Law in Contemporary Society

Ready for Grading

Stress Management Mechanisms for Law School

-- By SylvieRampal - 21 Feb 2008

Law School: Part-time job or Extreme Situation?

I view law school as an extreme situation. Professor Moglen has said that law school is really a part-time job. This is probably the healthiest and least traumatic way to view law school. Still, time and again the commentary of other educational and legal professionals have painted a darker picture:

  • A managing partner at a top NY law firm advised students to break-up with on-again, off-again love-interests; undergo medical and dental procedures before law school; to forget about television, magazines and news media.
    • Sure; if they get used to that at law school, they will be much more docile and less demanding when they get to the firm, right?

  • Upperclassmen advise 1Ls to leave outgoing voice mail messages that told family and friends not to call except in case of emergency.
    • Unhealthy advice from people who don't know how to go through law school. You hear it all the time, and you should avoid it.

  • Educational personnel have stated that 1L is not too great a time to put life on hold.
    • What are "educational personnel"? There are people who know something, and there are people who don't. "Educational personnel" sounds suspiciously like group #2. And what does "not too great a time" mean? A bad time? Not a good time? Or not too long a time? In any event, "educational personnel" appear to be bullshitting you.

Although, I try to maintain calm in the face of anxiety, silencing the less healthful views is an uneasy task. So, I will focus on the scientific evidence as to the efficacy and validity of a few mechanisms that may afford students improved management of stress-inducing performance expectations.

Shifting the focus from cause to coping strategies

Law school is a microcosm of a society which demands people be smarter, faster, better, and do more in less time. Which may be the cause of the increased incidence of psychological pathology throughout society. Still, decrying the state of affairs does not equip me to cope with the realities of the circumstances.

My perception of what this situation requires is more reactive than prospective, focusing more on functioning within the construct than changing it. Nonetheless, for me, now is not the time to press my abilities against the institutional machineries which reinforce anxiety and fear. Changing them is a valid aim, but not one which suits my immediate purposes. Once the perceived necessity dissipates, I can re-shift my focus to attacking stressful environmental factors.

Managing the Stress of Performance Expectations

Stress-relieving mechanisms like social support groups (e.g. religious fellowship), hypnosis, meditation, and acupuncture offer effective and drug-free stress management options. Stress, depression, and anxiety can take a toll on the body and bodily ills can affect the way we think and feel, so it is vital that people develop behaviors that improve their emotional and physical health.

American Psychological Association discussing Psychoneuroimmunology

Justified belief or Unreasoning hope

New-age or holistic treatments are oft viewed as hokey, false, counter-productive. But new scientific evidence validates the healthful potential of holistic practices like hypnosis, meditation and acupuncture.

Social Support Groups

Scientific study of linkages between the brain, behavior, and immune response and health implications of the relationship, indicate that religious fellowship/ social support groups have better coping strategies to manage stress, anxiety and depression, and faster recovery times from illness and injury. Gerontological studies of the relationship between social support groups and health note a correlation between the lack of social support and elderly mortality.

Read more from the Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Journal.

Hypnosis and Meditation

In Mayo Clinic Proceedings, several modern studies were reviewed to evaluate whether hypnosis had a place in modern medicine. The verdict: Yes.

The article suggests that meditation is a type of self-hypnosis:

“Hypnosis is also described as an ‘attentive, receptive focal concentration,’ with the trance state being a ‘normal activity of a normal mind,’ which occurs regularly, as when reading an absorbing book, watching an engrossing movie, daydreaming, or performing monotonous activity. . . . If suggestions are given to achieve a desired effect, meditation [which is often self-directed] may qualify as hypnosis depending on the state achieved, particularly because hypnosis can occur naturally (ie, without formal induction).”

  • “[S]ubjects who meditated for a short time showed increased alpha waves (the relaxed brain waves) and decreased anxiety and depression.” Psychology Today Magazine article.



Extensive studies and experiments on the merits, efficacy and medical applications of acupuncture have determined that acupuncture works. Acupuncture is helpful in management of persistent pain.

  • Gerontological Nursing guideline on use of meditation (and other non-pharmacological treatments) for pain management.

Knowledge Gaps and the Uncertainty of New Science

Knowledge gaps surrounding the mechanism of action of these treatments do not invalidate the import or efficacy of these options.

Faith-like conviction despite knowledge gaps has spurred innovation. For example, before harmful microorganisms were definitively proven to exist, Pasteur was harangued by the medical establishment for his fantastical claims. Today, scientific understanding of the microorganism has led to the creation of life-saving vaccines. Merely because something has yet to be wholly proven does not mean it is false or ineffective.

