Why Law School Should Be Longer

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Three Things I Didn’t Learn How to Deal With in Law School

Law school takes at least three bloody, exhausting, ridiculously difficult years from our lives, and in exchange we get poor eyesight, a hunched back, and a nicely embossed piece of paper to hang on the wall. However, now that I’ve been there and done that, if I somehow found myself dean of a law school, I would make my curriculum more robust.

Contracts, Civil Procedure, Torts, and Criminal Law are all excellent and worthwhile courses, but they don’t prepare us for the bombardment, the emotional assault, and the downright trauma of dealing with the stressful lives and situations our clients bring to our doorstep.

Roughly half of practicing lawyers experience depression and anxiety, and is it any wonder? Many of our clients’ lives are falling apart right in front of us, and though we’re doing our best to help them, we all experience some degree of secondary stress and compassion fatigue. And many of us are woefully unprepared to deal with that ever-compounding burden.

Toward that end, these are three of the courses I wish I would have taken in law school, even if it would have extended the academic calendar.

1. How to Manage Secondary Stress
Secondary stress is the emotional impact that comes from hearing firsthand stories of traumatic events. Think of humanitarian workers helping refugees flee war, those involved with bringing food to babies dying in famine, or pediatric oncology nurses caring for dying children. These are all careers in which people are trying to help others, where the traumatic situations of those whom they are helping adds up. Lawyers also face this type of stress.

2. How to Listen Well
There are plenty of memes about men wanting to solve the problems of their wives when their wives simply want to be listened to, but it’s not just in interpersonal relationships that we see this happening. Law school taught me a method, a path, and a legal framework as well as how to maneuver within it no matter what kind of case came my way. What it didn’t teach me was how to listen to what my client was saying before activating my arc reactor and turning into the legal version of Iron Man, here to save the day whether you want me to or not. If I had listened more to some of my earlier clients, I might have understood that what was needed in their case was a mild form of mediation rather than the nuking of an entire landscape through an expensive lawsuit.

3. How to Manage Conflict
Sure, there’s a particular personality type that loves confrontation and thrives in conflict, but many of us tremble when we have to step into a difficult conversation. However, just as in any other arduous topic, there are tried and true strategies to help walk us through those conversations. I’m not just talking about how to win an argument—we have all had plenty of training in that—but rather the interpersonal facets of disagreeing without being overcome by emotion and how to read people better so that we can create win-win outcomes. I wish I’d had the opportunity to learn and practice some of those skills before my degree was printed.

As in any profession, the diploma is merely the first step. It’s what you learn in the day-to-day trenches that will help you find success. If I were you, I’d sign up for a course like I’ve described sooner rather than later!

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