Law Students

© James Howe

There is no doubt that law school is stressful. Managing the demands of law school can be especially challenging if you have a mental illness or if you’re dealing with other stressors beyond school. In a stressful environment, even a minor issue can become a major problem if you don’t take care of yourself. Some students are tempted to study 24/7 or find unhealthy ways to deal with stress like drinking in excess or misusing other drugs. To be healthy and successful, it is important for you to find balance, PLAN AHEAD, and take steps to manage your wellbeing. Explore this website to find tips on self-care or visit the wellness section of the Law School website.

One of the first things to understand is that getting help won’t affect your ability to get licensed to practice law! Many students mistakenly believe that if they seek professional help, then a state bar will not be willing to grant them a license. In fact, the opposite is true. When a student seeks help and gets better, it signals to the state bar character and fitness examiners that the student is able to recognize when they need assistance, get support when needed, and be able to manage situations responsibly. In contrast a student who is in need of help but doesn’t pursue it quite often experiences more serious problems, including in extreme cases needing to drop out of school. So, the best thing that you can do is to take care of your physical and mental health responsibly. Be honest with yourself if you are struggling, and be proactive about getting help.

  • The Office of Student Life is a great first stop if you are struggling, whether for academic or nonacademic reasons. Each staff member offers a safe and nonjudgmental space to share your concerns. They can provide you with counseling and advice on a wide range of issues and connect you with the most appropriate resources.
  • The Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program (LJAP) provides support to lawyers, judges, and law students who are dealing with mental illnesses, substance abuse, and other challenges in life. LJAP is especially well suited to help law students who are worried that their history of mental health and/or substance abuse–related incidents may be of concern to passing the character and fitness portion of the bar application process.
  • CAPS provides free counseling services for enrolled U-M students.
  • UHS provides health care services including medical management of common mental health issues.
  • Explore this site to find other mental health and support services.


The challenges that you may be experiencing as a law student may differ slightly depending on your year in school.

1st Year Challenges

High stress over grades

  • All U-M Law students are high achieving, so you may need to adjust your expectations. Though you may have been at the top of your class as an undergraduate student, so were most of your peers. Remember that half of you will be in the bottom half of the class, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t go on to have a successful career.
  • It can be difficult to adjust to the idea that you won’t be receiving much academic feedback until the end of your first semester when exams are held. Due to this lack of information, you may feel tempted to fill in the gaps with misinformation. Making up information or will only increase your stress.

Tips for a successful 1st year:

  • Don’t be afraid to go to office hours! It’s a good way to get to know your professors and get some feedback.
  • Visit the law school website for exam tips.
  • Know that if your GPA falls below 3.2, you are eligible for tutoring. Be proactive!
  • Keep going to class even if you fall behind in your reading! Listening to the lecture and class discussion will enable you to focus better on the most important parts of the reading when you make time to catch up. If you don’t attend class it can become challenging to achieve a full understanding of the material covered and to understand future classes, since quite often the material covered on any given day builds on the previous day’s’ material.
  • Participate in peer-support programs offered by the U-M Law School. They can be very helpful in making connections and adjusting to your first year.

Additional Resources for First Year Students:

  • The First Year Information (FYI) program helps 1Ls adjust to life as law students. Upper-class Leaders lead small group discussions on exam preparation, study skills, and class review sessions throughout the term. FYI is meant to provide an informative and enjoyable transition into the first year of law school, and serve as an academic support system for new students.
  • Michigan Access Program (MAP) seeks to promote students’ participation and meaningful connection to the Law School. MAP aims to build community among all students across racial, ethnic, and cultural lines, create mentoring relationships between upper class students and participating 1Ls, and provide a smooth transition into Law School by helping to demystify the first year experience. Every student is invited to participate regardless of background, with special emphasis on encouraging the participation of non-traditional students.
  • Orientation Leaders initiative where upper-class law students serve as orientation leaders to first-year, transfer, and graduate students, can be a great resource for you.
  • Get involved with one or more of the Law School’s student organizations. There are dozens of student organizations that are engaged in discussions and projects related to a wide variety of topics and causes. See this list of active student organizations.
    • Active Minds at the UM Law School is a law student group that seeks to increase law students’ awareness of mental health issues, provide information and resources regarding mental health and mental illness, and to encourage law students to seek help as soon as it is needed.

2nd and 3rd Year Challenges

You’ve made it through your first year and the fear of the unknown is gone. At the same time you still have to deal with the constant reading requirements, as well as face some new potential stressors:

Securing a full-time internship for the summer between 2L and 3L:

  • The idea that an internship may lead to a job following graduation may leave you feeling overly pressured.
    • Tip: Look to the Office of Career Services. The staff is committed to helping you obtain your career dreams and offer many useful services as you explore your career opportunities.

Debt and finances:

  • If you need financial assistance or have questions about financial aid, contact the Law School’s Office of Financial Aid.


Information by David H. Baum, Assistant Dean for Student Live and Special Counsel to the Dean of University of Michigan Law School and student services professional since 1996.

Law school is exciting, challenging, and stimulating. But if you’ve been a law student for even only a little while, then you already know that law school can also be very stressful. Having gotten yourself admitted to Michigan Law School, you have proven that you are well-equipped to deal with large amounts of stress on your own. And most law students are able to manage the stress of law school most of the time by themselves.

Many students need help during law school . . .

But for many, the law school years become the first time in their lives when they encounter more stress than they can deal with independently. Continuing to use common coping mechanisms – like getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, spending down time with friends and family and pursuing other interests – will certainly help. But sometimes these methods either become insufficient, or worse, fall by the wayside.

