The Every Lawyer

How to manage your stress in law school

Episode Summary

Law school can be incredibly rewarding and incredibly stressful. On today’s episode we’re rounding up advice from past guests on their suggestions on how to manage it all.

Episode Notes

Law school can be incredibly rewarding and incredibly stressful. On today’s episode we’re rounding up advice from past guests on their suggestions on how to manage it all.

Thank you to all our past guests for their thoughtful advice and encouragements.

You can hear their appearances here:

If you want to know more about mental health and wellness in the legal profession, check out an online self-learning program about causes, symptoms, preventions and treatments. 

Nous avons également un épisode similaire dans notre balado en français Juriste branché.

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Episode Transcription

How to manage your stress in law school

Voiceover: This is The Every Lawyer, presented by the Canadian Bar Association.

Marlisse Sweeney: Welcome to The Every Lawyer, a Canadian Bar Association podcast. I’m your host, Marlisse Silver Sweeney. It’s beginning to feel a lot like… exam season for law students. Don’t worry, I won’t keep singing, but nothing says happy holidays like cramming for your constitutional law final. Not to mention warding off the flu and worrying about summer jobs or securing articles. Law school can be incredibly rewarding and incredibly stressful. We’ve all been through it and we all have stories to tell and advice to give.

On today’s episode we’re rounding up advice from our past guests. We’re asking for their suggestions on how to manage it all. We even have a former Prime Minister weighing in. We’ll start at the basics, like the basic basics. We’re talking eating, sleeping – you know, those are the things that go out the window early on but are the necessary requirements to live.

And this guest knows a thing or two about harbouring exam season. He also teaches civil procedure at the Schulich School of Law in Halifax.

Jason Cooke: Hi, I’m Jason Cooke. I’m a partner at Burchells LLP in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’m a member of the board of directors for the Canadian Bar Association. And so my message to students is first, all of our over 30,000 members who are practising today were all in the same place you are in, and we all made it. And you’re going to make it too.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is just to take good care of yourself. You’ll have a lot of reading. You’re not going to get it done. Make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep and make sure you’re eating healthy food. Make sure you’re trying to get some exercise. And really try to force yourself to do things completely outside of the law school bubble, which is simply can be reading a book for pleasure, going to a movie, going for a walk. But that will serve you so much better in the long run than taking that extra hour to try to get that one extra case in.

Marlisse Sweeney:  Our next guest ups the ante with personal care. She’ll make you want to prep that workout playlist. And if you’re currently in your second year of law school she can definitely empathize with you. She won’t tell you this but she’s certainly inspiring in her own right, set to become the first Black woman to lead the Ontario Bar Association in 2020.

Charlene Theodore: Hi, my name is Charlene Theodore. I’m in-house counsel for the Catholic Teachers’ Union in Ontario. I studied at Dalhousie University Faculty of Law. My advice would be to invest a little time in yourself and make it a combination of being active and listening to music, combining both if you can.

The second year was the most stressful for me. I took up jogging and listened to a lot of music and jogged a lot. There’s always more time that you think in a day. The one hour or thirty minutes that you dedicate to just getting out for a walk, or taking some time to maybe read your favourite magazine, or getting some sun, is not going to be what affects your results. It will only affect them positively because you’re going to feel a lot better when you take a break.

Marlisse Sweeney: Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. This trial lawyer and active legal volunteer suggests treating yourself as kindly as you treat others.

Glen Hickerson:  My name is Glen Hickerson. I am a partner at the law firm Wilson Laycraft and I’m a trial lawyer in Calgary, Alberta. And my piece of advice would be, be kind to your future self. There’s lots of noise around you, lots of people telling you what you should think, what you should be doing. What you need to do is think of who you want to be and where you want to be at a certain point in your own future, and do things now that will help you get there.

And that sounds very nebulous, but if you think about who you are and how kind you want to be to that person in the future, it helps an awful lot.

Marlisse Sweeney: This guest knows a thing or two about higher education. She’s the Chancellor of Dalhousie University, a former Minister of Justice, Attorney General, and Deputy Prime Minister of Canada. She has some inspirational words of wisdom.

