By Samantha Jachion • October 11, 2014•Law School
When I made the decision to apply to law school, I barely gave full-time attendance any thought. I was returning to school after more than 5 years and was instantly attracted to the idea that I could pursue a law degree through a flexible, part-time workload without giving up too much of my life. I did not even give a second thought to 4 years of studying. In fact, I thought, “what’s another year to 3 years, it will be over before I know it.”
During my first 2 years, I had very few good days where I enjoyed law school and a lot of bad days where I cursed the Law Gods for the unholy implementation of a part-time program. The part-time program may at first seem easy because you take 1 or 2 fewer classes than your colleagues in the full-time program, but taking 1 or 2 fewer classes does not make it easier. I found that I still needed to put in the same amount of studying/reading hours per class as a full-time student. In other words, law school will take over your life.
Trying to find the time to study like a full-time student makes the part-time program harder. I do not think it’s harder because of the material I was learning (you learn the same material as your colleagues in the full-time program), but it is harder because of the time constraints under which I had to operate. Working a full-time job limits my time so that I have less time to complete 50 to 100 pages of dense reading per class per week. I juggle reading, creating outlines, full-filling my obligations to my employer, and have struggled with finding time to spend with my loved ones. In fact, I am a part of the percentage of people that you often hear about that will lose a significant other during the struggle.
However, despite the limitations, a part-time program is manageable. It can be manageable in a way that allows you to be just as productive and successful as a full-time student, even if you are taking 3 or 4 classes. You will not feel less stressed or overwhelmed with the work load, but you will find that you are able to multi-task or manage the stress that can come along with being a law student. Some people find managing their time to be easy after completing one semester, and for others it can take a little longer.
Now that I have learned the most effective ways to handle stress, I feel comfortable taking on extra-curricular activities. I love volunteering so for the last 2 tax seasons I have volunteered my time preparing taxes for low-income people or as the non-profit’s client coordinator. As of this year, I am now an Associate Editor for my school’s law review, a member of my school’s hiring faculty board, and continue to take on law school related activities that will enhance my legal knowledge. Some of my colleagues in the part-time program go above and beyond simulating a full-time experience. They are deeply involved in law school activities, are TAs for past professors, participate in legal internships, etc.
Overall, law school is an amazing experience, and you will get from it what you put in. But it’s important to know that a part-time program will not lessen your workload or make you feel less overwhelmed when you have other obligations because the part-time program is just as much work as a full-time program.
If you're considering the part-time program, here are a few tips that could help you through the process until you are comfortable with managing the stress that comes along with being a law student.
Start an outline ASAP. Dense reading is a part of the law school experience. There are many cases that contain archaic language that will take you hours to get through so it’s important to keep yourself on track for finals through creating a solid outline. I would not recommend starting an outline at the last minute. It can cause more stress than necessary.
Get used to creating schedules. I have a special place in my heart for a 24-hour calendar. A 24-hour calendar allows me to stay on track of not only my class readings, but also obligations that I have outside of school. This keeps me organized in ways that I never thought possible. I do not like the task of trying to remember what needed to get done for school or work so I have come to love all things that contain a schedule. This may seem as over-kill, but I utilize both a paper calendar and an electronic calendar.
Example, my calendar includes sleep, travel (for commuting to and from work and school), eating, family time (when necessary), reading/studying (add reading pages), etc. Even trivial matters are added to my calendar (like remembering to return a text message or e-mail). [See a great article here called No Longer Extraordinary: multitasking vs mindfulness, by Valerie L’Herrou a fellow Ms. JD contributor. Her article is true for practicing as a lawyer and operating as a law student].
Find an outlet. I would strongly suggest finding a hobby that you enjoy and participate in that hobby at least once a week for an hour or so. In my opinion, it’s even better if it’s a solo event, but if you have familial obligations, you can make this fun by including your family. The point is, find a way to unwind.
Support System. Maintain a strong support system at home. Some days you will need a hug, someone to send you warm and fuzzy pick-me-uppers or just soup, whatever you may need to make you feel comfortable.
No one is immune to this. Once a partner at a major firm told me that she stuck with her significant other during law school and the bar because she did not want to go through the experience alone and heart broken. She is right. You absolutely need someone in your corner; however, that someone cannot be added stress. If you find yourself in that situation, I half-jokingly suggest that you find a new significant other ASAP! Having someone in your corner that will help reduce your stress level is important because the stress will not end until you’ve taken the bar and have your bar results in hand (a few of my friends who are lawyers have told me that once you’ve made the commitment to go to law school, you’ll never return to a stress-free live. You will however find better ways to manage your stress level).
Make friends at school. Support from other like-minded students is essential to your survival. Build a solid foundation with 2 or 3 classmates. You are all going through the same struggle and it’s always helpful to have that back up.
Find a study group...or don't. This is 100% your call. Professors are strong advocates of study groups because they think it fosters a unique learning process. I disagree. Study groups can be distracting. If you’re lucky enough to find a group of like-minded students who are interested in only studying then by all means, go for it, but find what works best for you. You can start with a few sessions to test the waters, but if you find that it is not helpful then don’t beat yourself up about not joining study sessions. Study groups really are not for everyone.
Talk to your professors. As part time students, you have little time. There will be days where you simply cannot complete the reading, and you will dread being called on. This should not embarrass you. Simply speak with the professor if you find yourself being too far behind.
Know your limitations. It’s impossible to do everything. Do you choose between your friend’s party or reading for your classes? Choose one and don’t feel guilty if you cannot do both.
Again, this is where you will need a strong support system. You need the support of people who understand that you are making a commitment to be a law student, and that commitment entails neglecting some fun time for some good ol’ Justice Scalia opinions. Law school is difficult and time consuming so keep people around who will not make you feel guilty about choosing your passion.
Relax when you need to. Take a break. Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you don’t take a break, it will be difficult to operate at your maximum potential. If you’re not operating at your maximum potential, chances are you’ve overwhelmed yourself and this can be unhealthy. Take that break without guilt.
Take a mental health day from school AND work. Again, do this without guilt. Go to a movie, dinner, just treat yourself! Since I’ve discovered House of Cards, I’ve taken mental health days on the weekends to catch up on the episodes because House of Cards relaxes me.
Work out if you can. It’s very easy to foster unhealthy habits when you’re busy. Take the time to work out for 30 - 45 minutes. Many of my peers including myself take up running. I’m awful at running. I’m more of a wogger (a walker/jogger), but it’s my favorite activity that helps clear my mind when I feel stressed.
Take your vitamins. This might sound silly, but it’s far better to prevent an illness than to get sick before you have a big final. This is particularly important when you’re changing seasons.
Set your sights on an end. A vacation, a pair of shoes, getting a massage, buying real food, cooking for yourself, anything! If I have not scheduled a vacation, I like to find vegan recipes and make them. Again, the point is to do something that will allow you to unwind.
Are you a part-time student? What else would you add?
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