How to Deal with the Anxiety of Dropping Out of Law School

I received the following question from "Karen" regarding the tough situation in which she finds herself as a 2L:

I am a 2nd yr., 4th semester and now thinking of dropping out now. I am on academic probation and the stress of pulling my GPA up .5 points is causing physical symptoms now. I have anxiety over writing and feel like a failure if I can't make it or quit. I can argue in mock court fairly well using case law along with reciting state and Federal rules. However, for me it's writing that is the worst, to have to put together an appellate brief is worse than 10 root canals. I am mid semester and am having serious doubts if this is my path. I love law, I love classes along with the discussions. But rule synthesis from all the cases out there on Westlaw and writing my own argument for the fictitious client (facts) is keeping me up at night, making me feel like I am not cut out for law school. I don't want to disappoint family by quitting so should I hang in and try? Letting the chips fall where they may or get out now and save myself this stress and the next two months of hell?

Dear Karen,

First, I want to clarify that you are the only one that can make this very important decision.  I genuinely want to help you out, but I know that I don't have all the facts of your life, and therefore can't give you the best advice.  I will do my best, however.

Second, if you are having physical symptoms from anxiety, go talk to your school's student health services.  If this isn't available to you for whatever reason, talk to a qualified counselor.  I can relate to your experience with anxiety, as I had the same situation.  I didn't want to admit it, but it was the case.  I talked to a counselor who informed me that I was only the 100,000th law student she'd seen who had the same health problem resulting from law school stress. (I'm exaggerating, but it's extremely common.)  Believe me, you're not alone, and I'm willing to bet that there are quite a few people in your classes that can relate, as much as they'll put on a happy face.  Talk to your counselor or doctor about what is stressing you out, and come up with a plan of action for how you can best overcome.  In doing this, I was able to really get a better handle on how I could be happy again, and better deal with stress and anxiety.

Third, talk to your school's academic counselors.  If they're anything like mine were, they'll be very helpful and give you some great ideas for how you can still move forward.  If you're on probation, you may already be in contact with them, but they may be able to help you in determining if continuing your legal education is really going to be beneficial to you.

Fourth, anxiety is a medical problem.  You do not need to feel like a failure if the anxiety is too overwhelming for you to do your best in law school.  I sincerely hope that your family is supportive enough that they would be understanding when you tell them that you are having physical problems from the stress.  It's not your fault that this is happening to you.  But you can take steps to get yourself better so that you can reevaluate and find the best career path for you whether that's through law school or not.

Fifth, you do not have to finish law school to have a successful career and happy life.  There's a lot more to it than jumping through educational hoops.  If writing in law school is something that you just can't make work for you, it's likely that the extensive writing of many legal jobs would be very difficult for you as well.  This doesn't mean that you could not possibly finish law school and get a great legal job.  It is probably possible that you can find a way to mitigate your anxiety symptoms and finish out your last few semesters.  Perhaps then you can find a legal job that wouldn't require as much writing.  Or, since you mentioned that you love the law, you could consider that there are law-related jobs that you could also do that don't require a JD.  Perhaps you could work for a policy-making group or organization and you could use your oral argument skills there in a think-tank type setting.  All I'm trying to say is that if things don't work out this semester in raising your G.P.A. or if you decide to quit, it doesn't have to be the end of the legal road for you.  And it certainly doesn't make you a failure.  If you've proven to yourself that you're a capable oral arguer, there are clearly many other things at which you could be successful.

Finally, this isn't going to be an easy decision.  Talk to counselors.  Talk to your family if you think that they can help.  Consider taking a break.  Just don't try and tackle everything on your own and force yourself into a worse physical and mental situation.  If you're calling law school and legal writing "hell," it sounds like things are bad.  Don't make them any worse on yourself.

I hope that I've helped you consider some ways you can get through this tough time and decision.  Don't rush it, but don't delay so long that you become extremely unhappy or unhealthy.  I wish you all the best, I truly do.


Next time on How to Quit Law School:  First-semester 1Ls and quitting.

1 comment:

  1. I can relate to this. It is best that you always talk to someone about your situation.

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