Ontario Law Student, Class of 2015
I really struggled through parts of my first year of law school. During the months of December and January, I was upset most days. This was mainly due to the anxiety that came from my sense that I was being given more work than I would ever be able to get through. We were repeatedly told that first year marks were extremely important and as much as I always have a “do what I can” mentality, that pressure got to me. I was also getting a strong message that success equates to a career as a corporate lawyer on Bay Street. That view did not suit my interests or desired lifestyle. The disconnect between these two visions made me feel isolated and unsure of my decision to attend law school. While my close group of friends was very supportive of one another, I also found the class as a whole very competitive.
Part-way through the January term, I decided that I needed to develop skills for coping with anxiety if I was going to go on to have a demanding career in law. I contacted main campus’ Student Development Centre in order to see a counsellor. I was told that the first available screening appointment was a couple of weeks away. Although I was initially panicked because I wanted to start dealing with it sooner, it turned out that just knowing I had taken a step towards a solution had a strong calming effect. I had one very productive session with a counsellor before learning that there was a 3-month wait in order to be seen past that first screening appointment. Though my school’s health plan includes a limited amount of coverage for off-campus counselling services, I did not feel that this was a good option for me as I was already struggling with time management. I instead resorted to working independently with workbooks available online through the Australian Centre for Clinical Interventions. As I approach the beginning of my third year, this remains a resource I turn to when I am feeling overwhelmed.
My second year of law school was much happier for a variety of reasons. I became involved in interesting extracurricular projects, I stopped trying to do all of my readings, I experienced some success in competitions and course work that boosted my confidence, and I calmed down after realizing that grades are really not the be all and the end all. Despite the improvements in my own experience, I feel that there is a lot of work to be done in order to allow law students to lead healthy lives and to provide assistance to those who experience distress. I have seen that, at my school at least, the current services are not sufficient to assist law students at particularly stressful times in the year nor are the counsellors familiar with the issues that impact law students (ex. OCIs, exam style, mooting, articling recruit). In my opinion, each law school would benefit from its own counsellor on staff or a similar service dedicated to law students specifically. I hope that the Mental Health Initiative can serve to encourage Ontario law schools to head in this direction as well as influence the legal field to move away from the old-fashioned mentality that a lawyer’s life revolves completely around work and that all other aspects of life should fall by the wayside.