Legal Realism: Keeping It Real in Law School

March 13, 2014

K.L., 1L

When you spend the days arguing and counter-arguing intellectual minutiae of legal theory, losing touch with reality becomes far too easy. Lest we all become out-of-touch lawyers, here are a few tips to keep your mind grounded.


The law school offers guided meditation sessions each week. Whether you choose to take part in these mid-day recharges, or if you prefer to get your dose of mindfulness at home, starting or ending your day with a few minutes of a quiet brain will put you at ease when you are cold-called in class. When you are centered with meditation, whatever stresses the legal academy throws at you seem like berries, not boulders.


Nothing gives me an energy boost like listening to my favorite music. During chilly winter commutes turning up the volume makes the icy winds more bearable, and year-round, when I take a few minutes to get lost in some empowering rhythms, I have the willpower to conquer any legal challenges.


Too often when we become busy the first things we cut from our schedule are the things that help us most -- such as sleep and exercise. We will all have too many nights with too little sleep, but we can also all commit to keeping active. The more we move our bodies the sounder will be our rest. Also, when the brain gets groggy, taking a break from study to go run, practice yoga or Pilates, take a class at the gym, play a pick-up game, or dance restarts the blood flow and makes the mind fresh again. Not to mention the more we move, the happier we are as full human beings, not just exercising one large cranial muscle, but keeping all muscles pumping.


I never see enough movies. Though taking an hour or two to give over the mind to visual entertainment may seem like wasting time, at some point our eyes cannot read any more letters. Enjoying some silver screen pleasures takes you out of your life for a minute and into any other world you choose. Sometimes curling up with a blanket and a movie is a rewarding Saturday evening activity after a long week, but movies make great social activities -- I know few law students who would say no to a trip to the Criterion or any other nearby theater. You might also be surprised how many professors reference movies in class -- when they do, I always make a note and add the movie to my “to watch” list.

Making Things

Whether your medium is food, paint, pen, yarn or metal, taking a few minutes to unleash your creative spirit equalizes your mind, taking the weight off your logical left brain and burning some of the underutilized right brain energy. Reconnecting with your inner artist is good for the soul, and making something with your own hands gives you a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment amidst the eternal process of “learning the law.”


Try something new -- this could be a class outside of law school, a new restaurant, a day-trip to an undiscovered nearby town or any activity you might not choose for yourself in the ordinary course. After you have spent enough days in the same patterns -- reading and outlining cases, pondering deep questions in the building at 127 Wall Street and writing letters to lawyers and judges who might connect you to the perfect job -- breaking the routine with something unusual makes you feel new. Work will always be there, but we will not always find ourselves among such amazing peers, so sometimes we have to seize the opportunity, even if the opportunity does not propel us forward on our career paths. If we are the wealth of our experiences, the more new things we try the richer we become.


Early in my first semester, some fellow law students and I were discussing the difference between happiness and pleasure. We decided that pleasure came from external experiences and circumstances, but happiness was an internal choice. Choose to be happy, even in law school, even when you are expected to be a pessimist and find all the problems with a contract. Choose to be happy, and soon you will not even be making a conscious choice. If you take these three all-too-short years to learn not just about law, but about the lawyers-in-training around you, when you leave Yale you will have found the real value of a YLS degree -- not the letters, but the people you met, and the memories you shared.