Perfectionism and the Myth of the Law Student Superhero

July 9, 2013

Like many other law students, I consider myself a perfectionist. Whether it’s an assignment or work experience, I’m meticulously organised, work myself to the point of collapse and fret incessantly over minor details.


Recently I started to reach an understanding that had eluded me in my early years of law school: there are no superheros in the law. Not students, graduates, or even lecturers, barristers and partners.


The ideal vision I saw for myself was a myth.


The bar we’ve been setting for ourselves is too high. The list of what the ideal law student looks like is endless: study, work, hobbies, a social life, legal work experience, volunteering, mooting, networking, spending time with family… Of course, the perfect law student also has time to clean their house, eat well, exercise and sleep. No student can realistically meet every exacting standard on that list.


It may seem like other students are managing to fit all of this in, but we only have so much insight into another person's life – maybe they are brilliant at everything and have somehow never made a mistake, but I doubt it.


So if you've ever found yourself sitting in a tutorial and wishing that you were the student debating intricate points of law with the tutor and wondering how that person managed to get through the entire reading list, remember that they made a trade-off to achieve that. You can't be successful at everything, and to get their reading done this time, they probably sacrificed study time for another unit, didn't get as much sleep, skipped a session at the gym, or may have been lucky enough to not have work that week. That student’s impressive class participation is only one aspect of their life, and you can't use that as a standard to measure yourself against.


It’s also worth remembering that the further along in your degree you get, the harder it can be to balance competing priorities. Maybe it was easier to be a superhero in the first couple of years at law school, and you are finding it hard to adjust to the increased workload now. I can guarantee you that people at every stage of their legal career, from student to right up to partners have felt this way at some stage, and many probably still do.


It's about time I stop trying to be superhuman and accept that I won’t be able to do everything. After all, the only person that expected me to be a superhero was myself.



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