A 1L Reality Check: Tips to Make First Year of Law School Better

By Zaynab Al-Waadh, 2L at uOttawa Law

For many of us, being admitted into law school carried with it the relief that all those long nights, extra curriculars, and go-getter attitudes during undergrad paid off. Law school was the dream and the admittance letter only stands proof of our intellectual prowess over everyone else.

However, if there is anything that 1L has taught me, it is that our high-achieving attitudes are in for a reality check. Being admitted to law school is only the beginning to a complete overhaul of your expectations.

Going to law school is that exhausting (but incredibly rewarding) transition where you relearn the art of note-taking, exam-writing, and critical thinking. To say that 1L was difficult is an understatement. Your readings are archaic and dense, the workload is intense, and the lack of accountability can make even the most diligent of go-getters waver amid the uncertainties.

I won’t lie to you and say that if you follow “xyz” steps you will never experience a low point in your 1L career; however, I will say this: when it comes, embrace the challenge. Stepping out of your comfort zone is difficult, and sometimes even isolating, but I can guarantee that having come this far, you will always come out more independent and self-sufficient than you were before.

1L is no joy ride—however, with every adversity, there lies an opportunity and 1L is an opportunity to re-discover and reaffirm your strengths. I know it’s easier said than done, so here are a few tips that may help you along the way:

  1. Surround yourself with people who motivate you to be a better version of yourself. And if making new friends isn’t your forte, learn to take comfort in your own company. Whether through club affiliations or in class, you are bound to come across the right people for you.
  2. Study smarter, not longer. Develop a weekly strategy to tackle your readings and make sure to set one or two days aside each week as ‘catch-up’ days. You don’t need to read every last word in your textbook—some days you simply won’t have time to even read your textbook and that is okay. There are plenty of resources and case briefs online to give you a general idea of what’s going on, supplemented with your class notes, trust me, you will be fine.
  3. Take charge of managing your time. Sometimes your family wants you to visit, your friends want to hangout, and washing dishes becomes your new favourite pastime but there are only 24 hours in a day and 5-8 hours are spent in REM. You spend another 2-6 hours in class and another 1-3 hours commuting, eating, or doing whatever other task in your day. Do the math and realistically confront the hours you have to devote to actual studying. Schedule and take ownership of your time based on your own realistic habits and work from there.
  4. Learn to balance work and down-time. The truth is, most people like to project that they are busier than they actually are. In fact, our society rewards the notion of working day and night at the expense of your personal life and well-being. This martyr image is all too known and aspired to—we probably even know one or two people in our lives who claim to manifest this image. But the reality is, you simply cannot give something your absolute 100% if your cup is half empty. Self-care is a fairly new buzz-word but what it truly means is blocking out some time during your day or week to do some activities you actually enjoy. Do you like cooking? Do you like watching Netflix? Do you enjoy colouring? You’re working hard at school, so carve out some time to do whatever it is that makes you happy—you owe it to yourself.
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Women’s Legal Mentorship Program Celebrates One Year Anniversary by Unveiling Official Logo

The Women’s Legal Mentorship Program (“WLMP”) celebrated the one year anniversary of its incorporation as a not-for-profit by unveiling its official logo.

“We are very excited to celebrate our first anniversary by revealing our official logo. It represents our continued growth and hard work as we expand the WLMP’s programming nationally,” says Charlotte Wolters, WLMP Founder and Board Chair.

WLMP LogoLee Portas of Frisbee Studios designed the WLMP’s logo icon to represent women law students’ professional development. The interconnecting chain of leaves symbolizes both the knowledge and growth gained through the WLMP’s unique three part mentorship programming.

The WLMP — the first of its kind in Canada — aims to shift the culture of the legal profession and increase the retention of women in the law by helping female law students and WLMP Alumna develop their mentorship and leadership skills and establish networks that grow with them throughout their legal careers from the classroom to the courtroom and beyond.

“Addressing the issue of retention of women in the legal profession requires a comprehensive approach that includes female law students and gives them a chance to practice and develop their skills before they enter the legal profession. Increasing the number of women in the legal profession also improves Canadians’ access to justice,” says Ms. Wolters.

The WLMP is a national not-for-profit that partners with Canadian law schools to provide comprehensive, feminist legal mentorship and professional skills development programming. In 2011, the WLMP piloted its first university Chapter at the University of Ottawa. Currently, the WLMP is working to partner and expand its program to other Canadian law schools.

Creating a Team of Mentors that Fits Your Career Goals

Supreme Court of CanadaOne of the best things a law student can do is to create a team of mentors. A diverse cross-section of mentors offer a law student, new graduate or junior lawyer with valuable guidance, wisdom, support and connections. Having one mentor is invaluable, but having a team of mentors can ensure that support is available at different times and in different ways. Especially, when those barriers that women in the law face present themselves.

How do you create a team of mentors?
First start with existing mentorship programs. If you are a law student at a university with a WLMP Chapter, all you have to do is sign up to have access to a legal mentor and a peer mentor.

Existing mentorship programs, like the WMLP, provides a ready-made connection with both a lawyer in the community and an experienced law student. Both forms of mentorship are excellent support mechanisms for navigating the challenges presented by law school and a looming career. A female legal mentor can help extend your network. Having strong female peer and legal mentors will also help you feel less isolated in the law.

There are also existing mentors built right into the law school itself – professors! If you have a professor that is inspiring, or who does work that really interests you, or who approaches the law from a framework that resonates with you, then that professor may make an excellent mentor.

