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How to be a Happy Law Student

Jennifer Powell led a discussion in my externship class last week about resilience. She asked us what we thought helped law students recover from disappointments and tough situations—a discouraging grade, low bank account, forgetting the answer when we’re called on in class. She told us research shows that having someone to talk to is what people feel helps them through law school. She asked us how we met our law school friends and how we got to know each other in such a competitive environment. Most people’s answers were the same. We met in our legal writing section because we had all of our 1L classes together. We wanted to be friends with students who were going through the same things as us—who had the same professors, the same required textbooks, the same grueling 8:30am class. A few weeks into my 1L year, some students from my legal writing class asked me to study with them for the first Civil Procedure midterm. We’ve been best friends ever since.

Since that discussion, I’ve been thinking about what’s made me happy these past three years. I thought I’d give the 1L class some advice.

Work hard to find people you trust but also can have fun with. Join a study group, even if you think you study better alone—you can do both! Studying with my friends always calms me down before a big exam and always gives me a group of fun people to celebrate with after it’s over.

The SBA at WVU College of Law does such a great job at creating a community for students. Go to all of their events!!! You will meet people there, and you will have fun. Even if you have to go to parties by yourself, just go. The best advice my mom even gave me was that you should always make yourself do things because they are hard and because you don’t want to do them. The accomplishment, however small, will make you feel good about yourself.

Join student organizations. For the size of our school, we have such a diverse array of student organizations. Choose something based on your career interests. Volunteer opportunities or discussions in club meetings might help you decide if you like that area of law or, more importantly, if you like the people in that area of law. You should also join an organization that you find fun, so you can spend time with people who have similar interests.

Take the classes you want to take. Avoid grade shopping. When planning your schedule, don’t choose classes with your GPA in mind. You will often find that you will be extremely bored in a class you took because it was easy. Choose classes based on your interests or whether you like the professor. Talk with your professors after class. Go to their offices. Forming relationships with professors is a great way to ease your fear of getting called on in a big class.

Don’t put too much value in your grades. Your self worth is not defined by a grade you received on an exam. A different professor might give you a different grade on the exact same exam. If you took the exam in the morning instead of the afternoon, you would probably receive a different grade. Grades, though important, are arbitrary. I was employed during both summers after my 1L and 2L years, and my employers never even asked to see my grades.

Have fun! Do something fun at least once during the school week and once on the weekend. You should also take time for yourself. This means something different for everyone. I have a friend who likes to paint. I have another who likes to help her husband film his documentary. Have that Netflix marathon. Let yourself watch the entire third season of Cheers in one day. Don’t lose your hobbies or your outlets that give you time to relax and think.

Please go to the gym. Only good things can come from going to the gym. Exercise is proven to help reduce stress and also keep you physically healthy. If your excuse is that you don’t have time by the end of the day, go in the morning. Once you get used to going to the gym in the morning, 6:15am doesn’t seem that early anymore. The Student Rec Center has a great variety of fun exercise classes. Brian, the morning spinning instructor, is such a good instructor that you will spring out of bed at 5:45am to get a bike in his class. They have plenty of weightlifting and dance classes too. Most importantly, they’re finally bringing back yoga!

At the end of my Trial Advocacy class last semester, Professor DiSalvo told us there are five things you need to be a happy lawyer: wisdom, love, friendship, faith, and knowledge. He said you can’t get all of these things at the office. I certainly don’t think you can get them all out of taking classes and studying. Look for these things outside the classroom, and you, too, can be a happy law student.

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