Why would someone who didn't always like being a law student write How to Be Sort of Happy in Law School? In the introduction, Young explains her motivations for writing the book, describing how working toward her JD and PhD concurrently gave her a new perspective on law school and detailing the design and data sources underpinning the book's mixed-methods study.
Law students find themselves dissatisfied for a whole host of reasons, including debt, occupational uncertainty, a high-pressure workload, mental health challenges, difficult peers, or a sense that the student's former self is slipping away. This chapter details the myriad reasons students tend to feel unhappy or out of place in law school, using data from dozens of law students to illustrate the breadth of forms the sense of nonbelonging takes. At the same time, law students are good at pretending that everything is fine, which makes people feel even more individually isolated. But although law school is supposed to be hard, and although some angst doubtlessly comes with the territory, law school need not wreak havoc on students' well-being.
The first section of this chapter addresses how impostor syndrome—the persistent sense that you are not really good enough to be where you are—constantly plagues law students. This chapter describes the social and psychological dynamics of impostor syndrome, detailing the thought patterns that characterize it and ten practical strategies for combating it. Using data from current law students, Young explains why law school is often so difficult for people who come in with a track record of academic excellence and how law students can shift their outlook away from thinking in terms of what they "should" do. Lastly, this chapter argues that law students take a needlessly Sisyphean approach, overvaluing self-reliance in realms where it would be to their advantage to enlist others' help. While many alumni Young surveyed wished they had asked for more help in law school, no alumni wished they had sought less help.
This chapter first asks law students to perform a critical, honest assessment of their own reasons for going to law school. It lists many common reasons people choose law school and provides an exercise to help readers identify their own. The chapter then asks students to perform a similar assessment of the passions that brought them to law school. Young argues that law students need to understand the bulk of their training as that of technicians, not inventors, and to reconcile this training with the goals they hope to achieve. Finally, this chapter connects the research literature on subjective well-being (SWB) to the social psychological notion of flow and explains why law school is not a flow-optimizing social setting. It explains that flow and SWB will be critical concepts in the remainder of the book and offers ways that law students might begin engaging with both concepts.
Life course research suggests that people's 20s can be a particularly challenging time, and Young uses data from current law students to describe the ways in which law school amplifies and exacerbates life challenges in a way that increases anxiety and depression. Courses' emphasis on detailed interpretations, precedent, and incremental change can frustrate students who hoped that law school would equip them to effect sweeping reform. Young urges law students to use this frustration to stay in touch with their own sensibilities rather than interpret it as a sign that they do not belong in law school. This chapter then details the differences between law school and other postgraduate education, offering several strategies for law students who crave more intellectual engagement. Finally, this chapter reminds the reader that a JD can be a means to many different ends—only one of which is legal practice.
Young's research suggests that one in three law school alumni considered dropping out at some point during law school. Even though it's not widely discussed, the possibility is on many law students' minds. This chapter offers good and bad reasons both for staying in law school and for dropping out, emphasizing that staying and leaving are both choices. It leads wavering students through the decision process and uses data from law school alums to advise current students. Next, the chapter addresses the financial aspects of dropping out, including the sunk-cost problem and debt-repayment timelines. Young then shares stories from law school dropouts she interviewed, pointing out that as long as they stay true to their passions and interests, both dropouts and non-dropouts report being happy many years later. The chapter ends with nuts-and-bolts advice for law students who are seriously considering dropping out.
Creating a life you truly love is harder than simply striving for the most prestigious accomplishments, because it requires introspection and self-knowledge. This chapter helps students recognize when their choices are motivated primarily by risk aversion and suggests that students should think carefully about taking advantage of opportunities such as law review membership or on-campus interviews simply because they confer prestige. The chapter's final section, "Take a Stand," argues that although law students are willing to argue hypothetical positions, they are often reluctant to take actual positions on important issues. Young argues against this capitulation to risk aversion, quoting Professor Pamela S. Karlan that "Sitting on the fence is not practice for standing up."