Some students suddenly recognize that they need help. Perhaps they notice a dramatic change in behavior (e.g. getting less sleep; losing a lot of weight quickly; missing several classes in a row; feeling “low energy;” feeling unhappy a lot of the time). For others, the realization that they need assistance comes gradually. For example, a student gets overwhelmed and starts to fall behind, toughing it out for weeks and weeks, figuring that she will catch up one of these weekends, only to realize that the situation has not improved and she feels overwhelmed and awful.

. . . but they don’t seek out help for a few reasons, including worries over licensing

And yet, many law students who realize they need help often do not go and seek it. Students frequently feel like they should be able to handle the problem, telling themselves that they’ve always managed on their own before, so they should be able to do it this time, too. But for many, law school is the most challenging experience they’ve ever had, so even though self-help worked before, it may well not be enough as a law student.

Others are simply embarrassed at the prospect of having to ask for help. To that, I have two responses. First, over the years, I myself have helped thousands of law students dealing with various types of stress and all sorts of other problems, so you need not feel that you are alone. Many who came before you have gotten help, so there is no shame in your seeking it, too. Second, again speaking from my direct experience with law students, any initial embarrassment is quickly replaced by the tremendous sense of relief that comes from taking steps to address a serious problem and making it go away.

There is one more significant reason that many students hesitate to get professional help: they are worried that the bar examiners will refuse to grant them a license to practice law.

This concern is absolutely unfounded. Here’s why.

To the bar, the past doesn’t matter nearly as much as the present, so applicants almost always pass character and fitness examinations

It is true that bar licensing agencies subject all applicants to a character and fitness process, and as part of that process ask questions about an applicant’s past behavior. These inquiries often include questions about mental health and substance abuse history and treatment. (For a thorough description of one state’s character and fitness process, see Van Aken, Unraveling the Mystery of the Character and Fitness Process. Please note that this information may have changed.)

For example, the Michigan application contains the following questions about mental health history:

“Have you ever had, been treated or counseled for, or refused treatment or counseling for, a mental, emotional or nervous condition which permanently, presently or chronically impairs your judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality or ability to cope with the ordinary demands of life . . . or to exercise such responsibilities as being candid and truthful, handling funds, meeting deadlines, or otherwise representing the interests of others?”

And that same application asks the following questions about substance abuse history:

“Have you ever used, or been addicted to or dependent upon, intoxicating liquor or narcotic or other drug substances, whether prescribed by a physician or not, the use of, addiction to, or dependency upon which permanently, presently or chronically impairs or distorts your judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality or ability to cope with the ordinary demands of life. . . or to exercise such responsibilities as being candid and truthful, handling funds, meeting deadlines, or otherwise representing the interests of others?” (Emphasis added.)

Notice how these questions ask about the current impact of these issues on an applicant’s judgment and abilities. That’s because the bottom line determination that the bar examiners have to make is whether an applicant currently possesses the requisite good character and fitness for the practice of law. (Graduating students are advised to check each state’s individual bar questions regarding mental health and substance abuse).

Additionally, I can tell you based both on my involvement in the State Bar of Michigan’s Character and Fitness process, conversations with various state bar officials in a few states, and many years of counseling and advising students both during law school and the bar application process that only a very small percentage of applicants fail to make it successfully through the character and fitness inquiry. This includes students who have had to reveal serious personal issues on their bar applications. Here’s a telling anecdote:

A number of years ago, a Michigan Law student who had a history of mental health issues called me to tell me that she had checked herself into an inpatient mental health facility because she was actively suicidal and feared for her life. This occurred in the middle of the semester, and she remained hospitalized for about a couple of weeks. I facilitated communication between her professors and her about the situation, and we made appropriate arrangements with respect to the course material and class time she missed. She got the treatment she needed, her condition improved, she returned to school, and she successfully completed the semester and, eventually, law school. Naturally, her mental health and this period of inpatient treatment in particular arose as issues during her character and fitness examination. But the committee concluded that she possessed the requisite character and fitness, and she was ultimately granted a license to practice law.

Now, this is an extreme example, but the point is a powerful one: if this person – who was dealing with the most critical mental health crisis possible and who received the most serious professional intervention possible –  could pass a character and fitness examination, then virtually any law student who seeks help for a serious problem can, too.

In fact, if a student in need of help doesn’t get it, they create a greater risk of not getting a license to practice

From all this, it should be clear that getting professional help when necessary during law school will not prevent one from obtaining his or her license to practice law. But let me go a step further and add that when a student with a serious problem gets help, it is actually more likely that he will have an easier time during the character and fitness process. This is so because when a student seeks help and gets better, it signals to the state bar character and fitness examiners that he is able to recognize when he needs assistance, get appropriate professional support, and consequently manage his problems responsibly. In contrast, a student who is in need of help but doesn’t pursue it quite often experiences more serious problems, including (in extreme cases) needing to drop out of school. And if someone isn’t able to get help for himself, how can he be expected to provide help to clients? Therefore, when it comes to matters of personal wellness, the best thing you can do is to get support so that you can take care of your physical and mental health responsibly.

So, here’s where to get help

There are a number of wonderful resources at the Law School and the greater University. You can find a comprehensive listing at the Law School’s Wellness at MLaw web site. If you are not sure where to begin, please come see either Dean Baum or Director Nealy in the Office of Student Life. We can help you deal directly with academic issues related to your problem and can also make referrals to other resources when appropriate.

And finally . . .

You now understand that reaching out for professional assistance will not jeopardize your law career and that, in fact, the opposite is true.  Not seeking help when you need it is a mistake.  So, if you are struggling, be honest with yourself, and be proactive about getting help.

This information is current as of July 2017.



Get Help Now - Crisis Text Line 741-741 // Call U-M Crisis Phone Line: (734) 936-5900 or (734) 996-4747