Skip to Content

Surviving law school

How to succeed and stay sane — one challenge at a time.

Rachel Lehman.  Photo by/par Robert Karpa, Venturi+Karpa
Rachel Lehman. Photo by/par Robert Karpa, Venturi+Karpa

So you’ve made it to law school. Now all you have to do is survive the heavy course load, the massive amounts of reading on a daily basis, the exhausting exams and the stress of being graded on a forced curve. 

Each year of study brings its own unique and arduous challenges. As they say, the first year they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, and the third year they bore you to death.

Four students share their strategies for surviving law school and avoiding the law school blues.

Surviving 1L
Rachel Lehman
University of British Columbia

I wish I had a magic strategy, but the truth is that first year of law school is challenging for everyone. However, I do have a few tips that I can share based on what worked for me this past year. First, whenever you take breaks from studying, try to do things that you really enjoy. For me that was taking walks with friends or enjoying new restaurants. I tried to completely relax while I wasn’t studying, and I think that helped me to be much more focused when it was time to hit the books. My second tip is to use the resources that your law school provides. My school offers academic success workshops throughout the year and a peer tutor program, both of which I found to be very helpful. My last tip is to identify people in your life who you can get support from, and talk to them when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Family members, friends, and significant others are great, but people you meet while in law school can be just as helpful too. I received a mentor (a practising lawyer in Vancouver) when I joined the Canadian Bar Association Mentorship Program, and I found him to be extremely helpful throughout the year because he understood the unique challenges that law school presents.

What superhero would you want to represent and why?

Batman! As I’m interested in corporate law, I’d love to represent a huge company like Wayne Enterprises.

Surviving 2L
Johnny Maskine
Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University

My secret weapon is a schedule. I think it’s important to physically write out a manageable timetable and work with that. I try to balance leisure, extracurricular and school-related commitments. It helps to embrace all of law school’s joyful activities.

Law school is challenging and can be as demanding as you allow. It is important to set boundaries and allow yourself to enjoy other things in life. This will help to keep you balanced, focused, and sane.

What superhero would you want to represent and why?

I would love to represent Batman because, firstly and most importantly, he’s the coolest superhero. Bruce Wayne is a successful businessman and philanthropist. He would be a great person to work with. Also, Batman’s entire motive is to fight criminals, such as those who killed his parents, to promote justice. Although he may cause a lot of mess in achieving his ends, his objective is admirable.

Surviving 3L
Kathryn Kitchen
University of Calgary 

I had always intended to return to Saskatchewan for articles because that was where my fiancé and my family are. In this regard, I never felt the pressures of the competitive Calgary job market and the corresponding pressure of having marks that would catch the eye of a firm. I got to set personal goals that ultimately led me to an amazing firm where I have spent the last two summers and where I will be spending my articles.

The biggest challenge I faced during law school was managing my time and knowing my limits. There are only so many hours in the day and making sure you balance schoolwork, extracurricular involvement and your social life can be a real struggle. There are so many different organizations and opportunities that present themselves in law school and sometimes it’s difficult to fight the urge to join them all. Each will offer a unique opportunity or skill development that will certainly make them appealing.

What superhero would you want to represent and why?

Ironman. [He’s] a very intelligent superhero and when faced with the opportunity to use his technology for evil, he opted to use it for good. I certainly think that integrity is worth defending. In addition, there would probably be some pretty interesting intellectual property law to deal with as well as some great client referrals as a result of his work with the Avengers team.

Surviving articles
Devan Marr
University of Ottawa; Articling at Nelligan O’Brien Payne

I’ve done everything from relatively mundane things like file documents at court to drafting factums, preparing affidavits, meeting with clients, giving submissions at express motions, and having pretty much independent carriage of our own small claims files…

The firm gives us a lot of substantive work and a lot of independence to seek out interesting assignments. It’s always gratifying when you look at the factum a lawyer has sent in and it’s your research and arguments that win the day.

I think the key to surviving is to just have at least one thing that’s not law-related in your life and not letting work consume your every waking thought. I have a strict policy of not checking my work e-mail on Saturdays unless I actually have something I need to work on. To keep sane I go to weekly trivia nights with my non-law friends; another student goes to the gym six days a week; and another has a monthly outing with her friends outside the firm.

What superhero would you like to represent?

One of the other articling students immediately said Tony Stark, because you know he can pay the bills. I think I have to go with Green Lantern. Do superheroes owe a duty of care for the property damage they do? What if that damage is caused by the power of your imagination? That’s going to make for some interesting work.