Drawing on data from current law students, Young details the social processes and patterns within law school, as described by law students who embody minority and intersectional identities of many different types. Specific sections of this chapter are devoted to the identities law students described as most relevant to their law school experiences, including gender and sex(ism); race, racism, and racial identity; social class and cultural capital; sexual orientation and gender nonconformity; political beliefs. The chapter emphasizes the importance of understanding the challenges and strengths presented by one's own identity, as well as the importance of receptivity to other people's identities in law school and the open discussion of all identities in law school more generally.
Law school is an extremely difficult setting in which to keep one's perspective. Finals, interviews, and other rites of passage are subjectively experienced as make-or-break moments, which raise student stress and lower tolerance for ambiguity. This chapter draws on several different literatures to help law students develop a more balanced outlook. Young teaches law students how to capitalize on psychological research about fixed and growth mindsets, explaining how cultivating a growth mindset will help them not just in law school, but in legal practice as well. Additionally, the chapter describes the key principles of mindfulness: the practice of systematically paying attention to what's going on in one's own mind. It explains that there are many methods of practicing mindfulness, ranging from meditation to cognitive behavioral therapy. Young shares six mindfulness exercises that she developed for law students with the help of a Buddhist priest.
One of the survey questions Young asked current law students was, "Describe the time in the past week you've felt the happiest." This chapter shares some of their answers, drawing both on these students' experience and sociological and psychological research to detail several strategies for time management and stress alleviation. These include "wasting" part of your summer, exposing yourself to poetry or art, and avoiding "stealth time vacuums." The chapter ends with special advice for creative law students who have lost touch with their creative selves in law school—a pattern documented in the literature and one Young finds can be particularly harmful to law students' well-being.
This chapter is an extremely nuts-and-bolts guide to some of the most practical parts of law school life. It begins with finances, outlining fundamental guidelines for spending and saving money while accumulating debt, living on law school loans, and trying to cobble together a reasonably comfortable life. The chapter then turns to various physicalities. Using data from her study of current law students, as well as previous research from multiple disciplines, Young identifies common obstacles to law student happiness and suggests ways—often counterintuitive ones—that law students might adjust their lives and schedules to improve their well-being. The key areas discussed are physical exercise, sleep, eating habits, living arrangements, and choosing the most effective study spaces.
This chapter, co-authored by law school mental health expert Dr. Katherine M. Bender, sets out a compelling case that law student mental health is in serious crisis. Depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, self-harm, and prescription drug use are all serious problems among law students and among practicing lawyers. Young and Bender draw on recent psychological and sociological research to discuss symptoms and causes of these and other common mental health challenges for law students, destigmatizing and demystifying the challenges as well as the process of getting help. How does a law student know if his or her symptoms rise to the level of a problem? How can he or she recognize symptoms in other people? Where can law students seek help?
This first chapter of "Part IV: Managing Relationships" discusses the reasons that many students find law school to be a site of extreme social stress. In an atmosphere pervaded by insecurity and uncertainty, law students can whip one another into a frenzy over almost anything. Peer-induced stress is hard to avoid, and this chapter equips law students to minimize it. Young offers strategies for finding people with whom you truly connect in law school, even if the social scene is snobby, cliquish, or overwhelming. Additionally, the chapter explains several important ways that law students can avoid contributing to the pressure-cooker atmosphere themselves: disengaging from the law school scene when necessary, being a good citizen, and most importantly, committing microinclusions—the opposite of microaggressions—to increase others' sense of belonging.
The days of Professor Kingsfield are over—sort of—but law professors continue to play an outsized role in law student life. This chapter relates some bests and worsts of professorial behavior and provides strategic advice for dealing with the latter. It explains how and why to cultivate a good working relationship with at least a few favorite professors (without being a suck-up), and gives advice for getting the most out of office hours, even in classes with intimidating professors. Finally, the chapter demystifies the often-opaque role of law school administrators, explaining what kinds of help they can offer to students.
