Whenever something doesn’t go to plan either during the LLB, GDL, BPTC or LPC it can really shake you. Sometimes it can make you want to give up or question whether you are ever going to finish and become a lawyer. This can be made worse when you haven’t yet got a pupillage or training contract and worry that you might ruin your chances of ever getting one. The critical thing is to be resilient and find a way to get your confidence back in time for the next hurdle. Here I discuss ways that you can recover after something goes wrong.
An ‘L’ stands for a ‘loss’. Sometimes Law School hands out more Ls than Drake did to Meek during that beef. If you know, then you know. The Ls at Law School come in different forms, maybe it’s a grade that was lower than you hoped, an exam that didn’t go well or an essay that came back with feedback you weren’t expecting. No matter what form the L takes, it can be really painful to receive in an environment where it can feel as if anything short of perfection is going to adversely affect your career prospects.
What motivates you?
There is no denying that no matter which stage at Law School you find yourself, it can seem as if there is a never-ending litany of assessments and deadlines to contend with. Willing yourself through everything is possibly the largest part of the challenge. It’s therefore essential for you to have something to motivate you through the toughest parts. I like to focus on where I was a year ago. Whenever I think of how much I’ve experienced and achieved in the last 365 days, it puts things into perspective and reminds me that in a year I’ll be reflecting on where I am now and feeling proud of myself. This helps to push me through because I always want to improve on where I was before.
Another thing that helps is to remember that I am learning skills and these take time and many repeated efforts to perfect. Understanding that is important because it helps you to realise that you are on a journey that is long and will continue throughout your career. The way things go now isn’t necessarily how they will go in practice. If you had a less-than-ideal advocacy performance in class it doesn’t mean that you don’t know how to cross-examine or make an application. It also doesn’t matter if other people appear to be getting to grips with something quicker than you are. Which brings me onto my next point: focus on yourself.
Law School breeds competition and comparison – find a way to rise above it
As well as tough assessments, Law School can also be difficult because of the temptation to judge yourself against the performance of your peers. After all, most of you are going for the same limited number of professional opportunities and it can be hard to switch off the part of your brain that wants to compare yourself with others. You may think that if others are doing ‘better’ than you, then this means that you are not going to stand a chance. If you do find yourself repeatedly having these thoughts, I strongly suggest you snap out of it. I apologise for the tough love, but you are wasting your own time worrying about what your peers are doing. You came into this world as an individual and you navigate it as an individual. Even identical twins aren’t completely identical.
I strongly advise you to adopt a strict ‘don’t look up’ policy. It is one thing to check on your friends to see how they are getting on with their applications or interviews, but it is another thing entirely to obsessively keep track of who has what and where have they got it at all times. That is time you could be spending working on yourself. Focus on your own work and don’t look up.
Chasing perfection can be exhausting – give yourself a break
I am someone who is very guilty of being extraordinarily hard on myself if I don’t get something exactly right. It took me a while to realise that spending time trying to analyse everything that potentially could have been better and beating yourself up about it is not the same as learning and re-focusing your strategy for the future.
Another reason why this isn’t an effective way to spend your time is because at Law School things just keep moving. The world won’t stop because you had a bad grade or a bad exam. You may want it to – sometimes I wish that I could make the world stop so I can gather myself before I continue. However, things will keep moving and it is up to you to find a way to continue to respond to the challenges that are ahead of you. The key word here is resilience.
Building resilience through introspection
How do you build resilience? Of course that’s a personal journey and everyone has their different ways. Personally I use music as an avenue to reflect and learn. I think that some artists are extremely gifted at being able to express complicated emotions that you cannot express sufficiently yourself. Jhené Aiko is one such artist and I want to share some words from a particularly powerful song called ‘W.A.Y.S. (why aren’t you smiling?)’ that she wrote in honour of her brother who passed away from cancer:
If there’s one thing that I learned
While in those county lines
It’s that everything takes time
You have gotta lose your pride
You have gotta lose your mind
Just to find your peace of mind
You have got to trust the signs
Everything will turn out fine
So why aren’t you smiling? Why aren’t you smiling?
Life can get wild when you’re caught in the whirlwind
Lost in the world when you’re chasing the win
You gotta understand
There’s really no end, there’s really no beginning
There’s really no real, there’s really no pretending
There’s really no fail, there’s really no winning
Cause nothing really is, and everything really isn’t
Listen to the full song on YouTube:
If you fall, get up and make a plan
The first question you should ask when something goes wrong is, is it fixable? It is very rare that because something didn’t go to plan then that’s it – game over. I am relentlessly positive in this respect. There is always a solution. Will this mean you may have to make some changes or let some things go? Potentially. But by focusing on the end goal (pupillage/tenancy, a training contract etc.) you can remind yourself that the journey may meander from the path you originally envisaged, but the destination is the same. This requires a lot of work to remove pride from the equation and just think strategically. You want the end result and you need to get yourself there in one piece. Make changes and amendments to your strategy as required.
Working hard is half the battle – believing in yourself is the other.
Finally, don’t forget to believe in yourself. You can do this and you can achieve everything you want to. Find effective ways to reinforce this belief within yourself. Whilst some people may find positive affirmations from others to be an effective way to build and maintain confidence, this isn’t always that helpful. For example, someone telling you how brilliant they think you are on a day when you feel anything but may be well-intentioned but ineffective.
Consider practical tasks that you can set and achieve to build your belief in your own ability. For example you may go on a run and set a goal to complete a particular distance, or complete a pro-bono case to confirm your belief in your advocacy and client-handling skills. Be creative and consider what will work to help you get back to feeling in control and powerful.
As always, good luck and keep going!
I hope this post was helpful. These are strategies that I have worked out for myself and have had recommended to me by others. Good luck and don’t give up if Law School hands you an L!
Until next time,