Anne McLellan: Hi there, my name is Anne McLellan. I am senior advisor at the international law firm of Bennett Jones, LLP. I am in the public policy practice group. My advice would be, be bold, be creative, be imaginative, be compassionate and be resilient. And don’t panic about those exams because you’re all going to do fine.

Marlisse Sweeney:  Be strong and be determined. It’s advice from our next guest, and he’ll also tell you why and how it’s so important to develop a support system. He practises as a Crown attorney half an hour drive to the community where he grew up in Nova Scotia, so he’s just the person to explain how connections are imperative to managing stress.

David Curry:  So I’m David Curry. I’m currently with the Crown prosecutor’s Office in Nova Scotia. I went to Dalhousie Law School, as it then was. And what I would say to current law students is to be strong, to be determined, to be passionate, to be persistent. And to be ready to deal with whatever adversity comes your way to develop support systems around you, in your community, in your family, and in other legal professionals that have come before you, to build yourself the support systems they’re going to need to be successful.

And you will be successful, but build those support systems so as to give yourself the best opportunity to make an impact on our country and on this profession.

Marlisse Sweeney: This guest also emphasizes the importance of making connections. And she must be pretty darn good at it considering the legal business she founded depends on networking. Here she explains how to do it best.

Martine Boucher: Hello everybody, my name is Martine Boucher. I’m the co-founder of Simplex Legal Services. We’re an in-house counsel boutique offering our services on a national platform with very innovative ways of delivering our legal services. We’re a fully virtual firm and we have a lot of fun doing what we do.

So my advice for you guys, sweating and working so hard that the exams and the workload that you have on your desk, and maybe even thinking about starting your career as a lawyer, and [not] too long, would be to remember to just enjoy the ride. And that the people around you might just be students right now, but one day they will be your peer, maybe being a journal counsel of a large organization or the next politician, or running a law firm.

And you never know where people are going to end up in their life, so be kind. Remember to be kind to your fellow students and have some fun and make some great connections. It will pay off down the road.

Marlisse Sweeney: Ask for help when you need it. The current CBA president says she’s been there too. And don’t forget about your hobbies.

Vivene Salmon: My name’s Vivene Salmon, I am president of the Canadian Bar Association. My advice to you younger lawyers dealing with stress, we’ve all been there. We’ve all felt, to the point sometimes of utter collapse. What I would say is number one, it’s great to have somebody to talk to that you can in a way just let it all out, and that person is really there to be a good listener.

Also I think it’s really important to have a hobby. I know it’s really difficult to have hobbies in law school, or even after when you become an associate and climb up and become a partner and all those other – general counsel, those things that can come your way. But I really think it is important to check yourself and carve out time where you can do something and it just completely takes your mind off law and your problems.

And so I would encourage those who are feeling that overwhelming sense that they’re just drowning, to reach out to somebody that you trust. And sometimes people feel a little bit distant or they can come off as cold, but I guarantee you when you stretch out the hand that there’s pretty much most times somebody that will take the hand and help pull you out of the water.

Marlisse Sweeney: Take things step by step and compartmentalize. Sage advice from this guest who definitely must practise what he preaches, considering he’s involved in countless non-billable initiatives and mentorship.

Preston Parsons:  My name is Preston Parsons. I am currently the past chair of the National Young Lawyers section of the CBA. I sit on a few committees with the CBA. My advice to law students who are in this period where they’re leading up to exams and worried about that, and worried about the workload, and might be worried a bit about a future career path, my advice would be a couple of things.

First would be take it a bit step by step. Focus on the things that you must do and that are in front of you. The Christmas exams are one thing. There’s no sense worrying about April when you’ve got December in front of you. So try to, first of all, compartmentalize some of that stuff and prioritize it. Your workload is not necessary going to ever get lighter as you move forward. It’s about prioritizing and managing that workload and in a way that is healthy for your stress levels.

And in sense lean on your friends, your friends in law school. Use them to help you prepare for exams, use them to help you with cans for your cases. You know, law school does not have to be competitive. You can work together as teams and get through some of the work together.