Law school can be an extremely insular experience, which can complicate law students' relationships with people outside of law school. But while no one who hasn't been through law school can fully "get" it, there are some best practices for maintaining relationships with friends and loved ones from within the law school bubble. This chapter draws on data from current law students' experiences to suggest best practices. How do you manage family drama while you're trying to prepare for finals? How do you break it to your best college buddy that you're missing his Vegas birthday blowout for a Moot Court competition? And how can you maintain a successful romantic relationship with a partner who doesn't understand why you're so stressed out all the time?
Law students are told a great many things about what courses they should take during law school—but how much of this is true? Should all law students take a clinic? Are bar courses really that important? Do employers care what classes are on a student's transcript? This chapter helps students think carefully about their curricular choices, offering reasons to take (or avoid) particular classes. Additionally, Young uses data from surveys of law school alumni to pinpoint the skills they use most frequently in practice and which they wish they had developed in law school. The chapter advises law students how to tailor their course schedule to develop a skill set that will serve them well in the future, including specific courses outside the law school.
This chapter describes how to get the most out of the classroom experience in law school. Young argues that cold calling is usually poor pedagogy, but it is something law students must learn to navigate. Law students' anxiety about cold calling can generally be managed with a few small changes and reframing exercises, freeing students to spend their psychological energy in class actually learning the material. The chapter also draws on educational and psychological research about specific in-class strategies for focusing, paying attention, and remembering information. Is it better to handwrite or take notes on a laptop? What do you do if your attention constantly wanders? Is it okay to give up on a course you dislike? This chapter tackles these questions and others that are crucial to law student learning.
When it comes to law school performance, reading and outlining is a law student's bread and butter—yet these skills are decidedly not part of the law school curriculum. This chapter helps law students figure out how to go about their daily work in a way that maximizes their retention of information while making efficient use of their time. Topics include how to cope when you haven't finished the reading, why outlining is usually beneficial, how to do it efficiently, and the oft-debated role of commercial outlines and hornbooks in law student learning. This chapter ends with a thorough treatment of study groups: why they are not always necessary, why they can be a good idea, the breadth of ways study groups can be used, and how to assemble an effective study group, plan meetings, and maximize each member's contributions.
Young's data show that, of all of law school's conventions, many law students find the grading structure the most taxing: a long semester of work, followed by a single test at the end that determines a student's entire grade. While this may be poor pedagogy—Young argues that it exacerbates the structural advantages and disadvantages students bring to law school—it is a structure with which modern law students are, for now, stuck. This chapter helps them learn to excel within an imperfect system. Drawing on an extended example from Professor Orin Kerr, this chapter walks students through the practicalities of drafting a thorough, responsive, and high-scoring exam answer and explains how students can craft their study time and exam time to maximize their chances of an impressive performance. Finally, this chapter puts grades into a larger perspective: What do they really mean for students' lives and careers?
The final chapter of this book will help law students think more broadly about their careers and lives after law school. In an unconventional discussion of the everyday realities of life and legal practice, Young challenges law students to think flexibly, creatively, mindfully, and introspectively in figuring out what they want their lives to look like after law school. The chapter draws heavily on the sociological literature about lawyers' subjective well-being and points out surprising patterns—for example, the counterintuitive trajectory through which a high law school GPA can lead to a dissatisfying legal career and the factors that are (and are not) reliable empirical predictors of lawyers' happiness. Young acknowledges that every path involves sacrifice but urges law students to reflect carefully on what makes them happy; she stresses that students need to begin carving a path that prioritizes these aspects of life over prestige and conventionality.
In the throes of law school, students forget that they have agency in creating their experiences and that there is no ideal way to "do" law school. Young concludes by reminding readers to use law school to shape them into the lawyers and people they want to be.