Thursday, January 24, 2008

Law Students and Stress

"The emotional distress of law students appears to significantly exceed that of medical students and at times approach that of psychiatric populations.” -- Finding of a new(ish) study, found via the WSJ Law Blog.
Why is law school so stressful? Is law school even more stressful than medical school? I think it is, and the number of hours spent doesn't have much to do with it. If you tell a medical student that law school is more stressful than med school, they'll likely respond by telling you how many hours they just spent in a lab or studying for a test. But just because you spend hours and hours doing something doesn't necessarily mean that it's stressful. The only instance when time spent studying is truly stressful is when I'm not getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep takes an emotional and physical toll, but this doesn't explain the difference in stress levels between law and other graduate students.

It doesn't relate to the difficulty of the material, either. I'm not disputing that med school is hard -- it should be hard, and law school is hard too. Both take a ton of work to be admitted and to stay afloat.

I think it has something to do with the method of accountability in law school. Law classes are dialogues that turn into verbal battles sometimes. The system is adversarial by nature. As a student, you have to do all the assigned reading because you might be called on -- not only to answer specific questions, but to take and defend a position on an issue. Making an argument about the material takes more than a cursory knowledge of it. And usually, law professors are not kind enough to move on to another student if they call on someone who doesn't know the answer. The alternative to being prepared is being embarrassed in front of your class, and people will usually go to great lengths to avoid embarrassment.

Any and all bitterness I have, I blame on law school.


Phaedrus said...

You left out the obvious: Grading.

First, in med. school exam are taken on a computer which gives the grade instantly. In law school it can take 7 weeks to get a grade. Add this to the already volatile holiday season and developing an alcohol problem is guaranteed.

Second, law students are graded on a strict curve. Exams are given a raw score and then given a letter grade according to the designated percentile (i.e., a student who gets 98% of the exam correct is not guaranteed an A. As well, a student who gets only 33% of an exam correct may received the top grade").

Third, the wonderful thing known as class ranks. Top 10% is golden. Top 25% has something to work for. Bottom half is screwed. Then the top 26-40% is screwed because they go to a top law school with grades better than most of their peers, which gives them hope that they may be able to practice law and that they shouldn't give up. However, they are not at the top of the class and are essentially unemployable. It's the kiss of death class rank.

Sharon said...

The ranking system does add extra stress to the situation. It also puts you in a position where undercutting another student benefits you, which is not a positive dynamic.