Careers, Study and Well-being with Katie Cowan / Dear Katie column / Life / Student life

Dear Katie column – Developing habits during law school

What are some habits I can develop in law school that will help me in my career? – Ryan, 19

Man I love this question. It took me until I was about 29 to learn that a good life was more likely built on the shoulders of habits than goals, and here you are with a whole decade on me. 

One habit is better than many

Before I answer your question with a bunch of suggestions, let me offer a caveat: I do not encourage you to try all the habits at once. You will feel amazing for two days and then you will collapse under the weight of resistance and obligation. We are not about that. 

Instead, I encourage you to pick something from the list that seems most necessary, or most appealing, or even just easiest for you. Things don’t have to be hard all the time, and choosing a thing that is both supportive for your career and easy to implement is a shortcut to establishing a good thing in your life.

Legal habits

  • Stay up to date with developments in the law. 

This habit has two bits: signing up for updates and digests of developments in the law, and actually reading them. I’ve listed it first because it has a rich effort to reward ratio; it doesn’t take much effort, but you get a whole of reward.

All kinds of places release updates and digests. Capital Letter is a good start for case law and bills, but you might also sign up for updates from the Courts and Parliament, and of course the Law Society.  You can go broad or choose departments or firms that cover areas you already know you like. Funnel them all into a designated email folder, subscribe to LawTalk and your local branch’s newsletter, and then make a habit of getting a coffee, putting your feet up, and reading it all once a week. Choose a time that works for you and treat it like a treat. Maybe it’s what you do Wednesdays at 3pm.  Maybe it’s half an hour every Monday. You don’t need to spend much time to get a whole lot from it.

Taking a habit like that into your legal career will give you a level of knowledge and engagement most juniors don’t have, plus it’s fun. Knowing all the developments makes you feel part of the profession, and is likely to spark a bunch of creativity. It can even be a way to find out what areas light you up and which ones feel like dragging your brain along the ground. 

  • Make thinking about your big picture and new ideas a habit. 

A lot of the people I talk to in my work feel like they were carried into law on a conveyor belt.  Many of them ended up somewhere they like, so I’m not maligning conveyor belts completely. However, if you cultivate a regular habit of really reflecting on the deep stuff you are less likely to be carried places you didn’t mean to go. 

With this one you might make a habit by making the first Sunday of the month your reflection day, and on that day you ask yourself interesting questions, reflect on where you are and where you’d like to be, new ideas that have occurred to you, issues that matter to you, what your values are, and how all of those things have changed since last time you reflected. The specifics of the reflection should be ones that fit for you (that is, not a formula from someone else, though you can adapt others’ ideas to yourself). Having a habit of doing this once a month or quarter will help you be more intentional in your career, work and life. 

  • Make a habit of regularly culling projects, goals and dreams.

This one sounds counter-intuitive, but nothing drags you down like projects, goals or dreams that you had a while ago and no longer serve you. They are heavy rocks at the bottom of the backpack of life. Our first step in trying to improve our lives tends to be to add things in, but often we are so very tired and there is no capacity for the new thing to take hold even if we’re excited about it. Ejecting projects and goals that no longer align with what you want or need is a great way to free up space, and it makes you more skilled at choosing future projects and goals. I suggest including this habit as part of your reflection habit, since as the saying goes, habits that bundle together, trundle together.  (Everyone says this.)

Health and well-being habits

You didn’t write to me to hear me recommend eating well, exercising and meditating. Those habits are universal goodies that will serve you, but can be difficult to establish if you are low on capacity, and you already know all that. Instead I offer the following:

  • Establish a morning routine filled with little bits of all the other habits. 

Speaking of habit trundling, here’s another chance to bundle. Maybe you get up, go for a walk with some music or a podcast, come back and eat a nutritious breakfast, meditate, do some creative work, all the while not looking at your notifications or the news. Cultivating a morning routine at a time when you have more freedom to experiment and find the bits that are most useful to you is a wonderful way to set yourself up for life. It’s also a way to build in a bunch of the “big” habits that will serve your day. However, to start with, choosing not too many bits, and doing tiny versions of each bit, is ideal.

  • Establish a habit of doing things you find joyful. 

It might seem strange to list this as a habit, rather than a thing you just expect to do, but joyful activities tend to be the first to go when pressure ramps up. That is significant for stress, since joyful activities one of the surest routes to resilience and a sense that things are ok. Plus, you know, they’re fun. If you can make a mindset habit of treating joyful activities like they are important and need to be part of life, you will be doing yourself and your career a big favour.

And then, in addition to your mindset habit, I suggest a behavioural habit. People’s joyful activities are all over the map, but for example, if you love to play the guitar, but you only really get to it after your to do list is complete, make a habit of playing it. Make Wednesday nights guitar nights, or put 15 minutes of guitar time into your morning routine.


Thinking in terms of habits rather than goals is its own kind of meta habit that will serve you well. A lot of behaviours have to happen regularly to have a benefit and make a life worth living. 

In addition to the above, you can figure out your own habits. Think to yourself the kind of life you want, and the kinds of habits that will get you there. If you’re an anxious or perfectionist type, err on the side of habits that feel like gifts, as the good feelings you get from them will serve you in every aspect of your life. 

Good luck!