The uncertainty of the mechanism of action is not an unknown circumstance in science. Such uncertainty is present in evolution; while scientists have observed that adaptations occur, they are still uncertain of the mechanism by which adaptation occurs. Moreover, such uncertainty is typical of medical study concentrating on the connection between brain mechanisms and conditions or behaviors like depression or narcolepsy. For instance, piracetam which is used to fight Alzheimer’s (in Europe) is an effective drug with an unestablished mechanism of action.


The perception that we have some measure of control over our mental, emotional, and physical welfare is a reality determining tool which substantially affects our cognitive and physical health. Healthful tools like hypnosis, visual imagery, acupuncture, meditation, exercise and dietary planning can help manage stress in challenging situations.

Warnings and Disclaimers

It is important to note that there can be adverse effects.

Hypnosis/ Meditation

While generally safe, there are risks of paradoxic increase in depression and anxiety, increased suggestibility, difficulty in distinguishing the “real world” from the trance state, and in some cases addiction to the trance state. Still, the Mayo article (supra) suggests addiction to hypnotic or meditative trance can be likened to television addiction so I remain skeptical about the dangers of this “addiction”.


Needle point acupuncture is generally safe but carries some risk of injury and non-sterile needles. In rare cases, a traveling needle can damage the heart.

Lessening the risks
The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and that they be labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only. The single use standard has encouraged cancer patientsand sufferers of macular degeneration to seek acupuncture.

The risk of needle point damage and non-sterile needles can be avoided by using one of the alternatives to needle focused treatment such as acupressure, acupuncture via the application of heat or electrical impulse, magnets, or suction.


To dispel the impression that I endorse self-medication as a recourse: The long-term effects of these drugs are unknown. While piracetam is thought to have minimal side-effects, the same was thought of estrogen therapy until the adverse effects (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney malfunction) of prolonged treatment were discovered.

It would be ill-advised for any person to risk their brain health. Related compounds have been known to cause death, organ malfunction, addiction or to reduce victims to vegetative states. Also, certain compounds act on areas of the brain which build a dependence on the drug and make the brain more vulnerable to dependence or addiction in the future to compounds or dosages that would otherwise not be health-harming.

  • Smart drugs for law students? On the basis of one study showing that college students remembered random word lists better after two weeks on Nootropil? (Caution: research paid for by manufacturer.) Hypnosis for stress? Prayer groups? Look, people have to do what they have to do, and if the question is what sort of lotus to eat for what hurts you, my answer is "whatever gets you through the night."

  • But none of this has anything to do with what would: (a) make one happier in law school, or (b) more successful and effective as a law student and lawyer. As to (a), you can break the solution down into two parts:
    1. Don't sweat the small shit, no matter what people tell you; and
    2. Don't listen to people who tell you to sweat the small shit, no matter who they are or where they work.

  • As to (b) the answer is: learn basic skills and capabilities.
    1. Exercise and strengthen your memory for what you read.
    2. Create and exercise your memory for what you hear.
    3. Find the neural pathway that leads to best memory for you (reading, writing, hearing, speaking, visualizing, drawing, graphing, etc.), and use it for all the material you can possibly bring through that as opposed to other neural channels.
    4. Don't read, write, listen, or otherwise try to load your memory in long, unbroken sessions. Instead, use the rhythm of your intervening activities (walking, eating, exercising, etc.), to help cue your memory. And use those times to ... well ... live.
    5. Work on listening more than speaking. Cultivate the ability to understand what one person speaking to you is thinking that s/he's not saying. Then start trying to understand other silent participants in a group listening to someone else speak. Become attentive to body language, movement, etc. Learn to remember people's "tells."
    6. Speak in public where possible, including the classroom. Learn to be funny, leisurely, firm, inviting, forbidding and dignified, as necessary.
    7. Have real clients, under appropriate supervision, before leaving school.

  • So far as this essay is concerned, I wish you'd spend less time on a survey of possible anodynes, and go back to the place of your departure: You are invited, by me or some other oracle, to do what's easier and more successful--attend to the things that will help you be a better law student, which are more than enough and are not unpleasant, and ignore the rest of the blather. Why not just tune out the crap? Saying it's difficult doesn't answer the question: Why is it difficult? Then perhaps there is some hope we may be able to ease those difficulties--possibly without drugs, needles, or prayer--and deal with the whole "Law school is an emergency situation" business in a fashion that gives your adrenal glands a rest.


Webs Webs

r3 - 22 Jan 2009 - 02:15:54 - IanSullivan
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