Updated: Feb 27
As you are learning in law school or may have already learned, everyone has something that works for him/her. The strategy is not a one size fits all thing, it’s a find your groove, stick to your script, and trust your process kind of thing. What works for you might not be what works for the next person, that’s why it’s so important to identify and get comfortable with all the things that calm you down, bring you joy, and keep you grounded. Without somewhat of an idea of what this looks like, it will impact your performance in school and in the profession. If you already know what works, you're one step ahead, but many of us don’t realize the impact of the rigid nature of the process has on us as individuals. All we hope to highlight here is the importance of it and share some general ideas that are conducive to successfully navigating through school and the profession as a minority.
Staying in Motion (Literally)
Since the profession places a demand on your brain and mind, you will likely discover that being a lawyer entails a pretty sedentary lifestyle. Lots of sitting, reading, researching, and thinking. So, movement is critical to help with the physical demands of the job, whether that be going for a 5 minute walk on your break or doing 25 jumping jacks next to your desk. Movement releases endorphins that give your body natural energy for the day unlike some of the unhealthier things we reach for (caffeine) to give us energy for a few hours every day. Sticking to a consistent workout schedule is also helpful in keeping your mind strong. Since it releases those endorphins, you can never get too low with a regular steady exercise schedule.
It’s kind of backwards, like who would think you need to have functional strength in order to sit down all day? But it’s true, you do have to be in shape to sit down or you’ll be paying for it down the line with bad posture and a bad back. With the pandemic and more people working from home, many people have looked into bringing in an ergonomics specialist to set up their workstation and some people have made the investment for a good desk chair for these reasons. Other people try things like biweekly massages. Personally, I’ve had a tough time adjusting physically. Being an ex-athlete, I was so used to being active and struggled to find something that would maintain the functional strength it takes to sit in front of a computer for 10-12 hours a day and try to maintain a workout schedule for 4-5 days a week. Going to physical therapy and seeing a chiropractor twice a month helped with my posture. Again, different things work for different people, but incorporating some kind of movement or exercise at least three times a week with whatever else keeps you capable of dealing with the physical demands of the job is important. Even if you are just taking some time during the day to get out and walk for 30 minutes. The goal is to take care of yourself so that you can be the most effective attorney you can be for your clients.
Mental health in the profession is getting more and more attention these days. Since the job can be very time consuming and demanding at times, it can be very isolating. Sometimes there isn’t much time to socialize with friends and family and even when you have the time to do so, you are probably too tired from work and just want to spend the down time recharging yourself. It’s important to have some go-to’s to keep your mind healthy during these times. Things that you can do daily that don’t take up too much time but are still extremely grounding:
keep a gratitude journal
listen to an app that has short daily meditations (very useful in grounding yourself before you start your day)
Read a book for 10 minutes to start your day
These tools are also build mental toughness to help you through anxious and stressful times. These methods may seem small but are very beneficial in the aggregate for our mental health. Gratitude is one of our favorites because it reminds you that no matter how sucky stuff may get sometimes, there’s always something to be grateful for that’s contributing to life in a good way. Finding something each day (or as often as possible) to be grateful for is extremely helpful in building mental toughness and resilience for the process. Lucky for us, we don’t have to reach very far to find something. To be in the position we are in as minorities in the legal field is not something to brush under the rug and the journey is definitely something to be grateful for.
Finding Your Tribe
Although there will be times when you have to thug it out by yourself, building a solid support system with people who love, respect, and support you is a critical piece of the puzzle and will help make life in law a little more tolerable and sustainable. Whether that be your pet, family, friends, church members, therapist, or colleagues, find your tribe of people (or pets) that are trustworthy and reliable. This is important because as minorities we are taking up space in a predominantly white profession and for a lot of us this will be something that takes us out of the places and away from the people we are most comfortable with. Although you may have some friends from work, these professional relationships will often be different from the personal ones that you’ve had for a longer period of time. And to be honest, sometimes these spaces are different…culturally and socially and it takes time to adjust and adapt to the politics and the “rules” of what’s professional and appropriate. There will be times of discomfort, frustration, anxiety, pressure, failure, success, and accomplishment; and having the right people in your corner to talk to and lean on can make all the difference. It’s human nature to feel more comfortable with people who are like you, so in the event you find yourself in a position where that isn’t the case (or just in general) finding your tribe and having that support system will be critical. So, FIND YOUR TRIBE!
As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, learning how to set boundaries for yourself early and often is another important self-care tool that will make it a lot easier to set boundaries once you are in the working world. Setting boundaries can start in law school and look like you deciding to put down the books no matter what at 8pm every Friday night to go and do an activity with friends or treat yourself. Setting boundaries can also look like letting your friends know that you don’t have time to solve that same tired drama they’ve been stuck on for weeks now because you need to focus on school or work.
As a young attorney if you’re working a billable hours job, setting boundaries may look like communicating to a senior associate or even a partner that your plate is full and you will need some help or more time for a certain project. Of course, this is a judgment call and we’re not advising you to tell them no, but we do advise you to speak up if the expectations for the amount of work on your plate is unreasonable or unrealistic. Too often, the nature of the work calls for us to function more as machines than human beings, so it’s important that you learn to set these boundaries and know where your limits are and then communicate those to the people that you work with. Again, the goal is to be effective and efficient and there’s no way you can achieve that if you’re spread too thin.
It’s A Marathon
These are just a few things to think about to maintain a healthy relationship with your career as an attorney. It’s definitely a marathon and having the presence of mind to switch your strategy once you find out something isn’t working is also important. Most importantly, finding what works for you is key. This career path has a very self-sacrificing reputation with long work hours and demanding clients, but as a society, we are learning that mental health is not only an important thing to pay attention to, but also necessary to be an effective lawyer. Since we are in the service business as attorneys, the better we are at serving ourselves, the better we will be at serving others.