The Legal Beat
The Struggle: The ‘Disease Of Disrespect’ Is Ruining Law Students’ Lives
Posted on Friday March 24, 2017
Welcome to the latest installment of The Struggle, a series where we examine the mental-health issues that students encounter during the oftentimes grueling law school experience. We are posting these stories because sometimes what law students really need is to know that they’re not alone in their pain. Sometimes what law students need is to know that they’ve got a friend who is willing to share not just in their triumphs, but also in their struggles. These are real e-mails and messages we’ve received from real readers.
If these issues resonate with you, please reach out to us. Your stories need to be heard. You can email us, text us at (646) 820-8477, or tweet us @atlblog. We will share your stories anonymously. You may be able to help a law student who needs to know that someone else has been there before and survived.
People who have known me for a long time will probably tell you I am a tough person, the kind of person you want with you in an emergency. Before law school, I worked in jobs that required a tough skin — shipping, industrial kitchens, magazine publishing, etc. — and succeeded in all of it. Even with that background as a foundation, I cannot tell you how many times I have broken down in uncontrollably crying, wondering how the heck I am going to make it through law school. And I am a 2L.
As much as I appreciate the call and response for efforts like counseling options, sharing stories, and striving to show communal support for those struggling with anxiety and depression in the legal industry — which is unarguably needed — I think there needs to be a complimentary effort toward identifying and addressing the major contributing factors to this protracted problem.
Most of my emotional struggle comes from feeling constantly disrespected by professors or superiors in my internships. There seems to be this inability for lawyers to correct or guide students or subordinates in a respectful manner. It always seems to be justified by 1) they are too busy to worry about that — bigger problems, 2) better get used to it, it’s not like opposing counsel is going to care (or something along that line), or 3) it’s what they went through, it is what it is. There simply is no justification for the default reaction to something to be to attribute the entirety of the fault to the student or subordinate, or assume they are just ignorant or lazy. Corporations are making a concerted effort to correct this kind of culture by doing trainings, having reminder posters around, etc., that reinforce messages like “assume positive intent” and focus on responding in ways that are most constructive. They see quality of work and productivity go up when they do.
Why isn’t the legal industry seeing that this disease of disrespect is holding the entire profession back and in the process ruining the lives of its members for literally no productive reason? I have over 14 years of job experience in almost as many industries. I’ve been told that I’m being given projects so I can learn time management skills. Every time this happens I just want to tell them: “You want to know about time management? Try figuring out how many staff members it’s going to take to serve 100 people in 15 minutes in the middle of a wedding reception. Try figuring out how to organize 26 pallets of medical devices all by yourself and how long that will take given the warehouse configuration. I don’t lack time management skills, I’ve just never researched in an international jurisdiction before.” But I just have to endure at least three years of people assuming I don’t know anything about it because I have the label “student” or risk coming off disrespectful to people I need a letter of reference from. I could contribute SO MUCH MORE if rather than make that assumption, they asked what I already know and build off of that.
The second factor I see contributing to anxiety is a lack of project management skills — both by those beginning their careers and those training or managing students and less experienced attorneys. Where do attorneys get the project management habits they employ? It seems to be entirely a matter of making things up on the fly and/or perpetuating whatever happens to be the way to do things in a particular setting. Most of what I see is terribly inefficient and chaotic. I cannot even get simple answers to the most basic project management questions most of my previous places of employment would take for granted. Things like… Is there a particular format for reports needed for X situations? What is the workflow process for this? On average, how much time does it take you to research newly passed legislation?
This means a single attorney or student has to completely relearn through inference what attorneys can’t seem to articulate while still having unrealistic expectations of compliance to the prevailing way of doing things when moving from one work environment/class to another — and sometimes even from project to project. It’s a trial-and-error process that involves failing and receiving criticism for it even though it isn’t your fault at all, it’s the lack of skill of your superiors — an inability to develop a good system of operation or accurately understand their own workflow, before finally figuring out what no one seems to be able to tell you. That is hugely stressful and depressing. I strongly believe project management training should be a staple of both law firms and law schools.
These are the big things that have contributed to my struggles. In talking with others, it seems to be a pretty common experience. I have no idea what it would take to get a trend going of identifying and addressing these kinds of contributing factors, but the reality is the rates of anxiety and depression are not going to go down until that starts happening.
Most colleges and universities have counseling and psychological services resources that students can turn to if they are in crisis or would like counseling, even after hours. If these services are not available at your school, and if you’re depressed and in need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or a lawyer assistance program in your state. Remember that you are loved, so please reach out if you need assistance, before it’s too late.
Staci Zaretsky is an editor at Above the Law. She’d love to hear from you, so feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.