Reach out to a professor who you connect with. Take advantage of their office hours, ask them questions after class, apply for a research position they are offering, or ask if they have research or other projects that you can get involved with. Developing a mentorship relationship outside of the classroom is helpful when you have a question or a problem that isn’t related to the coursework. That professor will also get to know you better, which means they will better be able to write reference letters for you when you need them or assist you as you start out on your career path.

Don’t overlook your classmates. Each law student comes to law school with their own backgrounds and experience, which means your peers are a valuable resource. Having a trusted mentor among your peers also means you have a safe space to work through ideas together and collaboratively. Peer mentors don’t always need to have the answers – sometimes you can work with a mentor to arrive at the answer together.

Finally, be sure to recognize when you have an informal mentor in your life. There will be times when you have a formal mentor, such as when a mentor is assigned to you at your workplace, whether you are in a firm, government department, inhouse counsel office, public interest or not-for-profit organization. However, there may also be someone in your life who takes the time to check in with you and offer support when you need it.

That person could be an Associate at the firm you are summering at, an experienced lawyer at the government agency or organization you are doing an internship at, or a friend who took a non-traditional path to their legal career. If that person is offering informal guidance, recognizing that person as a mentor will allow you to nurture and develop the relationship. 

If you take the time to develop a number of mentorship relationships, you will soon find yourself supported by a team of mentors. These mentors will guide you in different ways and through different approaches, helping to champion you in your career.

Time to Talk About Mental Health in the Legal Profession

Today, you may notice that your social media feeds are filled with messages about mental health and ending the stigma of mental illness. It’s Bell Canada Let’s Talk Day. Why care?

While people may discriminate, mental illness does not. Mental illness cuts across professions, ages, cultures, classes and the list goes on and on. 1 in 5 Canadians will struggle with mental illness. That’s about 4.5 million Canadians and half of those are adults. Check out the statistics on mental health in Canada here.

According to a LawPro Magazine article on mental health, ” In 2011 , mental illness cost Canadian business six billion dollars in lost productivity and absenteeism.” This doesn’t apply to other professions. It includes the legal profession.

Most often the focus is on the clients’ mental health issues. There is a tendency to avoid looking at, talking about and listening to law school students and legal practitioners when it comes to mental health issues.

The stigma surrounding mental illness stops lawyers and law school students from seeking support. The fear that no one will hire them or they will be disbarred if it’s discovered paralyzes many and keeps them from getting help. They suffer in silence.

Many lawyers will leave the profession and many students will leave their law school program. It’s time to talk, and end the stigma surrounding mental illness within the legal profession.

Thankfully the legal profession is waking up. The Fall 2015 issue of the Nova Scotia Bar Association was dedicated mental health. Our own Megan Seto, WLMP Vice Chair and lawyer, was featured in the magazine. She offers great insights on page 11 of this issue. You can also read Ms. Seto’s paper on mental health and the legal profession by clicking here.

Still wondering why you should care about mental health and take part in Bell’s Let’s Talk initiative to raise awareness and money by Tweeting using the #BellLetsTalk hashtag, or sharing their message give a listen to what Clara Hughes has to say.

Stressed? Send a Note to Future You.

By WLMP/PMDF

No doubt about it. Law school, articling, legal practice and non-law related careers are stressful. At times the stress can seem overwhelming. It can stop you in your tracks, which then creates more stress.

That’s where resilience comes in. Resilience isn’t just the ability to tough something out. It’s the ability to spring back and recover from being knocked off your stride.

Lots of people feel that resilience is something a person is born with, but is it? It’s true that some people are better equipped to handle adversity, bounce back and take criticism constructively instead of defensively. This helps them move forward in all aspects of their lives. However, resilience isn’t something your born with, but it’s something you can develop.

Resiliency is a Skill

What resilient people have in common is their ability to equip themselves with skills and techniques to face challenges. Skills that can be learned and developed over time. Some of the resiliency skills practiced by resilient people include:

  • Managing their emotions so they don’t fall into the trap of catastrophizing a comment or situation.
  • Focusing on the positives and practicing positive self talk.
  • Viewing themselves as gladiators and not victims. They channel their internal Olivia Pope!
  • Stopping, taking a step back and assessing the situation as it really is and not what they perceive it to be.
  • Asking for help and not worrying about how asking for help will look to others.
  • Developing strong personal, professional and mentorship networks.

 Future Self Message Technique

One of the best ideas we’ve come across and wish we’d have known as law students and early in our careers is the stress relief and resiliency technique practiced by LaNia. When she’s stressed, LaNia sends a message to her future self. What makes it more powerful is her use of video messages.

We’ve include her video shared and published in  the Huffington Post entitled “Dear Future Me: Stress Reduction by LaNia“.

Next time you’re feeling stressed. Take a “Future Self Message” break. Stop and ask yourself, “Future me how did I get through this?” Then do what LaNia does and remind yourself that you got through it. Consider recording an uplifting message from your present self to your future self. Remind yourself of your goal and that you achieved it.

This simple technique helps you build resiliency. It forces you to stop and reassess the situation. It helps you get perspective. It facilitates positive self talk. Over time, future self messaging  will become second nature. Soon you’ll be bouncing back faster and stronger!

The WLMP’s Blog Posts to a Young Lawyer are an initiative focused on gleaning advice, including publishing advice from women in the legal community for both law school students and women lawyers in early years of their law careers or non-law careers. If you would like to contribute, then contact us at communications.wlmp@gmail.com.