- The unique demands of law school's environment create the need for a skill set that poses a particular challenge to those with ADHD.
- Students with ADHD must understand their strengths and weaknesses, develop a plan, and seek out support.
- Regulating and prioritizing personal needs, making a plan, and forming a study group are effective strategies a law student with ADHD can use.
Coauthored with Lauren Ascher, J.D.
Law school can be daunting to even the best students. For law students with ADHD, the pressure can be debilitating. Law school is structured differently than most other graduate programs. Students are expected to self motivate to read dense caselaw, identify the meaning, and apply the arguments and logical reasoning to a single end-of-semester exam. Law school grades are very high stakes and form the basis of many law firms’ hiring decisions. The unique demands of this high-pressure environment create the need for a skill set that poses a particular challenge to those with ADHD.
But there is hope. Students with ADHD must understand their strengths and weaknesses, develop a plan, and seek out support. Below are five tips that will benefit the typical ADHD profile and enable any student to thrive.
1. Know Thyself
ADHD is a self-regulation difference that can get in the way of appropriate self-care. The only way to be a top student is to stay on top of yourself. The key to thriving with ADHD is understanding what you need to reach peak emotional, physical, and psychological health. This means understanding your strengths and weaknesses and knowing when to ask for help.
Many people with ADHD will allow poor boundaries to cause guilt, shame, resentment, and overwhelm. This can lead to poor self-confidence and self-respect and lower productivity, energy, and overall happiness. Prioritizing good sleep, healthy food, movement, and activities that bring joy may be important for anyone, but it is essential for those with ADHD.
Poor self-regulation can mean ignoring the signs of burnout until it is too late and there is very little room for error in the legal field. Asking yourself important questions such as how much sleep do I need and what brings me joy will enable you to regulate your needs and stay in the healthiest place possible to maximize success.
2. Think Beyond Medication
Medication is an invaluable tool for managing ADHD, but it doesn’t always solve every problem. While medication can help control many ADHD symptoms, it still might be necessary to get specific instruction and guidance around prioritizing and planning. An ADHD coach can teach you executive functioning skills and provide personalized support navigating law school.
Law school helps you consider your priorities and make a plan. Law school is a marathon, not a sprint, and requires methodically keeping up with the reading for the semester. Cramming during finals just won't work, especially for someone with ADHD who struggles with working memory.
3. Prioritize and Make a Plan
Once you better understand your own needs, it’s time to consider your priorities and make a plan. Instead, it is essential to plan your days, consider short and long-term assignments, class schedule, and the time you need to stay emotionally and physically healthy and make a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule.
Most law schools use the Socratic method, which will undoubtedly motivate any student to read if they know they might get called on. But classes that don’t or schedule students to be on call ahead of time must still be prioritized. Otherwise, there will be trouble when finals arrive.
4. Chunk Your Time and Create External Rewards
It can be particularly difficult for students with ADHD to focus on law school work they do not find interesting. When this happens, give yourself external motivators and rewards to help you get that work done. Maybe you enjoy being near people, so study side by side with a friend. Promise each other that you will grab food once you both finish your reading. Reward yourself with a walk or exercise session after you are done with your reading.
Pair preferred activities with non-preferred assignments to give yourself motivation. The key to doing this is to chunk your time into manageable segments. If you are able to focus for 45-minute chunks at a time, then give yourself those frequent breaks. Use those breaks to do something that brings you joy so that it fills your tank for the next work session.
5. Study With Others and Read Aloud
Reading hundreds of pages of case law is daunting for anyone, but it is particularly difficult for someone with ADHD. Try alternating between silent reading and reading aloud to break up the monotony and wake up your mind.
Form a study group or join one already formed. Law school exams challenge students to apply the law to novel hypothetical situations, and it can be helpful to run through hypotheticals with other students. Seek out support from your professors if a topic comes up in these sessions that are still unclear to you. And add information to your outlines that you may have missed as you work with your study group.
Lauren Ascher, J.D., is an attorney and coach with a master’s degree in teaching and experience working with neurodiverse learners. Lauren worked for a decade as a practicing attorney in various settings, including big law, the federal government, and non-profit. Lauren received her J.D. from Columbia Law School and was named a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and served as an editor of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review.
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