Building Resilience: Coping with Stress at Law School

Building Resilience – Written by Jan Blair.

Life as a student at Law School can be a real challenge. You need to adjust to a new environment – deal with new concepts, subject content, ways of thinking and meeting deadlines (often multiple ones) tutorials, tests, presentations, social events and in most cases work commitments, as well as endeavouring to achieve some balance to your life.
As a consequence, you will need to develop the ability to function effectively under pressure, avoid burn out, manage stress, develop resilience and the skills that will enable you to thrive on the challenges you face and achieve to the best of your ability at Law School.
It could be said that the stresses and challenges you face throughout your studies are not dissimilar to your future life as a lawyer.
The real key to success is to develop strategies to cope with pressure, and stress and more than anything is to build resilience (individual stress management), and an ability to bounce back from adversity. A relevant mantra to consider, and apply, is “when the going is tough, the tough get going”.
Also never forget that everyone is anxious – not just you.

Helpful Tips to Manage Stress:

1. Look after your physical well-being:
• Sleep at least 7 – 8 hours;
• Take care of your body:
• Maintain a healthy diet;
• Limit caffeine, alcohol etc;
• Hydrate (2 litres of water per day at least);
• Maintain regular exercise;
• Massage.
• Take 30 minutes each day to spend “alone – me time”.

2. Take & Learn:
• Catnaps;
• Relaxation exercises;
• Visualisation (achieving and succeeding);
• Positive self-talk;
• Forehead massage;
• Breathing in for 8, hold for 8, out for 8;
• Sing and listen to relaxing music;
• Stretch;
• Meditate;
• Maybe learn yoga.

3. Relationships:
• Maintain healthy positive relationships with friends and family;
• Get involved in law school, student life and events;
• Form and attend study groups.

4. Personal Management:
• Work smart – if you work more effectively in the morning, do the more difficult tasks then and vice versa;
• Develop effective time management skills. Suggest only have on your daily “to do” list what you could achieve in that day – list no more than 5;
• Stay in the NOW. Concentrate on the daily list – not the end of the week or next week;
• Do create a long term plan as well – but plan only what is manageable for the day;
• Ensure your daily plan is balanced – not just work or study (e.g. put in exercise and time with friends/family as well);
• Attend relevant workshops available to you e.g:
• CV preparation;
• Interview skills;
• Time management;
• Building resilience;
• Wellness;
• TALK to someone – SEEK HELP if you are anxious or dealing with difficult personal or work related issues;

5. For study issues/extensions:
• Talk to your Supervisor;
• Tutor;
• Student services.

6. For Personal Issues:
• A counsellor;
• Student health;
• Your GP.

7. Learn to Relax:
• Walk with awareness;
• Connect to your body. Know when it is not functioning well;
• Study things that interest you;
• Listen to or play music;
• Draw; paint; colour in;
• Be in nature;
• Meditate;
• Maintain a spiritual dimension;
• Focus on a calm relaxed pleasurable feeling (practise);
• Be in the moment – NOW;
• Maintain correct posture, inhale from belly, not upper body;
• Learn relaxation exercises.

8. Some further useful tips to shrink your worries and day to day anxieties:
• Is it really your problem?
• Share it with someone else. Others will welcome your trust;
• Put it on paper. It’s easier to see it in perspective;
• Raise your shoulders, then drop them. Relax your whole body;
• Inhale deeply, exhale with a sigh a few times. Let your tension go as you breathe out;
• Give yourself 15 minutes to concentrate on your worry, then firmly leave it behind;
• Do something physical. Give your tension an outlet;
• Look for some humour in the situation;
• Imagine a few years from now. How much will it matter then?
• Find a good side as well as the bad;
• Picture the worst that can really happen. How likely is it?
• Say “stop”, pause and steady your thoughts. Now take a fresh look;
• Notice something enjoyable around you. Get into the present;
• Get up earlier to prepare to face it;
• Surround yourself with joyful colours, sounds and use your strengths.

Remember that once you have developed resilience and applied the skills to maintain a healthy balance to your life, they will form the foundation for ever.

Written by Jan Blair.

Behind Bars: Volunteering at the Otago Corrections Facility

Behind Bars: My time in the Otago Corrections Facility – Written by Jasper Fawcett.

It’s pretty cool to be able to tell your friends that you’re going to prison. I don’t mean actually going to prison – that would not be cool at all. No, I’m talking about going to prison as a volunteer. While I initially signed up for prison volunteering solely so that I could send texts like “Mum, don’t freak out, but I’m going to prison”, I found that by the end of my time at the Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) I had felt happy, sad, entertained, and deeply moved (sometimes all at the same time).

These feelings started during the induction. An hour-long session, run by Corrections officers, designed to put us on our guard so that we wouldn’t “get got” by the inmates. We were warned of all sorts of things they might try – even things as simple as asking us to post a letter for them, asking us for legal advice, or asking us to give them our pen (as some types of pen could potentially be turned into a makeshift tattoo device).


Nevertheless, an apprehensive bunch of law students drove out to the ‘Milton Hilton’ for our first prison encounter. Reassuringly, all of the guards were friendly and had great senses of humour. We were given panic buttons that we could push if we felt uncomfortable (or, as one of the guards put it, “if someone runs at you with a knife, haha”). The facilities at OCF are amazing. It has underfloor heating, the buildings are modern, and the grounds are immaculately kept. It seems more like an adult-filled primary school than a prison. After a few weeks, the place seemed relatively normal (except for the security scanners at the entrance and the barbed wire fences). And, after talking to the inmates, we began to realise that they were relatively normal too. Yes, they’d made mistakes, and yes, some of them were in too deep to get out – but looking past that, the vast majority of them were just a bunch of human beings, trying to make the most of the hand that life had dealt them.

