Supporting Students to Manage Stress

There is no way around it. Working in a legal environment is stressful. The number of cases, deadlines, and incredible weight of the responsibility you are shouldering as a legal professional can add up to paralegals and attorneys feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Add to that, that the legal culture encourages and expects working long hours, and you have a recipe for a very imbalanced life.

On April 4, 2017, the Law Students’ Section of the Contra Costa County Bar Association, co-chaired by John F. Kennedy University Law Students Kate Mignani and Lisa Antoine, held a Stress Management workshop for all JFKU students. The presenters were Dr. Robbin Rasbury, PsyD, Chair of the MA Counseling Program at JFKU, Dr. Doreen Maller, MFT, PhD, Chair of the Holistic Counseling Psychology Program at JFKU, and Diana Kottle, MA Counseling Psychology, Licensed Psychotherapist and JFKU alum.

Students and faculty who attended the event reported learning several helpful methods for dealing with stress. The workshop began with Dr. Rasbury’s insightful discussion about the specific stressors that affect our lives, and the importance of naming our stressors in order to properly manage them. Dr. Maller then led workshop attendees on a guided visualization. Lastly, Ms. Kottle spoke to the group about “tapping.”

I really enjoyed the workshop, and felt that each of the presenters added unique and helpful ways of managing stress. Historically, I have taken a more skeptical view of anything involving “getting in touch with my feelings.” The presenters took a very matter of fact, practical approach to the stress management exercises, though. It was very easy for me to take part in each of the exercises because the presenters created a supportive, open environment in the workshop. There were no expectations placed on our experience. After the workshop, I asked some of our Legal Studies undergraduate students to reflect on their experiences dealing with stress, and on the methods introduced in the workshop.

Tavis Johnson, a third quarter Legal Studies BA student, is not someone who typically used these sorts of techniques to deal with stress. Tavis’s work as a gang expert carries its own unique stressors. His goal with regard to stress, generally, is to prevent the buildup of stress by eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and keeping a positive attitude, because, “[a] person must have the energy and a clear mind to deal with problems that cause stress.” Upon reflection, Tavis felt that he would use the techniques learned in the workshop. He felt calm, centered, and focused when participating the guided meditation, and found the tapping work be useful because it was hands-on.

Following the workshop, a third quarter Legal Studies BA student, Martha Ornelas, said that, while she had never heard of tapping before, she found the tapping exercises very calming. In her job as a legal document preparer at a small company in Concord, Martha finds that she manages her stress best by getting some exercise in the morning, and walking during her lunch break. She also uses her calendar to organize her day, allowing her to focus on her assigned tasks for the scheduled time.

Megan Lasnini, a fourth quarter Legal Studies BA student who works full-time at a medium, defense/subrogation-focused law firm in Danville, said that she compartmentalizes to manage her stress. About this, she said, “keep your work at work. Bringing your work home with you can lead to additional stress because then you’re always thinking about work even when you’re not supposed to be working.” Megan manages her stress by doing yoga and stress releasing stretches. She also finds managing stress is much easier when she gets enough sleep.

As a case coordinator at a busy plaintiff’s firm in Concord, Roman Gomez, a third quarter Paralegal Studies Certificate student, manages his stress by taking walks on his breaks, eating healthy food, and listening to music while he works. From the workshop, Roman will take away the tips of being organized, and staying connected to your support group, as methods of dealing with stress.

In her work as a case coordinator at a small plaintiff-focused law firm in Concord, Aubrey Patts, a third quarter Legal Studies BA student, has experienced her share of heavy workloads. She finds that focusing on one task at a time helps with managing feelings of being overwhelmed. Aubrey found the guided mediation at the workshop particularly interesting, because “it involves a forced change of ‘physical’ perspective with the mind (e.g., a bird’s eye-view), a perspective we generally do not take when faced with an obstacle.”

Overall, the Stress Management event was extremely helpful, and timely. These legal studies students are more than half way to earning their paralegal certificates. Working full time, and managing schoolwork (not to mention family and other life demands) can be overwhelming. I am thankful that this event helped our hard-working students recognize and manage life stressors, not only to help them through the Legal Studies program, but to help them develop good habits for dealing with stress once they are working full-time as paralegals (and beyond).

Juliet Jonas, JD is an Assistant Professor in the College of Law Legal Studies and Paralegal Certificate program.