Ontario Law Student, Class of 2014
In many ways law school has been beneficial for me; in terms of the education I’ve received, the career opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of, and some very wonderful and like-minded people I’ve met. However, in other significant ways law school has changed me from a person who was relatively healthy to a person who is unwell.
During my time in law school, I have developed increased stress and anxiety around my grades, my career, my finances, etc. The structure of law school is one that fosters competition, exclusivity, and contentious behaviours among students and sometimes even professors. It takes students who are all accomplished in their own right and accustomed to over-achieving, and puts them in classes where only a handful of them will get A’s. It subjects students to the pressures of OCIs with few alternatives (and the alternatives that are presented are made to feel second-rate). It advertises the names of prominent downtown law firms on its walls, classrooms, and even on the back of t-shirts that first-years are told to put on the minute they arrive, all of which serve as a daily reminder that those careers are our goals and anything less is a failure.
Further, the stresses of law school disproportionately affect already marginalized students, which presents an important equity issue. For instance, those from low-income families are more likely to feel the strain of high tuition costs causing greater anxiety around obtaining a well-paying job.
Additionally, racialized students, and in particular racialized female students such as myself, must navigate a field in which they are largely unrepresented. I unsuccessfully sought to find faces similar to my own in the law school faculty, the law firms during my OCIs interviews, articling interviews, and so on. Even the number of students of colour at my law school is disproportionately low. Although that number has continued to rise every year, it’s not just about the numbers. It’s about the systemic practices that law schools engage in which cause all students to develop unhealthy behaviours as they relate to their mental health, but which are particularly damaging for those who may already feel isolated.
This is not just a problem at my law school, rather it is institutional; more and more studies are finding that law students across North America are suffering from increased mental health issues. Moreover, these mental health issues follow students after law school and into their careers, creating a work force of lawyers that are mentally unwell.
It is difficult for students to recognize the warning signs of poor mental health. Of course you’re anxious, you have four 100% law school exams coming up! However, I would caution students to seek support as early as possible. First, you will do much better on those exams, trust me! Second, and more importantly, it more beneficial to learn coping strategies early on, rather than later dealing with a full-blown anxiety attack. I won’t pretend that it’s easy to ask for support, but it is critical to your present and future well-being.
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