It’s no secret that lawyers often get a bad wrap. Everyone knows at least one ‘dad’ joke about lawyers being soulless, money hungry, boring, dishonest and with a taste for… blood? One fine example – Q: What’s the difference between a lawyer and a vampire? A: A vampire only sucks blood at night. (It should also be noted that the source I procured this joke from issued a warning stating that ‘some of these jokes are in bad taste. Some are indecent. A few are obscene. But we’re talking about lawyers…’)
To this I say, “Come on Dad joke Factory ! Out with these disparaging lawyer jokes, in with the ‘I feel like (insert food)’. ‘Really, you don’t look like a (insert food)’ jokes. Those are classics !” Lawyers/law students are hard on themselves enough, we can do without being compared to glittery Edward Cullens. In fact lawyers are so hard on themselves that the law profession is now reported to have the highest prevalence of mental health issues than other Australian professions. We are also linked to the highest levels of nicotine and alcohol use.
Though ‘laying down the law’ has never been an easy occupation to undertake, (you’re not going to be taking 30 minute coffee breaks every hour and you can’t procrastinate writing a brief by watching multiple episodes of Girls on a billable hour) with technology developments in email compatible smart phones, lawyers are now expected to be contactable and able to work 24/7.
There’s an extreme disproportion with the work:life ratio causing extreme stress, anxiety and depression. Its a trend and unspoken expectation that extends to the studies of law students; that at some point in your degree you will have to put your work and assessment above the importance of personal wellbeing. In first year I remember being so stressed out about one of my first assignments that only after I had handed it in at 8PM at night I noticed a numb pain in my back teeth. It was from anxiously clenching my jaw so tightly for the entire week prior.
April 12th is International ‘Be Kind to Lawyers Day’, so in spirit of this important holiday I’d like to promote the most important kind of kindness there is – self kindness. Here are my top three tips that I’ve learnt from too many last minute assignment breakdowns and ‘I just can’t find an applicable case’ tantrums that will hopefully help my fellow stressed out, social life leper future law students be a wee bit kinder to themselves.
A good night’s sleep will always beat that third can of Mother/Red Bull/V/Generic and Potentially Radioactive Energy Drink
While caffeine is a useful tool if you want to forcibly stay awake till 3AM to watch Eurovision live, its not going to help you stay alert and in the right mind frame for studying or assignment writing. If you have an exam the next day, a good night’s sleep will be your best friend. You’ll be able to think more clearly and perform a hellva lot better with a happy and rested brain, than with a brain experiencing the rough stages of caffeine crash and trying to distinguish half hearted crammed information with something you may have heard once on an episode of Law and Order: SVU (duh duh). Too much caffeine can also have pretty negative effects on your overall health causing headaches, muscle pain, digestive issues (Torts A exam 2013…don’t ask), depressed mood and heart problems. That being said, I would be a wreck without my morning cup of tea and regular coffee hangs with the uni buds. Its not something to depend on as your go to study tool, but as they say ‘everything in moderation’.
Learn proper legal research/reading techniques
I am currently in the middle of a giant, plethora of difficultness legal research assignment. In the past week I have read countless legislation documents, at minimum 20 case judgments and lets not even mention the amount of secondary sources I have browsed through…It would be impossible to actually read the amount of information I’ve looked over or if not impossible, only possible for a particularly studious zombie who doesn’t need things like sleeping/eating and self care. Luckily for me I have become well versed in the skill of ‘skimming’ and thus there is no need to join the undead. Skimming involves browsing over large bodies of text for important phrases and key words to eliminate the drabble of old judges (in one constitutional case I read the judge literally quoted a 200 year old folk song about the tragedy of war) and get to the meaty bits that will actually assist in your arguments. I also can’t stress how important it is to pay attention in your legal research tutorials. Legal search engines are notoriously complex and difficult things to navigate (they will almost make you appreciate ‘bing’ #bringbackaskjeeves). When you can, please make things easier on yourself.
Who actually reads this stuff ?
Don’t take on more than you can chew, Superman isn’t real and he is also quite boring so don’t try to be him
I haven’t seen the latest Superman movie ‘Batman vs Superman’. And I honestly don’t care to, I’ve seen enough Superman movies and cartoons to know that he is just as boring and bland in every incarnation (except for 2000’s Smallville because Tom Welling… HELLOOOO). Even with a healthy suspension of reality, its just not realistic or endearing that there’s this guy who is literally the most powerful, strong unbeatable creation ever who has ALL THE POWERS. Meh gimme Deadpool any day. It’s not healthy for you to try to be Superman either. Studying full time law is a full time job, though most (hopefully all) law students also work part time and have other time commitments like hobbies, friends and families. I think its really important to work out a study plan that fits you and your needs. While some people can keep up with their study plan and do 4-5 subjects a semester, when life gets in the way of study, it’s completely fine to acknowledge that and take a step back. In semester 1 last year I suffered from pretty bad burn out, I was doing 4 subjects (3 of them law) and working 28 hours a week on a broken foot whilst dealing with a family health issue. I managed to pass everything that semester (only just) but it was definitely not worth the stress and anxiety I went through for the sake of ‘getting those subjects out of the way’. Don’t stretch yourself too thin, there will always be time to finish your degree but not at the expense of your wellbeing and health. The following semester I went part-time and was able to fully invest myself in 2 subjects (getting pretty amazing grades) and deal with ‘life stuff’ as well. Though it sounds taboo, Uni does not always take priority in life and that’s completely fine ! Priority is your mental health, your physical wellbeing and your own happiness.
Happy 12th of April! Be kind to lawyers!