I am disappointed I didn’t make as much time as I would have liked to blog throughout my first semester of law school. However, I did make it a point to create a list of all the things I’d like to touch on when I finally had time. This post is a collective list of those items which are indirectly related to life as a law student. For more specific information on performing well in law school, see my posts on note taking and organizing for success on the law school exam. I’ve organized this post, of random/indirect items by headings, so feel free to skip to the ones you are more interested in.
On Being Married in Law School
It’s been a blessing. Luckily, my husband is my biggest cheerleader and doesn’t mind taking care of literally all of the household chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.) I grocery shopped maybe once during my first semester and cooked no more than twice. Plus, having a non-law “roommate” is a major plus. My unmarried classmates have ended up competing with their law-student roommates, are sick of talking about the law at the end of the day, and found it difficult to maintain perspective.
I also appreciate being immune from a lot of the “who’s hooking up with who” drama that runs rampant in law school. Even more devastating, two of my classmates worked hard to come to the same law school, sacrificing other offers – their 6 year relationship ended this semester after he cheated on her – she then cheated on him – the entire 1L class is well aware of the entire fiasco. I can’t imagine going through this awful, mortifying experience on top of dealing with law school stress.
Prior to attending law school (at my uber traditional institution) I thought how I would fit in (being several years older than the median, and yes – married). Turns out, married students are seen as the ones who “wreck” the curve for everyone else because we are so serious and mature – opting to stay in and study or spend precious time with our loved ones rather than partying at night and nursing hang overs the next morning.
However, one someone downfall in being married seems to be that there is a presumption that the married student would not be interested in socializing with the single-persons circles. I have found several single female classmates that I really have enjoyed getting to know – we’ve developed a close friendship, but when it comes time to Friday night movie dates or Sunday brunches, my single friends seem to forget that I too, though married, would enjoy such outings.
Of the 6 married students in my class, I am the only wife/student. I don’t mind, I take it in stride and have become good friends with my married student classmates as well as their wives. But it is often a reminder of how different my law school experience has been (but in a positive way).
That said, here are some of my tips for maintaining a happy marriage during what will likely be one of the most stressful times in your life:
1. Don’t shut your spouse out. They are your teammate – you both are in this together. But your spouse can’t support you or understand what you are going through unless you tell them. It only takes 5ish minutes out of your busy schedule to include them on your life. As earlier as the phase of making the decision to attend law school and which law school to attend, it is so important to involve the spouse. Remember, their life is going to change too! Especially if attending law school means one or both of you are relocating. There are a lot of things to think about (will my spouse be happy living in this particular area, will he/she find work, will he/she be near things that he/she needs to be happy/make a living/have a life). The spouse doesn’t need only be able to have a life while you are in law school – but one that he/she is happy with even when it means a life that is less involved with the student.
2.Designate “us” time and “study” time. For my husband and I, “Us” time has always been Friday night date night. To continue this tradition during law school has meant having to schedule my studying accordingly so that I could completely take Friday nights off. Beginning at 5:00, I could no longer be a stressed, crazy, emotional law student – I had to try to be my normal self. It was a time to unwind and reconnect with my husband. I made it a point to not obsess about law school and really only talk about it if it came up naturally in the conversation (but it always did – my husband always makes it a point to ask me how it’s going). This is good for not only the couple, but the law student too. It definitely kept me sane and maintained perspective. On the other hand, you have to let your spouse know what law school is a full time + job. If you set a schedule and stick to it, your spouse will respect that your “study time” is the equivalent of being away at the office, even if your “office” is your own study space in the home, a few rooms away.
3. Let your spouse help you. Assuming your spouse isn’t a lawyer or also a law student, don’t assume your spouse cannot possibly help you. It’s amazing how helpful it can be to attempt to explain a case or concept to someone who has no knowledge on the subject. I found that if you are able to articulate a concept verbally in an explanatory way, then you’ve mastered the subject. The non-law student spouse can then respond with questions, pointing out what didn’t come across as clear. As a law student, I tend to become so absorbed into what I’m doing, that I forget the “outsider” knowledge (i.e., usually common sense!) that is what got me into law school in the first place. By talking to my spouse, I get the “common sense” point of view too.
4.Find ways to communicate throughout the day. I know this sounds awful, but my husband and I have this semester had to rely more on emails and text messages to keep in touch throughout the day. Though this isn’t a good replacement for face to face contact, it’s better than nothing.
5. Ultimately, it is about having reasonable expectations – you both have to come to an understanding. The decision to attend law school is one that necessarily impacts you (the student) individually, your spouse individually, and the two of you as a couple – in other words, it is one that has to be made together. I often catch myself saying “we” are in law school or law school stresses “us” out. Because law school changes so much of your life, like how you spend your time, the things you talk about, the amount of stress you endure, etc. it can have the ability to completely change who you are – and thus change the dynamic of the couple. When the spouse knows ahead of time that this particular change is likely to occur, I think it is more likely that the spouse will be more accepting when it happens.
Law school as a married person is a blessing. But it does mean there are additional factors to think about when making the decision to attend law school and in thinking about how your lives will be once in law school. Though I didn’t read this book pre-law school (nor did my spouse), I did hear from one of the spouses of my classmates that the book “The Companion Text to Law School” was extremely helpful.
