Today we are honored to have Dr. Hank Weisinger joining us to talk about the pressure of law school. Dr. Weisinger is trained in clinical, counseling, and organizational psychology, is a New York Times Best Selling Author, and is the author of Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most. Welcome!
Exceptional individuals are the norm in law schools but perhaps the most elite are the ones who can go through the experience without a bout or two of depression, avoid anxiety attacks, and most importantly, minimize the daily feelings of pressure–the ones that feels like the world is upon your shoulder and if you drop it, you will surely perish.
It’s no secret that as an occupation lawyers are more prone to clinical depression and substance abuse problems. They get a good start for these maladies in law school. In a recent study, for example, of Yale Law School students, seventy percent of all respondents—206 students in a 296-student sample—reported having struggled with mental health during law school. Even assuming that zero non-respondents faced mental health challenges (MHCs), that would mean that 32 percent, or nearly one-third, of YLS students felt that they had faced mental health challenges while in law school.
The results aren’t surprising when you consider that law school stimulates a culture of extreme stress and being stressed is seen as a “badge of honor,” where “competition (a natural pressure inducer) is encouraged,” and where students, faculty, and administration all place an inordinate amount of emphasis on “winning the rat race.” No wonder law school feels like a pressure cooker.
To make matters worse, over twenty years of empirical studies conducted around the world indicate that contrary to conventional wisdom, nobody does better under pressure; the fact is most people perform below their capabilities in their pressure moments, like taking a test. In addition, pressure bends your ethics, and makes your relationships more conflict ridden. Mix these findings with the culture of law school and it is obvious that if you want to have your day in court, you are going to have to battle pressure to get there.
Can you prepare a defense against pressure? Some law students, you squeeze them, they focus. Others fold. Can you summon your talent at will? Can you deliver on a deadline? Can you sleep at night?
I’ll ask you a few leading questions–do you know how to reduce your daily feelings of pressure? Do you know what to do five minutes before your test so you don’t choke and perform below your capability? Can you prevent yourself from blanking when you’re unexpectedly called upon in class (Remember Paper Chase)? Can you keep yourself cool when you’re one of a hundred to have a five-minute interview for a summer job? And do you know how to handle the pressure of your parents who expect big things from you?
If you want to have at least a little fun in law school, go to class with more confidence and enthusiasm than anxiety and fear, or to do the unimaginable–thrive in law school rather than survive, you will have to be able to defend yourself against the injurious effects of pressure.
Over the last decade, I have developed such a strategy. You’ll still feel the heat, but I’ll get your daily pressure reduced and I’ll get you off the hook in pressure moments so you don’t choke.
I have a lot of precedents, most notably helping my nephew who made it through law school with only moderate distress. I will also cite a similar case–helping my other nephew successfully battle the pressure of medical school. And unlike most defense attorneys, I won’t ask for any cash upfront.
Your Task (Should You Choose to Accept It)
What I will do, though, is ask you to spend ten days thinking about how you defend yourself against pressure. Then send me a brief on how you do it–I want to know what works for you. The three briefs that I judge as the best defense against law school pressure will each be awarded two enrollments to my soon to be released Performing Under Pressure eWorkshop Experience and will be cited in future articles for law magazines. Send your briefs to: email@example.com.
I will present my defense against pressure mid-December so you can be sure to have a pressure-less New Year!
More about Dr. Weisinger
Hank Weisinger, Ph.D. is trained in clinical, counseling, and organizational psychology. He is the author of several successful books, including the New York Times Bestseller, Nobody’s Perfect, and the senior author of the recent New York Times Bestseller, Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most (Crown, 2015).
He has consulted and conducted workshops to dozens of Fortune 500 Companies, government agencies, taught in numerous business school executive education programs and executive MBA programs, including Wharton, UCLA, Cornell, NYU, Penn State, and Columbia.
Dr. Weisinger has appeared on over 500 television and radio shows, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, Oprah, ESPN, and NPR. He is currently working on Helping Your Kids Handle Pressure: Giving Your Sons & Daughters Life’s Ultimate Edge, soon to be an online course. You can sign up for the online version of Performing Under Pressure here.
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