By Robin Morisey • December 01, 2016•Issues, Women and Law in the Media
If you’ve always wanted to explore the possibility of developing a legal career, you shouldn’t assume that being a single mother makes it impossible. There’s more help out there than you might expect. Recognizing that it has a problem with insufficient diversity, the legal profession is trying to change by creating opportunities for those who have found it difficult to pursue a legal career in the past. This includes women and people from socio-economically disadvantaged groups, so many of the barriers that used to exist are now no longer present.
Challenges facing single mothers
The two biggest barriers facing single mothers are childcare and the cost of studying. The former tends to get easier as children get older and spend part of their time at school, and it’s worth checking out after-school clubs and seeing if family members or neighbors can help, but it’s still difficult to study full-time, especially if you have to work to support your family and pay for tuition as well. Traditionally, women have found it difficult to get taken as seriously as men do on legal courses, but that’s something that has changed a lot. Still, shortage of money and time can make it difficult to join and participate in societies connected with your studies, which can be important to making connections.
Help for single mothers
Given these challenges, it’s important to know where you can get help. The following sources of support could be invaluable in helping you to get your legal career off the ground:
If you have never received support from your child’s father, that doesn’t mean that you can’t apply for it now. The American BAR Association has a list of child support attorneys in every state who are willing to help low income single mothers for free. What’s more, studies show that a lot of absent fathers are actually happy to confirm paternity and provide financial support when asked to.
Phillips Charitable Organizations, founded by Charles Phillips and Karen Phillips, is dedicated to helping single parents cope with financial challenges, including financial barriers to education. They can act very quickly in emergencies, so are a good place to go for help if you have already started studying and are worried that you may have to drop out due to money issues.
Charities such as Textbooks for Change collect donations of used textbooks and offer them to new students at much more affordable prices, which can be a big help if you’re short of cash and you can’t find the more obscure books that you need in thrift stores or on online auction sites.
Studying at home
The easiest way to combine studying and looking after a child is to do it from home. This isn’t easy with law because discussions and debates are a big part of how things are taught, but it’s much easier today than it used to be. There are free courses available through platforms such as EdX that can help you pick up useful skills for further study and enable you to find out if you have what it takes to be good at this subject. Experience such as this can also help you get accepted onto a traditional law course.
Increasingly, law courses are offering part-time study options. This makes it much easier to fit study into school hours or to fit it around a job. It can give you additional flexibility that actually helps you to improve your learning – for instance, by making it easier for you to spend time attending trials to learn how real-life cases work.
Pathways into the industry
Once you have a basic grounding in law, there are assorted ways that you can transfer from study to work without neglecting your duties as a mother. Legal receptionist jobs, for instance, are often available part-time, so you can work during school hours and get to know the ropes within a legal firm at the same time. Lawyers always need research assistants, and though competition for these roles can be fierce, you will find that you are able to do some of the work at home or in public libraries, where you’re welcome to take well-behaved children with you.
Letting your children see how hard you are studying can encourage them in their own learning and show them that they need never let anything stop them from pursuing their dreams. When they see you forging ahead with your career, they’ll know that they have a mother to be proud of.