I’ve never pulled an all-nighter. Never. I don’t function when I am tired and there’s no amount of coffee that is going to keep me awake when my body decides to shut down for sleep. That said, I admit my sleep schedule fluctuated a lot during the first semester. I was usually in bed by midnight but would wake up to begin studying again somewhere between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. (usually 5 a.m.). I am a firm believer in getting plenty of sleep. So much so that if it means spending one additional hour of studying versus getting an extra hour of sleep, I will really try to get the hour of sleep (unless my brain refuses to turn off because I feel so stressed about studying).
I am a believer in the phrase “diminishing returns.” On the weekends, when I get most of my uninterrupted studying in, I would go 6 hours, take a short break for a meal, and then go back at it again for another 6-7 hours. But I started to realize that toward the end of the day, I was just getting frustrated and confused. So while it’s important to take studying seriously, it’s equally important to assess whether studying is being done detrimentally.
Surprisingly, I got plenty of sleep and had no trouble sleeping the night before exams. I thought my anxiousness would keep me awake, but I was uncharacteristically calm. I know several of my classmates pulled all nighters before exams – even if they didn’t do so the night before the exam, it still messed with their ability to process and focus. It’s just not worth it to skimp on the basics.
Toward the end of the semester, I was pretty lucky to shower everyday. Seriously. I started thinking about which was a better use of time – studying or showering. Studying always won. However, I am the type of person that literally feels better and more confident in myself if I feel that I look good. So at times I felt like it was worthwhile to do my hair and makeup just for the sake of making myself feel my best -even for final exams. Some of my female classmates even dressed up for exams – including skirts and heels! I didn’t go that far, but I think that means I’m not the only one who pays attention to this confidence-boosting trick.
That said, even though I was sleeping and followed for the most part my normal beauty regimen, I looked like hell. I noticed about mid-way through the semester that I had bags under my eyes, more wrinkles than usual, dull skin, and I just plain looked tired - even though I was getting plenty of sleep. I think it was a product of stress and being in doors all day. The upside is that a week after my last final, my skin is looking more vibrant and my eyes less tired. I’m also making it a point to drink as much water as possible. I knew I had to be dehydrated due to my higher-than-ever coffee consumption. When I worked at an office, with my own desk, and my own cubicle, which I was stationed at all day, I would bring a huge liter bottle of water and make sure I drank the whole thing by noon and again by 5. Now that I’m always on the go and moving around from class to class, it’s been more difficult to maintain such a high water intake.
Naturally, this piggy-backs to getting enough sleep. But additional factors include eating healthfully, getting exercise, and avoiding sickness.
I’ve never been good at eating healthfully. Largely because I am such a picky eater and my life has always been so chaotic that it’s hard to plan ahead so that I can have healthy choices available to me whenever I have a quick second to eat. So while I am certainly no expert, here are a few things that I have done to at least try to eat well:
- Bring Lean Cuisines and Healthy Choice style meals to school. Of course, this requires some pre-planning which I’m terrible at. With foods that need to be frozen, my law school has a bank of refrigerators in the basement to keep foods cold. So if you trust that your food won’t get taken, you could bring a weeks-supply to tap into as needed. Alternatively, there are some Healthy Choice meals that don’t need to be frozen at all – just add water and heat-up. Those can obviously be stored for weeks at a time in a locker. I also relied on “Soup at Hand” by Campbell’s soup, yet another item that does not require refrigeration and is easy to keep around.
- Granolla or Protein Bars. I keep a box handy in my backpack. It’s a major help when I don’t even have time to heat up anything that I’ve brought for lunch.
- Bring a sandwich bag of carrots, celery, or whatever quick-snack vegetable you prefer.
- Try to find good options at the law school’s cafe. This can be pretty difficult and of course, the food tends to be pretty pricey.
Exercise – yet another area I am not at all qualified to speak to, but I will try:
- I have never been disciplined enough to stay on a good exercise routine. I will have a few months where I will walk every day but then will be out of the habit twice-as long. Nevertheless, I tried to get in extra walking (even not as a workout regimen) however I could, including: parking farthest away, walking laps around the law school (even indoors on bad-weather days), or if all else fails, justifying that I really am “working out” from the simple fact I’m walking everywhere with 30 lbs of books on my back!
- If exercise is important to you, then don’t sacrifice it for law school. There are a lot of benefits in it that will transfer directly to your law school performance like increased stamina, maintained mental energy, ability to process difficult material, etc. Plus, it helps ease stress!
- Remember in elementary school where if one kid in the class was sick, a wave of sickness then loomed over the entire class? One week out, 5 kids would be sick, the second week 10 more would fall victim, and so on. Well, law school is exactly like that!
- Drink lots of fluids – including Vitamin-C rich drinks like Orange Juice.
- I chose to try “Emergen-C” (my favorite flavor is Rasberry) and I do think it helped a lot.
- Consider taking a multi-vitamin.
- Wash your hands – a lot! I have a habit of while I’m studying, placing my hands all over my face – even near my mouth! If I’ve touched something that was also touched by someone with a cold, then I’ve put myself at high risk of getting the cold! And in law school, there’s 400-900 people all in one building, touching many of the same things.