Think Immigration: Why Law Students Should Focus on their Well-Being (By a Law Student Who Has Not)

5/7/24 AILA Doc. No. 24050700. Well-Being

This blog post is part of our series in advance and during #AILAWellBeingWeek 2024, beginning May 6, 2024. We encourage you to take a look at the resources AILA has curated for all of our members.

Dear fellow law students,

I was asked to write about why focusing on our well-being as law students is important, and what techniques I use. And I asked if they were sure that they wanted me to be the student who writes this post because it would be hypocritical of me to write about how you should focus on your well-being when I feel like I haven’t been prioritizing my own. They were sure, so here we are.

As law students, and immigration law students especially, we are regularly reminded that it is important to take care of ourselves and how we should be taking time away from school and work because if we don’t, we won’t be well and we need to be well. In the next breath we’re given tasks to complete, homework that is impossible to finish without sacrificing sleep, and are reprimanded for not dedicating all of our free time to the study of law. It all feels a little infuriating and impossible. It’s easy to feel like I’ve wasted time whenever I do something that isn’t related to school, work, or survival.

We’ve also chosen a really hard and often sad field to work in. It’s weird because I don’t think I processed that this is a sad area of law until my law school friends kept telling me that my cases are sad, and immigration is sad, and I get why they say that: immigration work, especially with asylum seekers, can be really sad. We hear about the absolute worst experiences our clients have lived through and we use their stories and trauma to try and build a case for them. Sometimes it works, so it feels like it may have been worth making our clients relive these experiences over and over, and maybe it was worth exposing ourselves to secondhand trauma, and sometimes it doesn’t work, and we keep going because what else is there to do? (Appeals I guess).

Despite all the tragedy, doing this work doesn’t actually make me sad overall. It makes me happy. I love working in immigration. I love working with my clients and learning about the law and maybe I don’t love going to court all that much, but I still love the work that I get to do every day. This work is worth doing because of the differences we can make in our client’s lives and how working with our clients affects our lives in turn. I want to keep being able to do this work. And I know that if I keep neglecting my own well-being and putting it off until later, I won’t last long enough to do this work for very long. I don’t want to risk not loving what I do anymore.

I’ve never really stopped to think about what wellness or well-being really means, or how to make sure that I am well so – as any law student worth their salt does when they don’t know something – I turned to the internet for help. And after scouring several pages on wellness and guides on how to be well, my theory is that wellness and well-being is whatever feels like it to you. If it makes you feel happy and healthy and doesn’t hurt you, or anyone else, then I think it counts as well-being.

Prioritizing your well-being can be done a little bit at a time, and honestly that’s good because it’s overwhelming to try to implement a super comprehensive well-being plan all at once. It’s a lot easier to do when it’s little things. Like noticing that you’re breathing and making sure that you take at least one big breath a day, or maybe switching that 3rd cup of coffee for your first glass of water of the day. Even a tiny little improvement to your well-being is an improvement. Your wellness cup will eventually fill up even if you only add one drop a day (ignoring physics and evaporation and whatnot – this cup exists in a magic vacuum).

To make this simple for myself, I’ve decided to do one thing a week that brings me joy and one thing to counter stress (and yes, for those of us who are short on time, one event can count for both things). This week, I went and played on a bounce house. I can’t say that it improved my physical health (definitely fell and bruised my tailbone), but I had fun, and it made me happy! And a special shout out to the old punching bag in my apartment’s gym that I can safely (and legally) hit when I’m sad or stressed.

Sometimes being intentional about my well-being still feels like a task that I don’t really have the time or bandwidth to think about right now. But my wellness is important and worth taking the time to focus on. So is yours. Super corny (I’m sorry), but your well-being matters because you matter. We should focus on our well-being so that we can enjoy life and be happy and keep doing this work that we love to do. We deserve to be well.

Your fellow (maybe not well, but working on it) law student

**** AILA members are encouraged to take a look at the varied resources for AILA’s Well-Being Week and share ideas and insights on social media using the hashtag #AILAWellBeingWeek.

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