Facing Uncertainty after Graduating from Law School

This post is authored by Jessica Chinnadurai. Jessica is a recently-licensed attorney who graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 2018. Her hope is to increase transparency around mental health issues in the legal profession, and to spread light to those fighting battles no one can see. If you are a recent graduate who’d like to connect with Jessica, you can find her on LinkedIn.


I’ve heard a common sentiment out there that the universe is forcing us to take a “time-out” during this pandemic. Since a “time-out” is something we usually associate with badly behaved children, it almost seems synonymous to being punished in some way. I remember feeling “punished” after graduating from law school and not being able to find a job until a full year later. I ended up shifting my perspective during that phase and that shift was made possible by resources shared via the Lawyers Assistance Program in my state. Uncertain times no longer carry a negative connation for me; I like to think of them as opportunities to slow down and reflect.

While there are many aspects of life right now that are undeniably frustrating and scary, especially as you face the bar exam, I think there is a beauty to be found in having ample time to reflect. This could mean reflecting on your purpose, your short- and long-term career goals, or your relationship with yourself and others. It could also mean simply looking at how far you’ve come and commending yourself for your achievements. Reflecting allows for alignment, by checking-in with yourself and taking note of your values and goals, of where you are versus where you want to be when it comes to living and achieving them.

Here are a few things I turned my focus to during the downtime after graduation, and even continuing after the bar exam.

Establish a growth mindset, rather than a fixed one.

With the pressures of studying for the bar and looking for a job, and now the added anxiety of a global pandemic, I know it can feel like your current situation will never end. But even “this too, shall pass.” All things in life are temporary—both the good and bad—and even though we are uncertain of when this all will end, we can be certain that it will. You will take the bar exam, get your passing results, and find a job—it may just happen on a different timeline than the one you intended, or the one that’s undoubtedly preferred.

A growth mindset applies to each of us, as individuals, in terms of believing in our ability to grow our knowledge, experience and skill sets. For example, a law student with a fixed mindset is “likely to view setbacks, such as lower-than-expected grades, as a sign that they are incapable.” “On the other hand, students in a growth mindset who understand that abilities can be developed, tend to look at the inevitable setbacks differently. They view law school as a place that can provide them with opportunities to grow and learn. They actively seek feedback and strategies to tweak their approaches so that they achieve greater improvement and outcomes the next time around.”[1]

If we transpose that information to post-law school and the “real world,” the lesson remains: it’s all about our mindsets. Although considerably less “inevitable,” setbacks like the pandemic or a difficult job search are also opportunities for growth and learning. Our ability to grow internally, in mind and spirit, doesn’t have to be affected by our external circumstances. And if you find that it is, consider asking for help.[2]

Learn how to play golf.

The third day of Lawyer Well-Being Week, at the beginning of May,[3] was also National Golf Day. As part of reflecting on my “intellectual well-being” that day, I fondly remembered how my training in golf involved reading a book by Tiger Woods. A well-known quote attributed to Tiger is “No matter how good you get, you can always get better, and that’s the exciting part.” His words echo the importance of having a growth mindset in our careers. . . and lucky for us, Tiger’s job just happens to be a popular sport in the legal profession.

My mom always bugged me to pick up golf after I first expressed an interest in law school. It wasn’t until the summer after graduation that I started learning how to play. I didn’t think I’d use it as a break from studying, but it ended up serving that very useful purpose. Many of us are always looking for ways to decrease stress. With our options limited in a socially-distanced world now, golf still presents us with an opportunity to get outdoors and stay well over six feet away from other people. Golf is also an awesome exercise in mindfulness. The placement of the ball, the position of your feet and distance from the tee, the movements in your swing back and forward—each step of the process must be intentional in order to achieve desirable results (i.e. your ball not going into the water!). There’s almost a science behind understanding the land around each hole, the way it curves and dips in a way that either helps your shot or makes it more difficult. I’m not even close to an expert now and there will always be room for improving my strategies. As recent graduates, golf can be a good way to approach something academically . . . but unlike law school and the bar exam, it can be really fun!

Be intentional with your career choices.

