need help. Rely on your partner, family and friends to pitch in during busy times like exams and seek out other working parents for support — they don’t have to be in law school to understand some of the challenges you’re facing. Carve out meaningful time with your kids, no matter how short and then protect those moments in your schedule, even if it means foregoing an extracurricular or volunteer opportunity. And when guilt invariably creeps in, acknowledge it, but don’t grasp onto it. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can at this moment.

I did it – I got into law school! Wait…, how am I going to tell my wife and kids? As anxious as I was about getting into law school, it was explaining my decision that was the hard part. Just as I was reaching, what could have been, a stable point in my professional and personal life, I risked it all on law. Ontario Law Student, Class of 2016
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I’m concerned about my relationship

You may be the one attending law school, but your partner is probably feeling the highs and the lows of the experience right alongside you. When the going gets tough, this might mean added strain on your relationship. It’s natural to feel torn between your professional goals and your personal time and then to feel frustrated and guilty when one takes precedence over the other. At times, you may even feel somewhat resentful of your partner for demanding more than you feel you have to give. Law school is a unique and potentially transformative experience. You may worry that because you are going through it without your partner, you will never be able to develop a shared understanding of what your time at law school was really like. This can make for a lonely experience.

Here are some things to consider:

Remind yourself that even though law school is temporary, it can still have a big impact on your relationship. Law school can be a transformative experience and it may change you, so be aware of this possibility and take steps to help your relationship grow with you by taking regular relationship health checks and seeking out relationship counselling or support. Take the time for shared moments that put you in touch with who you are outside of law school. If your partner isn’t a lawyer or law student, help your partner understand some of what you’re experiencing and the support you need. Also, remember that in some circumstances, breakups are natural. Many law students may still be learning about their relationship needs. Sometimes, it is important to move on from a relationship that no longer works for you.

Do partying, alcohol and law school mix?

For good or for ill, alcohol is everywhere during law school. Whether you enjoy a glass of wine with a meal or at a party, or a few beers with friends to unwind after an especially grueling week, alcohol — when consumed in moderation — can be a positive part of your law school experience.

So when does alcohol become a problem? The short answer is: When it endangers you or causes you distress. If you have multiple drinks while out dancing and partying with your friends, then pass out and don’t remember much of it, that’s a problem. Even just one beer or glass of wine too many may put you in a vulnerable position. If you find yourself drinking to numb out from the stresses of life and school, that’s almost never healthy. Using alcohol as a tranquilizer masks real feelings that need to be dealt with and is an obstacle to health and healing.

Here are some things to consider:

The key is to drink mindfully. Know why you’re drinking and notice when it’s fun and when it’s causing you problems. Recreational or situational drinking can be a blast, but substance abuse and addiction can blow up your life. Honestly ask yourself if drinking is getting in the way of your life. If it’s jeopardizing your grades and your relationships, putting you in harm’s way or even causing you to feel guilty or upset, it might be time to re-evaluate the role partying is playing in your law school experience. Try expanding your peer circle to include friends who aren’t a part of your usual circuit and seek out new interests that allow you to blow off steam in healthy ways. Remember, though, that the occasional drink is ok — don’t be hard on yourself if you choose to indulge in moderation every once in a while.