LAW SCHOOL STRESS AND CAREER BOOKLETS
THOUGHTS ABOUT TIMING AND USE

I offer here some combined feedback and experience about times that may maximize student benefit from these booklets. Please keep in mind that if you'd like to distribute this year in August, it will require early consideration since we will likely be unable to process orders during July.

If you are providing booklets to 2L's and/or 3L's, practically any time is appropriate for either booklet. (Upper-class students often say they wish they had read the information earlier.) For use with new 1L's, however, different factors come into play. Many deans use orientation; some deans prefer to distribute later, at least a few weeks after the semester begins; and others mail booklets during the summer before orientation.

Orientation or other timing?

There are a couple of good reasons not to prefer 1L orientation for distribution of the booklets. This is, of course, a convenient time as students are together and receiving handouts, and if it is the only time possible for you, then it can work. However, the convenience also points up one of the major problems. Students at this time are usually already inundated with administrative and educational materials, new ideas, and new experiences. Therefore, many students may not have the attention for the reflective reading needed to assimilate the deeper life lessons the booklets offer.

There is a second timing issue with orientation, of equal concern. Assuming students do sort the booklets out from the other orientation handouts and give them attention, some students may be unreceptive to the messages at this point in time. Entering law students are quite confident as a result of their typically successful lives thus far, and they are also excited at the prospect of starting law school. Hence, while they will certainly understand the concepts in the booklets if they do the reading, many will not relate to the ideas until they have actually experienced law school for a few weeks.

With this in mind, I suggest a few alternatives to consider:

  1. At orientation, "flag" the booklets for students by showing them copies and explaining their purpose. You could confirm that, as students already know, law school (and later law practice) is demanding in many ways, and tell them that the school will provide them understanding and support for these challenges. Advise them that you will distribute copies to each of them in a few weeks, when they have experienced some of the demands of law school and can relate directly to the content. They should watch their email for a notice about this. Perhaps 2-4 weeks later, send the promised email and distribute the booklets, alerting students that this is a good time to read the information thoughtfully and see how it applies to their experience thus far. You could also arrange a meeting, blog, etc. for those who would like to discuss the content with you or other students. Later, as particularly stressful events approach in Fall and Spring terms (i.e. the first major writing assignment, oral arguments, exam periods, publication of grades, journal and team try-outs/competitions, etc.), you could send brief emails reminding students to do their best but maintain perspective by reviewing the booklet content on grades, performance success, stress, and life satisfaction.

  2. A second approach is to mail the booklets to new students during the summer before they begin, with a brief explanation of purpose. Students are most likely to read material about law school that they receive at this time, when their minds are relatively uncluttered. (Although the concern about relevance to their experience would still seem to apply, one dean has reported good results twice using this timing.) You could then discuss the material during orientation, dedicate a separate meeting for interested students, and/or revisit the underlying messages via a blog or emails at higher-stress times.

  3. Distribute the booklets to 1L'’s at orientation, but incorporate the ideas above about a separate discussion meeting, blog, and/or timed email reminders to provide perspective and encourage reference to the booklets.

For second-term 1L's, I would treat as 2L or 3L students for this purpose: Provide them copies as early as possible and implement some of the other ideas to generate reflection and discussion.

Sequencing of Career Choices booklet

Law students are typically quite unsophisticated about how to choose personally appropriate work. In-depth consideration is necessary, but rarely undertaken without guidance. It is therefore critical to most students' future life satisfaction that they begin early with accurate information and helpful perspectives. This booklet seeks to provide this guidance by reinforcing and extending the concepts in the stress booklet to their specific thinking about jobs and career.

Timing: This booklet has been helpful for students at all stages of law school. It discusses concerns that students bring to law school and suggests constructive steps toward career definition that can be taken in each year of law school. Entering 1L's could benefit from this material a few weeks or months after the first booklet; more advanced students at any time. If you decide to distribute the booklets together, you could suggest that students read them in the order described, leaving some weeks between readings. If students are immediately interested and go through both booklets at once, that is fine. Their interest will guide them to the parts most useful to them, and all of the information in both booklets is consistent and mutually reinforcing.