Self-Care 101 for Law Students: How to Avoid Burning Out

By Andy A.

As a law student, your 1L grades carry great weight in determining your job prospects immediately after graduation. There are a lot of things you can do to increase your chances of beating the law school curve like reading these 1L guides written by successful law students and formulating a good study plan. However, without properly taking care of yourself in law school, you risk throwing all of your hard work away. 

In this article, I’ll discuss how I maintained my physical health, mental health, and financial health during law school. If possible, you should ideally be implementing these lifestyle habits before you enter law school so it becomes second nature while you are engaged in your legal studies. I believe these habits strongly contributed to my success during 1L, which led to my successful transfer to NYU Law, and ultimately landing Biglaw. 

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Maintaining Your Physical Health

You should strive to keep your physical health at peak condition throughout law school. The intensity of the legal curriculum will vary from law school to law school, but generally, most 1Ls don’t have much free time in their schedule. 

Imagine getting food poisoning or the flu during the semester. With about 30-60 pages to read for each class and around 2-3 classes per day, you cannot afford to fall behind. Even worse, imagine getting sick right before your final exams. In this section, I’ll discuss ways to maintain your physical health.

“Healthy Body, Healthy mind”

You Are What You Eat

It’s well-settled that your nutrition can drastically affect your performance as a student. According to Harvard Medical School, your nutrition can have drastic effects on your ability to retain information. Poor nutrition has also been associated with cognitive and emotional dysfunction. Thus, if you want to maximize your chances of beating your law school curve, you shouldn’t take nutrition too lightly. 

Back in law school, most of my classmates didn’t cook their own meals. They would go out every day for every meal to grab takeout from local restaurants. This included a lot of fast food. 

It’s fine to do this once in a while, but unless you are somehow regularly eating a balanced diet from a restaurant that actually serves healthy food, you need to start cooking for yourself because that’s the best way to ensure that you get the proper nutrients you need. 

Cooking may take up some time in your schedule, but you must make time for it. In my experience, if you plan your schedule correctly, you should have plenty of time to cook. You can even make the process more efficient by using a pressure cooker or a sous vide cooking machine. With a sous vide cooking machine, you can schedule when the cooking process begins. You can learn more about sous vide here

If you want to learn about what a balanced meal looks like, Harvard University’s School of Public Health published a helpful guide and some tools here.

During law school, I would pack lunch and eat it at the law school every day of the week. This is really easy to accomplish. Every night when I was cooking dinner, I would just cook a little extra and pack it in glassware for the next day. 

For instance, if I was baking marinated chicken thighs, I would just use a large pan and cook a few extra pieces for lunch the next day. Also, I would just cook a little extra spinach or bake a large batch of brussel sprouts. Top it off with some extra brown rice, and you have a full, balanced lunch prepared for tomorrow. 

Another easy way to prepare meals is to use a slow cooker. Sometimes, I would just toss in a bunch of ingredients for beef stew into a slow cooker the night before and wake up to a freshly prepared meal. 

Our law school had microwaves in the student lounge, so I would just warm it up quickly and eat it while reading over some class notes. 

Exercise at Least 3 Times Per Week

Benefits of Exercise

The benefits of exercise include improvements in learning, critical thinking, and mental health. For me, exercise was a great stress reliever. I always made time in my schedule to go to the gym every day at 7PM for at least an hour to cool off after a day of heavy studying. This routine is one of the reasons I never burned out during law school. 

Also, you want to look your best by the time law firm recruitment season (e.g., OCI) comes around. Like it or not, your appearance will matter during your interviews. 

Exercising Effectively

There are a lot of different ways to exercise, and different forms of exercise work best for different people. And when I say exercise, I don’t mean walking on a treadmill while staring at your phone. For me, I found weightlifting and running to do the trick.

Your status as a law student should give you access to the university gym. If you’re too lazy to walk or drive to the gym, you should still have no excuse for not exercising. You can find tons of Youtube videos with follow-along workouts you can do in the comfort of your home. Here are some of my favorite channels for home workouts:

Author: Chris Heria via ThenX
Author: Athlean-X

Don’t half-ass your workout. Unless you are fully committing to exercising with the right form and intensity, you’ll be wasting your time. Find a friend to workout with to stay motivated. 

Get Enough Sleep Every Night

The Importance of Sleep

The amount and quality of your sleep is also important for maintaining your physical health. The benefits of sleep include reduced stress levels, increased cognitive function, increased memory retention, and reduced weight gain.

For some unfathomable reason, a lot of people in our society pride themselves in pulling all-nighters and getting the least amount of sleep as possible. Studies have shown that moderate sleep deprivation can produce impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Would you attend your contracts class or take a final exam while drunk? I didn’t think so. 

How to Improve Sleep Quality

Sometimes people turn to sleeping pills as a solution. Unfortunately, sleeping pills won’t do you any good. In fact, sleeping pills will impair the quality of your sleep. Generally, sleeping pills will suppress certain brain wave activity during certain sleep cycles while you are asleep. This suppression has been shown to drastically reduce or entirely delete your ability to form and retain memories. 

After reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (Professor Neuroscience & Psychology at UC Berkeley), I learned how to improve the quality of my sleep. Here’s the proper way to build pre-bedtime habits to improve your sleep quality:

First, establish a regular bedtime and wake-up time (even on the weekends). 

Second, you should only go to bed early if you feel sleepy. Avoid taking afternoon naps. 

Third, if you have trouble falling asleep at night, get up and read a book or meditate until you feel sleepy again. 

Fourth, refrain from using your phone or laptop before going to bed. Blue light will affect your ability to fall asleep. 

Fifth, remove any visible clock faces from view in the bedroom. This will prevent clock-watching anxiety.

And finally, try to engage in an activity that helps you mentally decelerate before bed. I usually read a non-law-related book an hour before bed. 

Maintaining Your Mental Health

General Tips

There’s a lot of overlap between maintaining your mental health and maintaining your physical health. Getting enough high-quality sleep, exercise, and eating well all contribute to keeping your stress levels at bay. 

There are a couple of additional things to note. First of all, your non-law school friends and family will probably never understand the amount of stress a law student can potentially undergo during 1L. Thus, your 1L friends will be a great source of support and encouragement. So get to know your classmates. Realize that these will be your future colleagues in the legal profession. Don’t get caught up in any petty law school drama.

Second, make time in your schedule for fun. This is 100% achievable if you plan your schedule correctly. I wrote an article here describing how I built my schedule and how I was able to make plenty of time for my non-law school friends to have fun (and I still graded toward the top of my class). Obviously, different things work for different people, but I’ve seen many successful classmates make time in their schedule for fun. Law school can make just about anyone insane, so find time to get away from it all. 

Third, don’t get too stressed out about the Socratic method. Most of the time, your performance during cold-calls will have little to no impact on your final grade. As long as you put in a good faith effort to complete your reading assignments and to answer your professor’s questions, you should be fine. 

I went through one of my classes being cold-called upon only once (and answering the set of questions very poorly). I aced my final exam and still got an A in the class. In another one of my classes, I did so badly that the professor just gave up and called on someone else. I still got an A in that class based on my exam performance. 

A Quick Note on Elitism

Law school is competitive. The legal market is competitive. Unfortunately, law students care a lot about law school rankings and firm rankings. Let me emphasize that only law students care. The school you attend, your job after law school, and your grades do not define your worth as a person. 

Transferring from a non-T14 school to NYU Law, I’ve seen that students at my old school were just as bright as my peers at NYU Law. Just because you don’t attend a top law school, it doesn’t mean you will be worth even less as a lawyer. I have coworkers at my firm who didn’t graduate from a top law school, and they’re still star performers. The LSAT and even your undergraduate GPA aren’t a perfect measure of your potential to be a great lawyer.

Similarly, just because you’re not scoring A’s on your final exams, it doesn’t mean you’ll end up being a worse lawyer than those who grade higher than you. At the end of the day, the differences between a single grading increment (B/B-) are minuscule. 

Don’t let your letter grades define you. Unfortunately, the mandatory law school curve requires success at the expense of others. There are many lawyers and judges in the industry today who struggled with law school exams during law school.

Exams may affect your job prospects immediately upon graduation, but down the line, your law school grades will fade, and employers will care more about your substantive experience as a practicing lawyer.

Law school exams test a certain form of analytical exercises, but being a lawyer is so much more than that. Be excellent to one another, and stay humble. 

Maintaining Your Financial Health

If you’re attending law school on Grad PLUS loans, don’t get carried away with your spending. Law school is a heavy financial investment in general, and you don’t want to graduate with more loans than you can ultimately handle. Money problems inevitably lead to stress. 

First, you should keep track of your spending. You can use iPhone apps like Mint to ensure you’re not spending more than you have. Money goes a lot faster than you think. Cut out the unnecessary stuff in your life. Do you really need to be paying $50/month on that phone plan when there’s carriers offering similar plans for $20/month? Do you really need a new handbag at this time? 

Second, if you end up becoming a summer associate at a BigLaw firm, don’t go nuts and spend it all away. I’ve seen classmates foolishly spend their summer earnings and end up with NOTHING left at the start of 3L. Don’t be that person. These people are building a standard of life that they will ultimately be unable to afford. 

Many people think that a $190,000 starting salary gives them plenty of room to spend lavishly. Here’s a sample salary for a first-year associate in a NY Biglaw firm (based on $180K/year). 

Source: Biglawinvestor.com

As you can see, after deducting cost of living expenses and taxes, a first year associate is left with around $68K. And this is before making loan payments, which can range from $3K – $5K per month (depending on how fast you want to pay off your loans). I remember speaking with a partner at Skadden who told me that it took him seven years to pay off his student loans. You’re not going to have much left over after all of your expenses, so don’t get too comfy with a luxury lifestyle.

Closing Thoughts

Law school can be stressful, but it can also be a rewarding experience. Maintaining your physical, mental, and financial health can certainly help reduce your stress levels so you can focus on the positive aspects of law school. After you get through 1L, 2L and 3L should be much more relaxed in comparison. 

Good luck to everyone entering law school this fall! Feel free to use the comment section as a place to vent during law school.