Surviving 3L Year: Top 10 tips to stay motivated and avoid burnout
Making it to 3L Year is a tremendous accomplishment. Nonetheless, in the excitement of the job search, the bar application, internships, and graduation within your reach, it can be easy to forget that one third of your law school career looms ahead. With a substantial mountain yet to climb, it is critical to approach 3L Year with not only the stamina to make it through, but also with the resolve to take small, deliberate steps to achieve your goals, maintain positive momentum, and stave-off burnout. As someone who recently walked in your shoes, I would like to share ten tips for remaining encouraged and energized during the homestretch.
- Don’t put off that bar application. The bar application is one of the most daunting items on your 3L agenda, requiring an exhaustive list of every place applicants have lived and worked for the last ten years, as well as vital records, bank statements, and up to a dozen character references. While the application can seem unnecessarily burdensome and intrusive, viewing it as a checklist broken down into separate, small items will make it far less overwhelming. As soon as you receive the application, make a list of all your action items: records to order, character references to contact, and application sections to complete. Then, assign yourself tasks for each week leading up to the due date, giving yourself designated “application times” to build into your schedule, much like your other academic and extracurricular commitments.
- Choose your commitments wisely. It can be tempting to use your 3L year as a catch-all to try out all those extracurriculars and classes that have piqued your curiosity. I remember thinking that if I did not take full advantage of every opportunity my school had to offer, I would feel guilty, as though I wasted my experience. In retrospect, I feel more guilty that I ended my law school career feeling harried, stressed, and burned-out because I had crammed too many obligations into my schedule. In selecting your extracurricular obligations, be honest with yourself about which activities truly interest you, and which ones you feel merely compelled to consider because they look good on a resume. Trying to juggle too many commitments almost invariably results in the failure to execute any of them as well as you could.
- Intern. Taking the opportunity to work part-time at a firm or government agency is a fantastic way to forge professional connections and steal a glimpse into what real world legal practice is like. In planning your extracurricular commitments, be sure to leave some time in your schedule to intern. Alternatively, see if you can shadow a local attorney for a few hours a week, or offer to help with discrete projects in order to derive the same real-world-practice exposure. Venturing into a professional environment will serve as a powerful antidote to stressful weeks, reminding you of the wealth of opportunities you will have at your disposal when you graduate.
- Avoid the Tyranny of the Urgent. This can take many forms: responding to emails or text messages, social media alerts, or a last minute invitation to a social engagement – all of which are far more enticing than studying, applying for jobs, writing your Law Review Comment, or preparing for your trial competition. 3L year will present a host of distractions that are all more seemingly “urgent” than continuing to trudge patiently toward your goals. Coupled with the inevitable fatigue you will likely experience halfway through the year, these distractions can derail your progress and form a dangerous recipe for procrastination. Learning to stay focused on the present task is great practice to cultivate prior to entering the working world, where distractions and crises of various magnitudes arise daily. It is critical to understand what needs to be addressed immediately and what can wait.
- Remember that comparison is the thief of both joy AND progress. When she first started the Oprah Winfrey show, the successful entrepreneur and TV personality forbade her staff from watching daytime talk shows hosted by her competitors, believing that preoccupation with what others in the industry were doing would distract the team from achieving their own goals. I think we all can agree this approach worked for Oprah, and it can work for you, too. Nothing can bring you down or threaten to stunt your professional growth more than comparing yourself to others. Stay focused on your own progress, the race that you are running, rather than concerning yourself with who is climbing to the top of your class rank or who has already received a job offer. It is irrelevant to your own success in making it to the finish line.
- Keep your options open. You may have entered law school with a strong sense of what you want to do when you graduate, but remember that the law is rich with diverse opportunities. Keep an open mind about your career prospects and cast a wide net. It is more exciting that way!
- Give back. Studies consistently show that lawyers who regularly participate in pro bono projects report more overall job satisfaction, and there is no reason why you cannot begin to experience this great sense of career fulfillment as a law student. Mentor a 1L, volunteer, participate in a clinic, or see if your local bar association hosts an annual day of service. It is well worth the investment of time and energy, and you will find that sacrificing time in your schedule to help others will energize you.
- Move. As a law student, you are already beginning to cultivate habits that will carry over into your life as a practicing lawyer. Consistently staying physically active is not only a fantastic habit to carry into your post-academic life, but also an effective way to fight stress. There are numerous ways to stay active without having to pay for a fancy gym membership. Check out local gyms to see if they offer free week-long trials or reduced rates for students, or download free workout videos on Youtube. Further, many cities’ local establishments like restaurants and bars offer weeknight running and walking clubs, complete with perks like free workout apparel, trivia, and food specials.
- Notwithstanding #8, don’t be hard on yourself. For those times when simply making it through the day requires a Herculean effort, it is not the end of the world if your workout that day consists of walking from your car to the building and your idea of a balanced meal involves a Lean Cuisine. You simply cannot maintain a perfect state of physical, mental, and emotional equilibrium when you are working extremely hard to achieve a particularly challenging goal. Maintaining a healthy, balanced life will inevitably include some periods that feel quite unbalanced – even as a working professional.
- Remember the ones who helped you achieve your goals. Don’t get so wrapped up in your commitments that you forget to make time for the family, friends, and colleagues who supported you throughout your law school journey. Be sure to take time to step back and appreciate everyone who made your law school experience memorable and fun, and set aside time to relax and unwind with old and new friends alike.
Your final year of law school does not have to be fraught with stress, worry, and fatigue. In fact, it can be your best year yet, the crowning jewel of your long career as a student. You worked extremely hard for this, so to quote an old adage, “don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” Stay focused. Stay calm. Pace yourself. And most of all, sit back and proudly reflect on all you have accomplished.