I spent most of my time in the music group, though I also spent a memorable few weeks playing ‘prison Jenga’ (don’t ask) with the remand prisoners. In the music room, I got to play with those prisoners who had been granted the privilege of playing in the prison band (they have a full drum kit, piano, and electric and bass guitars). Some of us were even lucky enough to witness the OCF version of The X Factor (‘The Chur Factor’) – and we were absolutely blown away. The prisoners’ songs were performed with such talent and such emotion that a number were reduced to tears, as they rapped or sang about the mistakes they had made in their life and how they vowed to do better.

All this humility and emotion showed us the importance of second chances and new beginnings. OCF does an incredible job of recognising this, and they provide a wealth of opportunities for prisoners to channel their aggression and emotions. NZQA qualifications in carpentry, engineering, agriculture, hospitality and baking are all available to those who want to have skills and qualifications for employment on release. Prisoners cook all the food for the prison, make toys for children, build animal traps for the Department of Conservation, weld rubbish skips together, and maintain one of the highest quality dairy farms in the country.

As well as witnessing these amazing initiatives, we also laughed, a lot. The prisoners have incredible senses of humour and they love to talk – particularly because we were a bunch of new faces in their otherwise predictable daily lives. They pleaded for us to bring them McDonald’s, and blue milk (they hate green). They told us, while struggling to keep straight faces, that their favourite TV show is Prison Break, and that their favourite movie is The Shawshank Redemption. Just as we would go to leave, they’d tell us yet another entertaining, too-offensive-to-publish, and possibly made-up, story. Like music, humour seemed to be a way in which they all coped with their situation.


The thought of leaving the prison was a strange one. We would be going back to our freedom, where we could eat and drink all the McDonald’s and blue milk that we wanted. They were locked away in their cells, knowing that they would be checked through the night and woken at 7am the next morning for unlock. We all take freedom for granted – but it pays to remember that there are some people, just down the road, whose lives are not their own.

Volunteering at OCF was the most rewarding and eye-opening thing I’ve ever done. Particularly as a law student, the importance of seeing what life is like ‘on the other side’ cannot be overstated. I would strongly encourage you all to give it a try – don’t be put off by the horror stories or the rules. You’ll be safe at all times, you’ll have a lot of fun, and you might just find it’s one of the best things you ever do!

The prison is particularly interested in volunteers with art, mediation, music, drama and fitness skills.

If you are interested in volunteering at OCF, keep an eye on your emails for upcoming Law for Change meetings. You can also follow their Facebook page (Law for Change Otago) for updates.

Written by Jasper Fawcett.

Tips for Second Year Law at Otago

Tips for Second Year – Written by Cara Crawford

A big welcome and congratulations to the newest members of the Law Faculty. You have made a fantastic choice to study law and you will experience an incredible amount of fun, self-development and learning over the next three to four years. The challenges of second year law are almost as infamous as law camp – by the end of second year you will know all about the screeching sound of the 11pm library alarm, how to make yourselves triple-shot coffees, and how to disguise yourself in a public law lecture to avoid Marcelo’s questioning. However, I can assure you that second year law is not all doom and gloom – this is also the year where you will learn how to think and act like a lawyer. The trick to mastering second year is to make things as easy on yourself and as possible. Here are my top tips on just how to do so.

  1. Learn how to read a judgment

Reading judgments. You will be doing a lot of this for the next three or four years so don’t leave it till third year to start! The great thing about reading judgments is that the more you read, the easier it gets – and the more you’ll learn how to understand what you are reading. Always put aside some time to go through the key cases, either before or after class. Find out what works best for you and get stuck in.

  1. Go to your tuts

This will be a common statement which you will hear more than once this year. However, there is truth to this common phrase! The tutorials provide an opportunity to put into practice what you have learned in an exam problem format. No matter how daunting the tuts may seem, trust me, it is much better for your grades (and stress levels come the end of the year) to practice in the tuts rather than the final exam.

  1. Get involved in law school

Being a part of law school just doesn’t involve turning up to class (and your tuts). Go to SOULS events, take the stage in law revue, play social sports, engage in junior competitions, join groups such as Te Roopu Whai Putake, and volunteer for groups like Women’s Refuge, Law for Change or the Animal Legal Defence Fund. SOULS offers some of the best events at Otago, so if you want to achieve your full social potential make sure you try to attend every event! Not only will this help you build connections with your fellow lawyers, but it will also introduce you to a (wonderful) world of cringey law puns.

  1. Ask the lecturers questions

This would be my best top tip. You don’t have to ask the lecturers questions after class – you can subtly email them and arrange a time. As it gets closer to exam time it can also be good to bring a few friends along if they have similar questions. This helps decrease the stress (that you are actually talking to a real-life lecturer) and increase the stimulating chat that is second year law. Asking lecturers questions can save hours of confusion and will make sure that your study is on the right track.

  1. Have self-belief

You can do it! Always have self-belief, you are in law for a reason. The best thing about Otago is that the Law Faculty is one of most supportive places on campus. Make the most of all the great people around you and let that foster belief in yourself.

Best of luck to you all, second year will be a blast!

Written by Cara Crawford