The intentionality you learn while golfing may help you with your job search, too. Some of you went to law school knowing exactly what type of law you wanted to practice after graduating. Others may have been open to whatever piqued your interest in various classes or through internships. Perhaps those educational experiences changed your mind during your law school career, as they did for me. I started law school with an interest in employment law and eventually gravitated toward intellectual property. After graduation, as I reevaluated exactly what field of law I wanted to practice in, I also worked on several contract opportunities. Gaining some experience, rather than none at all, was important to me. One job, with a technology company, was researching towing regulations in states and cities across the country. Towing law is akin to font law—you don’t really realize it exists until suddenly, you do. This research gave me first-hand knowledge of government regulations and FOIA requests, something I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to explore otherwise. Another job was in document review. E-discovery provides great practical experience for reading through written protocols from clients and carrying out those instructions under enforced timelines. It may not have been the most interesting or challenging work, but it was certainly helpful in obtaining the job I have today.

I’m sure you’ve heard a story from one or two attorneys about landing in their positions by chance and staying in a certain practice area because it was a job that paid the bills. While it may feel like you’re destined for the same path, don’t be too quick to accept just any position. Even in a difficult job market, you still have choices. You can choose to think about the long-term consequences of accepting a job. You can choose to make sure it’s work that carries a significance for you and something you will enjoy doing, for at least a couple of years. Enjoying what we do is directly related to feeling like we have a purpose, which is a key aspect of our spiritual well-being.[4] “Work has ‘significance’ when we judge it as being worthwhile and important within our own value system.”[5] If law school detracted your ability to reflect on your value system, as it did for me, the downtime now can be used to focus on this. In the end, you’ll be in a better position to find a job that truly reflects your values and goals. As an added bonus, you’ll probably find out more about yourself – and your worth – outside of your work and career.


[1] https://abaforlawstudents.com/2017/09/12/growth-mindset-law-school-success/

[2] https://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/lap_programs_by_state/

[3] https://lawyerwellbeing.net/lawyer-well-being-week/

[4] Day two of Lawyer Well-Being Week focused on spiritual well-being. If you missed any of the week’s events, resources are still available here: https://lawyerwellbeing.net/well-being-week-resources/

[5] https://lawyerwellbeing.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Brafford_Judge-Well-Being-Meaningful-Work.pdf

Virtual Resources for Graduating Law Students – Summer 2020

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) is here to support you while you study for the bar exam. During this challenging time, we want to encourage you to take care of yourselves and continue to focus on all aspects of your well-being. Your physical and emotional health are critical to your success in life…and on the bar exam.

Student Health Insurance
Recent graduates are encouraged to seek alternative coverage well before the termination of their current plan. You should confirm when your current coverage through your law school (or other source) ends.

The ABA Law Student Division and ABA Insurance Program have organized an important Webinar called Student Guide to Understanding and Navigating Health Insurance to address insurance questions for Thursday, May 21 at 4pm EST. Please click here to read more and register now.

More resources are available at:
ABA Insurance Program
Healthcare.gov
-You may also want to consult with your University’s current insurance carrier and/or your alumni association for other local referrals.
Lawyer Assistance Programs
Each state has a Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) that is dedicated to confidential counseling for law students, lawyers and judges around issues of substance use and mental health. You can locate the LAP in your area with this directory.

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) offers a list of mental health resources for the legal profession to assist in understanding and prioritizing our mental health, well-being and recovery in these challenging times. View the special dedicated resources related to COVID-19.

Podcasts
The ABA CoLAP has produced a podcast series for law students available on our website or most podcast platforms called Path to Law Student Well-Being. We highly recommend the following relevant podcasts:

–The Practice and Benefits of Mindfulness
–Adopting a Growth Mindset
–Dealing with Stress While Studying for the Bar Exam
–Practice Makes Passing

Enjoy these and other inspirational podcasts to keep you positive and focused on your mission for this summer.

Physical Fitness
Now more than ever, physical activity is an important step you can take to maintain your health and wellness. We encourage daily socially distanced exercise as an essential part of your bar study routine, whether you run, walk, or participate in online classes for yoga.

