What worked in law school works today.
Cassandra Smith, JBA Young Lawyers Section board of governors
“Just remember to breathe” is my mother’s go-to advice.
I first remember her telling me this on my 22nd birthday. She didn’t remind me to breathe because I was overwhelmed with excitement on that day.
In fact, it was the opposite. I was studying for my contracts exam. A friend and I were quizzing each other and it became apparent that I didn’t know as much as my friend.
I took a break and as I walked away, I felt tightness in my chest, a pit in my stomach and tears in my eyes. So I called my mom.
She told me to stop what I was doing and take several deep breaths. Then she told me to stop studying and to come home and enjoy the rest of my day.
She reminded me that life is too short not to celebrate another year, and that I could resume studying tomorrow. I followed her advice, celebrated my birthday and ended up doing well on my exam.
Taking her advice, I was able to combat the anxiety of law school and Bar prep.
However, nothing compared to the anxiety I experienced as a new attorney. I worked as an assistant state attorney for my first three years of practice. Although it was an experience that I don’t regret, it came with a great deal of stress.
I was in court every day, handling hundreds of files and trying numerous cases. Some mornings, I would wake up with that familiar tightness in my chest and pit in my stomach and I often dreamed about leaving the practice of law.
But it was during that time I learned that the victories often outweighed the stressful days. I began practicing yoga and exercising daily. I would pray often and vent with my colleagues.
By the end of my tenure I had the tools and confidence to handle the moments of fear and stress.
And then I came to civil practice. Suddenly, my knowledge in criminal law, practice and procedure became irrelevant.
I was now practicing in insurance defense. I spent less time in court and more time analyzing voluminous medical records.
The simplicity of discovery that I experienced as an ASA did not exist in the realm of civil procedure. On top of that, I had to deal with the infamous billable hour. My anxiety had awoken from its dormant state in this new chapter.
For the first few months, I quit utilizing the tools I learned, and I felt its effects on my body. On one particular evening I was feeling completely overwhelmed. I called my mom and she softly spoke and told me to stop whatever I was doing and to breathe.
At that moment, I had a flashback to law school, Bar prep and my early months at the state. It was in that moment I realized that the stress of my career as an attorney would never go away, but neither would my breath.
I realized that everything I needed was already inside of me but that I just needed the reminder to use it.
Since then, I’ve successfully implemented practices to combat anxiety. I practice yoga daily and use an app that reminds me at 3 p.m. every day to take five minutes to meditate. I exercise more and disconnect from work when I’m at home, unless I have an urgent matter.
Most recently, I took a vacation to celebrate my 30th birthday. My vacation reminded me that life is bigger than my career. It also motivated me to continue working hard at my job so I could enjoy more vacations.
So for my fellow young lawyers who share the common experience of anxiety, I encourage you to find what brings you joy and make it a part of your daily life.
Take a vacation, even if it’s just a weekend getaway or a mental health day. Exercise and play with your pets. Meditate to calm your mind. Practice your religion. Reach out to a professional counselor. Spend time with your loved ones.
And most important: Remember to breathe.
Cassandra Smith is an associate at Kubicki Draper, focusing on bodily injury and first-party property insurance claims.