Law Student Stress Management Strategies

Law students must deal with high academic expectations, heavy workloads, competitive environments, and uncertain career prospects. They also must balance their studies with their personal and professional obligations, such as family, friends, jobs, or extracurricular activities. These sources of stress can affect the mental and physical health of law students, as well as their academic performance and satisfaction. Thus, law school presents the perfect opportunity for each law student to develop self-care and stress management strategies that they can use both during law school and to take forward into their future lives as lawyers.

In 2024, the LSSSE Student Stress module began asking students about specific coping strategies they use for stress and anxiety. Although some strategies provided on the survey are healthier than others, they all represent ways students may try to manage their stress and anxiety levels. Gathering these data can provide a starting point for law schools to take the pulse of their students’ mental health and to consider ways to support their students more effectively.

On the survey, students can select as many stress and anxiety management options as they wish. Exercise and seeking social support are the most commonly used stress management strategies, with 77% of students exercising to reduce stress and around 75% of students talking about their troubles with a friend or family member. A little more than half of students engage in procrastination (57%) to manage stress and 53% engage in a hobby. Negative self-talk and alcohol or other recreational drugs are the least common stress reduction techniques, with slightly more than a quarter (27%) of law students using them.



Law schools are increasingly concerned about making sure their students are learning healthy stress management and coping strategies and for good reason, given the substance use and mental health challenges that disproportionately affect lawyers, relative to the general population. Mindfulness and meditation in particular are gaining traction because they are proven techniques that can improve mental health, enhance focus, and promote well-being. Some law schools are offering workshops, courses, or online resources on mindfulness and meditation for their students, as well as creating spaces where students can practice these techniques. Whatever strategies law students adopt, law students who understand what they can do to regulate their negative emotions and stress responses will be better positioned to learn more deeply in law school and to perform their best as law students and as lawyers.

First Generation College Students Bear More Law School Debt

First generation law students, defined as those students who do not have at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree, face unique hurdles in higher education. In addition to navigating an unfamiliar cultural landscape, first generation students may be particularly challenged by financial concerns and student debt. In fact, although 75% of non-first generation law students expect to have some debt from attending law school, that number climbs to 88% for first generation students.

Additionally, the total dollar amount owed in student debt tends to be higher for first generation students. LSSSE 2021 and 2022 survey data show that first generation law students expected to owe an average of $96,000 compared to $71,000 for their non-first generation classmates. Around 45% of first generation students expected to owe over $100,000, but only 31% of non-first generation students expected to have loan balances that high. Shockingly, first generation students are twice as likely as their non-first generation peers to owe more than $200,000, which is the highest debt category recorded by LSSSE. Only four percent of non-first gen students fall into this category, compared to a full nine percent of first gen students.


The differing financial picture for these groups of students takes an emotional toll. Although first gen and non-first gen students report similar stress levels related to law school (about 84% rank their stress a 5 or higher on a 7-point scale), two-thirds of first gen students say that financial concerns and student debt are a big source of stress or anxiety compared to less than half (46%) of non-first gen students.


Law Student Stress and Anxiety

Are today’s law students just as stressed as yesterday’s law students? LSSSE has been tracking student stress levels for the last eight years with our optional Student Stress module. In addition to overall law school-related stress and anxiety, the module asks about anxiety and stress caused by teaching methods, competition with peers, financial concerns, and more.

The percentage of students who report high levels of stress and anxiety (rated as a 6 or a 7 on a seven-point scale) has remained fairly stable over the last several years. About half of all law students feel very high levels of stress. There was a marked increase in highly stressed students between 2020 and 2021, which is likely a byproduct of living through a year of COVID-19.

Stress about financial concerns has remained mostly stable as well. A little less than half of all students feel that financial concerns and student debt cause them “quite a bit” or “very much” stress or anxiety.

While stress levels have not changed considerably in the last several years, neither has the fact that some students are more likely to be stressed than others. Although African American and Latinx students experience only slightly higher levels of overall law school-related stress and anxiety relative to their white and Asian American peers, they are much more likely to be stressed about financial concerns. These fears are justified, given that the burden of student debt falls disproportionately on their shoulders.


Fortunately, most students do sense that their law school tries to help with stress management. In 2022, three-quarters of student said that their law school places at least some emphasis on ways to effectively manage stress and anxiety. Given high rates of substance misuse and mental health issues within the legal community, developing strong coping skills should remain a high priority for law schools and the future lawyers they serve.

Annual Results 2018: Relationships Matter – Student Relationships

Decades of research on student engagement and student learning demonstrate the importance of peer interactions. Engaging with classmates in meaningful ways contributes to a deeper sense of belonging and enhances understanding of classwork, leading to better academic and professional outcomes (Hurtado & Carter, 1997; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; NSSE, 2013).

Although law school is an inherently stressful and anxiety-producing endeavor, the vast majority of students (76%) report that their peers are friendly, supportive, and contribute to a sense of belonging. There are noticeable variations by race/ethnicity. White students are most likely to report positive relationships with peers (79%), as compared to Black (69%), Asian American (71%), and Latinx (73%) students.


The Student Stress Module examines law student stress and anxiety—their sources, impact, and perceptions of support offered by law schools to manage stress and anxiety. One question asks directly about various sources of stress and anxiety that students may face in school. High percentages of students report that academic performance (77%) and academic workload (76%) produce stress or anxiety, but competition amongst peers does not create or magnify these feelings for most students. Students report that competition amongst peers is most significant during the first year of law school but sharply declines each year. Forty-two percent of 1L students report that peer competition is a source of stress or anxiety. By the third year of law school that number drops to 24%.