Law school is tough. Most law students feel overwhelmed at some point and many need to develop new skills to succeed.
Law school demands a lot of intellectual muscle, but it also demands nimble attention to time and detail. Consider all the complex mental processes needed to enable you to plan, focus attention, recall instructions, and perform tasks while filtering distractions and prioritizing tasks between your legal methods course and your doctrinal courses (not to mention the rest of your life); these mental gymnastics are called executive function. Think of executive function like the air traffic controller at a busy airport who manages the arrivals and departures of multiple aircraft on multiple airways; I doubt anyone would doubt that it takes strong executive function skills to succeed in the demanding environment and pace of law school.
So, how is your air traffic controller? If it needs some help, there are lots of practical resources that can help you get organized, learn the language, and develop the new skills that law school demands. But what happens when this isn’t enough?
Sometimes, students who have successfully navigated academic challenges in the past have issues with executing plans and meeting goals, even when they are working very hard. Does this sound like you? Do you wonder if something is impeding your progress? If so, take a serious look at whether you are struggling with an attention issue like ADD.
Do the following statements apply to you?
- I have difficulty getting organized.
- When given a task, I usually procrastinate.
- I work on a lot of projects, but can’t seem to complete most of them.
- I tend to make decisions and act on them impulsively.
- I get bored easily.
- No matter how much I do or how hard I try, I just can’t seem to reach my goals.
- I often get distracted when people are talking; I just tune out or drift off.
- I get so wrapped up in some things I do that I can hardly stop to take a break or switch to doing something else.
- I tend to overdo things even when they’re not good for me.
- I get frustrated easily and I get impatient when things are going too slowly.
These may be warning signs that you need to evaluate your attention strategies and status. I’m not a doctor and certainly can’t diagnose a learning or attention issue, but I have worked with a lot of law students over the years and a number of them have struggled with this issue. Ignoring your concerns isn’t likely to make them go away, so here are some practical steps to take.
Stop asking, “why now?”
Is it really any wonder that new challenges lead to new questions? Your undergraduate curriculum may have played to different strengths than the ones demanded in law school. One noted expert and author on attention deficit issues said that he was actually sitting in a psychiatry lecture at Harvard Medical School when he first self-diagnosed his own attention issues. Obviously this doctor had achieved tremendous academic success up to that point, but finally understanding his challenges allowed him to take positive steps to address them. Consider yourself in good company.
Get input from a mentor or trusted friend.
Sometimes, friends and family see things with a perspective that we lack. Ask someone that you trust to be honest about whether they have observed these behavior traits. Be willing to hear their comments with an open mind.
Talk to a professional.
Many law schools now have trained counseling professionals who can give you guidance on how to proceed. Academic support professionals are also generally experienced dealing with a variety of learning styles and issues; consider using them as a sounding board.
Finally, consider talking to a doctor about your concerns. Arm yourself with information and give yourself every opportunity to perform at the highest level you can. Just like a nearsighted student benefits from contact lenses or glasses (and would not consider going without them), you may benefit from strategies and/or medication to help you focus. Even if medication is not recommended or chosen, a trained medical professional can help you eliminate certain concerns and deal with others.
Mobilize a team to help you succeed.
Ask yourself if you would benefit from a mentor. A mentor can help you identify “red flag” activities that waste time, encourage you to try new study strategies, and hold you accountable for setting goals and achieving them. This mentor might be a law school tutor, a professional in the academic support office, or someone else who understands the law school process and is willing to work closely with you.
Take care of yourself and give yourself ALL the tools you need to be your best in law school.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Time Management Tips for Law Students
- Level the Playing Field: Using Resources and Seeking Accommodations in Law School
- Do You Need a Sponsor to Stay Productive in Law School
- Dealing With Law School Time Regret
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