Mental Fitness
There are many helpful apps designed to provide you with tools to cultivate greater emotional well-being and improve academic performance. These include Headspace, 10% Happier, Waking Up, and Calm, which is offering a free two month trial. WellTrack includes relaxation exercises, simulated situations to deal with specific anxieties (including public speaking), and a course on resilience specifically designed to help manage and gain perspective on COVID-related emotions (membership required).

Financial Wellness
Students are encouraged to have a financial plan through the time that they sit for the bar, including a safe and affordable place to live. Many law schools have shared information about bar study loans and COVID-related emergency loans. AccessLex has provided emergency funds to law schools across the country and also offers many valuable COVID-related resources including webinars and one-on-one coaching for students and graduates.

Recognizing Lawyer Well-Being Week with CoLAP and 2Civility

Bree Buchanan, Chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, recently sat down with 2Civility, the Illinois Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism, to discuss Lawyer Well-Being Week, all the resources available to attorneys and legal professionals during the week, and everything CoLAP has planned. Bree shared a wealth of information about Lawyer Well-Being Week and the Commission. Click here to read what Bree had say, and join us in highlighting this important week.

The Countdown is On – Before the Start of Lawyer Well-Being Week – May 4-8, 2020!

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs in partnership with the ABA Law Practice Division Attorney Well-Being Committee (AWBC) and the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being launched the first annual Lawyer Well-Being Week – May 4-8, 2020, to align with Mental Health Awareness Month in May. The aim of Lawyer Well-Being Week (LWBW) is to raise awareness and encourage action across the profession to improve well-being for lawyers and their support teams. The event offers coordinated activities, webinars and well-being resources.

Visit: https://lawyerwellbeing.net/lawyer-well-being-week/.

The following update with guides on how to do LWBW remotely is provided by Anne Brafford, LWBW organizer.

  • Remote Participation Guide (posted on the Activity Ideas page): For each day of well-being week, this guide includes multiple, remote-friendly recommendations for videos, articles, and activities aligned with each day’s well-being dimension.
  • Bar Association Participation Guide  (posted on the Activity Ideas page): This guide includes only one recommendation for a video, article, and activity that they can use to support their own activities or simply to recommend to their membership. This is a stripped down version of the Remote Guide given that bar associations often have fewer staff devoted to well-being than law firms, etc.  (Thanks to Martha Knudson of the Utah bar for helping with this).
  • Pre-Prepared Daily Social Media Posts. At the bottom of the Awareness Messaging page on the website, you’ll find a downloadable social media post for each day of well-being week. Each gives the same recommendations for one video, article, and activity as appears in the Bar Association Guide.

ABA President calls upon state bars to remove mental health and substance use questions from bar exam applications

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez published an article in the AccessLex publication Raising the Bar (Spring 2020) in which she called upon state bars to focus on conduct and remove discriminatory mental health and substance use questions:

“[A]sking bar applicants about their mental health history doesn’t improve the quality of individuals who are members of the profession, nor does it improve the quality of legal services delivered to the public.”

 “Every state should stop asking discriminatory, ineffective questions of bar applicants. It’s a critical step toward removing the stigma of treatment that plagues our profession and hinders our ability to deliver the highest quality of legal services to those whom we serve.”

The ABA COLAP has worked hard to advocate on reforming the character and fitness process. COLAP advisory board member  David Jaffe and COLAP commission member Janet Stearns recently published an article in The Professional Lawyer, the ABA Center for Professional’s Responsibility periodical on Ethics and Professionalism, detailing the process and progress among various states in modifying or eliminating questions that address an applicant’s substance use and mental health disorders on Character and Fitness portions of bar admission applications. Read the article here.

The NY Court of Appeals voted to remove its questions in February, 2020 and the Michigan Supreme Court voted in March, 2020 to remove its questions. The COLAP continues to monitor developments closely and welcomes input from LAPS, law schools and bar regulators who wish to discuss further strategies.

To those in recovery: you’ve got this!

The following post was authored by Laurie J. Besden, Esq., Executive Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania, Inc. You can find out more about Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania at http://www.lclpa.org. We thank Laurie for her submission.

