Top 5 tips for Abandoning Anxiety in Law
Updated: Aug 30
Not talking about performance-induced anxiety and law would be disingenuous to the experience of law students altogether. It's perfectly normal to want to do something well, if not exceptionally well, in front of a law professor that you highly respect and want to impress. Sometimes, it's not about impressing your law professor but building your confidence. If you spent hours pouring over the readings, reading legislation and common law, it's validating to know that you at least understand something.
What it feels like when you understand both the civil and criminal jurisdiction in Evidence Law.
Surely I can't be the only law student who has experienced the following interaction.
Friend: "I don't think I'm going to my tutorial."
Me: "What? But - why?" ** Stage 5 clinger- activated**
Friend: "I'm unprepared for the discussion we're supposed to have in class today."
Me: **resists advising them since I know I've been there myself**
Me: "I'm here to support you if you need- you could still go but use it as an opportunity to ask questions."
Me: "How many marks are participation?"
Friend: " Twenty per cent." 😬
Friend: "I'm going to go."
Unless you're having a pretty candid and awkward conversation with a friend, we wanted to write this article to offer you the same encouragement in the face of feeling grossly unprepared for a tutorial.
1. Would you still go if you didn't feel as anxious?
I won't speak with overwhelming confidence about how your law professor organises tutorials. But in my class, they have something called being "on-call." When you're on call it's your time to shine or at least demonstrate that you've done the readings for that week. The teacher will ask you and other on-call students the assigned tutorial questions for that week. It's a great way to ensure that everyone participates, however, a lot of students also juggle work and other responsibilities that collide with their studies.
If you're on call and haven't prepared, prepare for the initial tutorial questions early so you can answer the first few questions as soon as you get to class. They always put the hypothetical problem question at the end and arguably the most difficult for some inexplicable reason.
2. Remember that you're there to learn
If I make a mistake in front of everyone, they're going to think that I arrived at law school riding my parent's coattails held together with the lingering brain cells I have. It's easy to see how writing down those thoughts shows that they're devoid of compassion and equally out of your control. It's not your responsibility or within your power to manage how others perceive you. You've totally got this!
This is a lesson at law school that took me waaaaaaaaay too long to learn. Think you're the only one in the classroom who feels your tutors' eyes burn through your soul? Especially when you don't know what the answer is. No. There are so many other students in your cohort that may have read all the chapters and still have questions about prerogative powers and how they connect to Constitutional Law. The objective isn't for you to "get it right" every time but rather to embrace the non-linear process of learning. This includes making mistakes and learning the correct answer the next time.
3. What if you make a mistake?
The fear is that if I make a mistake it will say something about me personally, whether that's the inference that I haven't done the readings, or I'm a bad student. But sometimes I've observed that making a mistake isn't always due to the lack or abundance of revision. For example, the tutor isn't always asking what a specific subsection states in the legislation. They're asking about what that ambiguous section means. What's your point, exactly? Sometimes, we make mistakes in class because we're not actively listening to what our tutor wants from us. Even if you don't have all the answers, you can still listen and contribute in a way that works for you.
If you do make a mistake and the thought of making a mistake terrifies you, that's okay. There's a lot of vulnerability and saying I don't know. Or saying I thought this is what you meant, is this what you're asking of me? If you make a mistake you can asterisk a part of your study notes and revise that section again or post about it on your online discussion board.
4. How to overcome class-induced anxiety
Sometimes there might not always be one identifiable reason why you're feeling anxious. But there are a lot of options available. Self-care isn't always retail therapy, video gaming or easing your anxiety by getting more study done. You have the option of talking to a professional to identify the cause of your stress and find a management plan that works for you. There's no one-size fits all approach.
I cannot stress enough that this is not advice from a qualified mental health professional. But I will say that over the years I've found a great strategy to use in class is to state what you do know (.e.g s 51 The Constitution) and try to link it to what you're talking about in your Constitutional Law class. There's nothing wrong with expressing confusion since the role of your lectures and tutors is to assist with teaching you the materials and help absolve the course of any misunderstandings.
5. The irony is
The irony is that to become a better law student and lawyer in the long run, you will invariably spend a lot of time honing your craft, which includes making mistakes.
Your self-care whilst studying law includes managing your mental and physical health. Perhaps the expectation of being prepared all the time isn't reasonable, but it is more plausible to anticipate that you'll need a backup plan more often than not. One day you'll be someone else's backup plan, and they'll be able to lean on you because of all the mistakes and learning you absorbed in law school. They're part of your journey of success, and I know you'll be a great lawyer because of them.