find the latest legal job
Part Time Risk & Compliance Officer
Category: Other | Location: Brisbane QLD 4000
· Brisbane City · Flexible Part Time Hours
View details
Infrastructure Lawyer/SA
Category: Construction Law | Location: Sydney CBD, Inner West & Eastern Suburbs Sydney NSW
· Global elite law firm · Dedicated Infrastructure team
View details
Property Lawyer
Category: Property Law | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· 12 Month Contract · Diverse Work
View details
In-House Legal Counsel (Mid to Senior)| Regulated Markets (Energy and Gas)
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Full PD on Request · Exciting High Impact Role
View details
Family Lawyer
Category: Family Law | Location: Eastern Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Boutique Firm · Great Reputation
View details
This is why you are stressing out about law school

This is why you are stressing out about law school

Courtesy of Daniel Lobo/Flickr

Voluminous readings, high-stakes exams and difficult content are the principal reasons for high levels of mental illness among law students, according to Lawyers Weekly readers.

We recently asked the question, ‘Why do law students experience mental health problems at a higher rate than other students?’ on Lawyers Weekly’s Facebook page.

Seventy-two per cent of the 83 responses pointed to external factors, including the demanding nature of a law degree, hyper-competitiveness of students, dismal job prospects and lack of ‘down-time’ as key causes for the high levels of psychological distress.

Pádraig Langsch from Ireland said, “Try to remember 300 cases … when at the same time you know that your entire future will be determined in one exam.”

Noura Abughris commented that there was “too much bloody reading!” — a complaint echoed by many others.

“Having completed a communications degree before this, I can attest that a law degree is like trying to complete four of those communications degrees at once,” commented Rebecca Clare.

The Brain and Mind Research Institute’s Courting the Blues report released in 2009 found that 41 per cent of law students have symptoms of psychological distress severe enough to indicate clinical assessment.

The percentage of law students that suffer high or very high distress (35.2 per cent) is almost twice that of medical students (17.8 per cent). By comparison, only 13.3 per cent of the general population experience severe mental health issues.

Perfectionists by nature, cynics by training

The second major cause of mental illness among law students is personality, according to our readers.

High achievers often have a perfectionist mentality and can elevate their stress levels by placing unrealistic demands on themselves.

“Law attracts a lot of perfectionists. Perfectionism is a very unhealthy mental trait,” said Suzanne Bundesen.

The transition from being the ‘cream of the crop’ at high school to the ‘small fish in the big pond’ can come as a shock to many law students, according to Jesse Spurrell.

Penelope Trundle added, “[Law] is actually quite difficult [but] a lot of people won't admit that because they are smart and have always done well at everything — they have based their self-worth on their ‘intelligence’.

“A lot of [law students] feel VERY threatened by the level of difficulty of the intellectual challenges they are facing.”

Many respondents also said that being trained to critically examine, analyse and deconstruct ideas causes lawyers to view life through a prism of negativity.

“Lawyers [are] ‘trained pessimists’,” said Olivia Bartlett. “We [are] trained to look for problems and worst-case scenarios. Unfortunately, this spills over into our personal lives.”

Rian Terrell agreed, writing, “Engaging in legal reasoning promotes a certain style of paralysis by analysis that starts to bleed over into other aspects of life.”

Feeling the pressure

Lack of support from classmates, professors and friends was the third major contributing factor to law student mental illness, according to our readers. 

Fierce competition between classmates, which drives students to do “insane” things like hiding books in the library, was a huge problem, said Langsch.

Michaela Hilder-Achurch, among others, linked the absence of a spirit of cooperation between students to the tight job market.

Fears of unemployment are not unfounded: a recent report showed that one quarter of law graduates who wanted a full-time job could not find one within four months of graduating last year, the highest proportion in two decades.

As well as a lack of support from peers, law students often experience social isolation as they race to complete readings and cram for exams.

“Law students are unlikely to give themselves enough down time and feel guilt when they do,” said Rebecca Clare.

The mind games that some academic staff play to ‘toughen up’ students do little to help the problem, according to Ashley Martinez.

“The idea that some professors have that putting students down, deceiving them in some way in terms of examinations, or in generally treating them with a lack of respect … does nothing more than discourage and add pressures that are unnecessary,” she said.

Figure 1: Reasons why law students experience psychological distress at a higher rate than other students, according to 83 respondents (data sourced from Lawyers Weekly’s Facebook page).

Law students experience psychological distress

Figure 2: Percentage of law students that experience severe psychological distress compared with medical students and the general population (aged 18-34) (data sourced from Courting the Blues report).

Law students mental health

 

 

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

This is why you are stressing out about law school
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Violence
Nov 17 2017
It's time for politicians to commit to eradicating domestic violence
The national shame of domestic violence cannot be left unaddressed, writes Christine Smyth. ...
Nov 16 2017
From lawyer in law firm to senior governance professional
Promoted by Governance Institute of Australia As a law graduate, Kate Griffiths never imagined...
marriage equality
Nov 16 2017
Legislation the next hurdle for marriage equality
Lawyers have underscored the importance of ensuring same-sex marriage legislation does not limit ant...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...