By Jean Larkin • January 04, 2015•Writers in Residence
After all of the months of studying for the LSAT, touring law schools, and obsessing over submitting the most perfect, standout application that has ever graced the desk of a law school admissions office, the actual hard work begins once you’ve paid your deposit and committed to a school. Most students will choose the traditional path when it comes to attending law school: full time attendance for three years and graduating with (hopefully) a job that (1) requires bar passage and (2) pays enough to allow for repayment of the exorbitant amount of student loans that will surely accumulate. However, a minority of students will choose a non-traditional path to becoming an attorney.
Part time and evening law students are those that choose not to give up their full time jobs in order to pursue their dreams of becoming an attorney. They are sometimes older and pursuing second careers, or perhaps they have a career that will be benefited by a juris doctor, or maybe they are younger students who just want to minimize their student loan obligations after graduation. No matter the reason, these students will face a unique challenge when it comes to the balancing act that is working full time, studying full time, and still trying to maintain personal relationships and friendships. From the first day of orientation, here are some things that can be done to help make law school a little less stressful and maybe even (gasp!) fun:
1. Don’t freak out! This is much easier said than done. When you show up for the first day of orientation and the deans and professors tell you to look to your left and look to your right and that one of those people won’t be there by the time graduation comes around, it’s a little hard not to think that one of those people just might be you. Once classes begin, you may feel like all of your classmates effortlessly understand the concepts and are infinitely more prepared than you and you may start to think that maybe your getting admitted to law school was an accident and the admissions office actually meant to reject you. You may question your decision to attend law school in the first place. These are all normal thoughts. Keep in mind that your admittance to law school was no accident. You are right where you belong and where you deserve to be. Your classmates are all in the same boat as you and they, most likely, are having the same thoughts as you. So just remember to breathe and keep your eye on the prize.
2. Learn to say no. One of the first lessons you will have to learn as an evening law student is how to say no. With working full time and taking classes at night, the weekends will typically have to be reserved for your studies. You won’t have time to watch new television shows and you will probably miss your favorite sports team’s games. You will have to tell your family that you can’t attend your little cousin’s second birthday party, or you will have to tell your friends that you won’t be attending movie night. After awhile, you may even find yourself getting upset that people are even inviting you places- and you start to feel bad or guilty for continuously declining their offers. Don’t allow yourself to feel bad about this. Chances are, even if your friends and family don’t completely understand what law school is all about, they will still understand that you have a lot on your plate.
3. Make friends at school. As an evening student, you only have so much time and so much of YOU to go around. You may not think that adding another group of people to your life is a great decision when you don’t even have time to spend with your very best friends. However, making friends with other law students can be both refreshing and rewarding. Other evening law students know what challenges you are facing in terms of trying to find a balance between your job and your schoolwork. Making friends at school allows you to add an extra support system to your life. Sometimes it really just helps to know that you’re not going at it alone and that you have people that can truly empathize with your situation. Making friends with your classmates can also make spending your weekend in the law library something to look forward to!
4. Remember to make time for yourself. This is so important to avoid utter and complete burnout. Take one day out of every week and designate it as your day off. Get together with friends, visit with family, or sit around in your pajamas eating ice cream while watching terrible reality shows. Whatever it is that YOU feel like doing, that’s what you should do. You had a life before law school began and it’s important not to lose that life entirely. Taking even just one evening per week and doing something fun or doing nothing at all really goes a long way towards staying burnout free.
Choosing to be a non-traditional law student is not the easiest path to becoming an attorney. While evening law students face a unique challenge, figuring out early on how to keep calm, stay focused, and have a little fun will definitely go a long way toward maintaining the delicate work/school/life balance.