By Amy Kho • March 11, 2013•Law School
The first time I mentioned to my husband that I was interested in going to law school, his response was—shall we say—not very enthusiastic. Law school comes with a reputation for being a killer, financially, physically, emotionally, not to mention what it does to relationships. When I started telling people that I was considering going to law school, at least a handful said:
“Oh yeah, I knew someone who went to law school while married; by the time they graduated, they were divorced.”
“Gee thanks,” I said, “That’s really helpful.”
Despite the rather tepid response from my family and friends, I kept doing research on law schools. I was shocked to discover that part-time programs existed. I had never heard of going to law school at night, and the idea was very compelling to me.
As I was in my late twenties, and had a family and a mortgage, I knew that going to law school full-time wasn’t a responsible option for me. I needed to work to help pay our existing bills, and supplement the high law school tuition. I discovered that there are several important reasons why students choose to attend law school part-time.
1. Financial Reasons
Law school costs a lot of money. I already had school loans I’d taken out for my BA and MA. The thought of taking an additional 150K for law school was unacceptable, so the idea of working while I went to school was appealing. The surprising perk was that my existing job had an incredible tuition waiver program for employees attending college. Once I broke down the numbers and could see the benefits of part-time, evening programs, those stats convinced my husband that this was a good idea for our family.
Evening programs at law schools are designed for working professionals, who are interested in a second, third, or even fourth career. These non-traditional students just can’t afford to leave their current jobs to go to full-time law school. Also, the ABA does not allow first-year law students in traditional full-time programs to work more than 20 hours a week. For some people, like myself, that doesn’t leave me a choice. My decision was easy; I’d either have to go to law school part-time or not at all.
2. Class Schedule
Evening programs in law school allow students to take fewer classes per semester, allowing flexibility in scheduling. My law school has a 7 year policy, which states that evening students have up to 7 years after they begin law school. I’ll graduate in 4 ½ years, and have taken evening classes, day classes during long lunch hours, weekend classes, summer classes, and had the potential of taking online classes.
"We try to be very accommodating for the evening students, and so we try to schedule classes in such a way that they can go to class fairly easily and work full time," says John Attanasio, dean of the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University. "Evening education is not easy, period." Source.
3. Different atmosphere
More separates full-time day and part-time night students during their first year of law school than a few simple hours between classes. We come at law school from different perspectives, influenced by different experiences, and with vastly different expectations.
While day students may look at night students and think that we’re boring sticks in the mud that never seem to be able to go out to the Thursday night Bar Review at the local pub, or that we can’t be bothered with attending extracurricular activities. Students in the evening section may look at their 1L Day counterparts and think that they are all cutthroat law school gunners, each out to screw the curve for everyone else, spending days locked in the library and their nights partying, sort of like Ally McBeal does Grey’s Anatomy. Source.
Part-time programs attract students with a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, some of whom are pursuing law as a second, third, or even fourth career. And admissions decisions are based not just on grades and the LSAT but on professional experience, too. "It's a really interesting, fun mix of students," Andrew Cornblatt, dean of admissions for Georgetown University Law Center. "These are people with narratives, stories, real biographies." Source.
And the true difference that I’ve found between evening and day programs is that, on average, part time law students aren’t as hung up on grades. "The pre-occupation with grades is slightly less in the evening than it is during the day... it just has a different atmosphere to it." says Georgetown's Cornblatt. Source.
Going to law school part-time is something I never regret. My evening classes seem so much friendlier and congenial than the day classes I take. It seems that every evening student is willing to help out if you need it. If I have to miss a class for work or family emergency, a dozen people would willingly send their notes to me.
If you’re considering law school, check out the part-time options, it might just be the option that fits your lifestyle and personality better than traditional full-time programs.
Does anyone else have thoughts on the difference between full-time and part-time programs? I’d love to hear your thoughts.