We, who are active in recovery, ARE the lucky ones. In many ways, we are best prepared to successfully cope with a pandemic like COVID-19. The myriad of fellowships of recovery has provided us with a platform of preparation, essentially our toolboxes for surviving what may seem to be an overwhelming situation. 

One of my board members recently shared with me these wise words by an unknown author: 

We have experience with an invisible illness trying to kill us; we live through that every day. We are accustomed to staying in the moment, not projecting and taking things as they come. We are people who have the diseases of isolation as we have survived loneliness without even knowing we were lonely. We are very familiar with quarantine; jails, institutions, detoxes, treatment centers and more. We have grown to rely on a higher power for faith and hope; constantly. We practice “letting go” and “turning over” things we cannot control. It is our code to share with others our experience, strength, and hope to help the next struggling individual and by doing so, we keep hope alive. We all have a disease that we were told the recovery rates were in the single digits at best; yet, here we are beating the odds, ONE DAY AT A TIME. The truth is that we have the best skill set in the world to band together in fellowship, love, service, and kindness and walk each other through this.  

When I think of sobriety and my own experience with it, here are some of the first things that come to my mind: 

  • Replacing the fear of the unknown with faith in my Higher Power;  
  • Paying it forward and sharing our experience, strength, and hope;  
  • Taking it one day at a time and staying in the present; 
  • Maintaining healthy boundaries and relationships; 
  • Looking for opportunities to be of service to others and doing God’s will;  
  • Focusing on and doing “the next right thing;”  
  • Making time each day for prayer and meditation; 
  • Remembering our code: love, patience, and tolerance of all people and with all things; 
  • Focusing on my blessings, using a gratitude journal to list the gifts in my life. 

I’ll close in the same manner in which many of us close our recovery meetings, with the words of the serenity prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.  

Together, we can always do what we cannot do alone.

 

CoLAP mental health resources for COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed both our personal and professional lives. We face uncertainty about our health, our finances, seeing our loved ones, helping others, and even acquiring toilet paper.

COLAP has aggregated mental health resources for the legal profession here to help with:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Panic
  • Substance Use
  • Staying Mentally Healthy
  • Social Distancing
  • Law Practice Management / Leadership
  • And more

FIND COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES FROM ABA COLAP HERE.

These resources will be updated regularly, so take time to check back again — and more than once. We need to prioritize our mental health in these uniquely challenging times. 

To find the lawyers assistance program in your jurisdiction view directory. Lawyer Assistance Programs (LAPs) throughout the country provide confidential services and support to judges, lawyers and law students who are facing mental health or substance use issues.

 

Taking care of your mental health in the face of uncertainty – a message from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has written encouraging words in light of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (coronavirus). The AFSP reminds us that “we can always choose our response” to stress-inducing situations, and provides a wealth of tips for maintaining mental health in troubling times. You can read the post here.

If you’re feeling alone and struggling, you can also reach out to The Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

New Episode of “Path to Law Student Well-Being” Available Now!

Episode 7, “Where Are We on the Path to Law Student Well-Being?” is available now on all podcast platforms and at the link here!

For too long, law students have been given the message that their well-being is second to the practice of law. Not anymore! The Lawyer Assistance Program community recognizes that teaching students about their own well-being and the well-being of their colleagues and friends as they learn the law is imperative for the future generations of lawyers. To better understand the strides our laws schools have been making in these areas, CoLAP’s Law Student Assistance Committee surveyed law schools across the country about their curricula, programs, and other wellness-related offerings. This podcast will discuss where law schools are on their path to increasing law student well-being and share a trove of resources culled from the survey of many schools.

This podcast features the following panelists: Jordana Alter Confino (Assistant Director of Academic Counseling, Columbia Law School), Jennifer Leonard (Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Future of the Profession Initiative, University of Pennsylvania Law), Judith Rush (Director of Mentor Externship, University of St. Thomas School of Law) and Chase Andersen (Case Manager, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, Minnesota)

As referenced in the podcast, Jordana’s report, entitled “Where Are We on the Path to Law Student Well-Being?: Report on the ABA CoLAP Law Student Assistance Committee Law School Wellness Survey” can be found here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3374976