And then with respect to your career, get involved in the Canadian Bar Association, get involved in the Vancouver Bar Association, take it day by day. Focus on the things that you need to focus on rather than the worries that will come later down the road. And get involved in some organizations that can give you some good mentors, because they’ll be invaluable to you both in law school and as you’re leaving it to start your career.

Marlisse Sweeney: It might not be what you’re used to hearing. This guest suggests you don’t listen, to other law students that is. It’s surprising advice from a person whose entire role involves listening. He’s a psychotherapist for the Lawyer’s Assistance Program in Ontario and a former lawyer.

Doron Gold: My name’s Doron Gold. I am a staff clinician at the Member Assistance Program in Ontario, which is the assistance program for lawyers, paralegals and law students. My primary advice to law students is don’t listen to other law students; they have no idea what they’re talking about. And I say that because law students often distract each other, make each other nervous based on limited information.

Your journey is yours. Do law your way; fit the law into you, don’t fit you into the law. You’re allowed to choose your journey with the limits of your power, but do you all the way through. Don’t compromise yourself.

Marlisse Sweeney:  Nothing like a rhyme to make you feel better about a lower mark. This guest helps put things in perspective. It’s a vantage point that could come from her multiple volunteer positions and board memberships.

Twila Reid: Hi, I’m Twila Reid. I practise labour employment and commercial litigation at Stewart McKelvey, which is a large law firm in Atlantic Canada. And as we used to tell each other when we went to law school, CCC still equals LLB; or I guess it’s JD these days. My thoughts would be to volunteer. Get out of the realm of law school, volunteer and get back to your community and you’ll be surprised at the perspective that gives you.

And I also personally keep a gratitude journal where I actually commit to writing down something that I’m thankful for. And I think all of those mindfulness activities that are easy to find out how to do those things these days are really helpful in terms of keeping perspective.

Marlisse Sweeney: This guest also talks about perspective. She suggests focusing on why you’re in law school and what you want to do with it. She has over a decade of practice as an openly-trans lawyer and she specializes in human rights law and gender-related issues.

Nicole Nussbaum: My name’s Nicole Nussbaum. I am a staff lawyer with Legal Aid Ontario and project lead of the TRANSforming JUSTICE Trans Legal Needs Assessment Ontario Project. I’m also a past chair of the Canadian Bar Association Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference.

My advice to law students is to try to figure out why you’re in law school and what you want to do with it. The law is a great profession and there’s so many different things that people can do with it. I tell people who are interested in social justice issues that if they go to law school, they can do human rights litigation but they can also do tax law and help not-for-profits. There are so many different ways that the law can be applied to advance different issues and to help create a society that is more fair and more just.

Marlisse Sweeney:  And nothing like a former Prime Minister of Canada and the first woman to hold this position to wrap things up for us. Here she is with some inspiration about why we go to law school in the first place.

Kim Campbell:  Well I’m Kim Campbell, 19th Prime Minister of Canada and the first woman to have the honour of being Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and graduate class of 1983 at Allard Law School, as it now is known at UBC.

And what I would say to you is this. First of all, to be a lawyer is a great and wonderful thing. There are many things you can do with it. You are custodians of the rule of law and it’s important to remember that. But it’s also important to remember that law school will teach you the law. It won’t necessary make you just.

So as you are studying the law, think about the human dimensions of how the law functions, the human lessons you learn from your cases, and try very hard to be the best person you can possibly be. Because that combination will lead you on the road to being truly just.

Marlisse Sweeney: A special thanks again to all our guests on today’s episode and throughout the year. I enjoyed hearing about how they stay grounded in their busy and inspirational lives. And I’d love to hear how you do too. Any tips to add?

If you want to know more about mental health and wealth in the legal profession, check out It’s an online self-learning program about causes, symptoms, preventions and treatments. It was created through a partnership between the CBA, the Mood Disorders Society of Canada and Bell Let’s Talk.

Tweet to us at CBA_News, or you can reach me at my handle, @MarlisseSS. We are on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Play and Stitcher wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe to receive notifications for new episodes.

We also have a podcast in French called Juriste branché. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for the next episode.

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