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"'Whom are you?' said he, for he had been to night school." - George Ade, Bang! Bang!, "The Steel Box"
Of the 175 ABA-accredited law schools in this country, less than a quarter have part-time (late afternoon or evening) study programs leading to a JD degree. Generally, the schools that offer such programs are in the middle or on the lower end of the prestige scale and have less stringent admissions standards than the better schools. Still, for any number of reasons, a substantial number of law students in this country are enrolled in part-time school programs, and this book would not be complete without offering some advice to students in that situation.
Although the authors strongly recommend that any aspiring law student attempt to enroll in the full-time program of the best law school she can, there are a number of types of students who opt for part-time law study. Perhaps the student has a successful career and a well-paying job along with a family to support; in some cases, not enough financial aid will be available to enable the student to quit her present job and study full time. Perhaps the student wants to learn about the law to advance her present career without leaving her company's employment and does not wish to change careers following graduation from law school. Perhaps the student is an athlete in training, or for some other reason cannot study full time during the day. Or maybe the student simply prefers studying at night, the company of generally older, more mature students, and/or the lesser workload of a four-year part-time law school program. Whatever the reason a student is attending law school part time, however, there are a few pieces of sound advice to keep in mind.
The major obstacle to be overcome in order to succeed while studying law part time is the inherent lack of time available to the student. While most part-time law students consider the quality of the school's faculty and facilities, its costs, and its bar passage rate before deciding to attend (as they should), too few adequately envision the substantial compromises they will be forced to make because of time constraints. Almost all part-time law students work either part or full time. Many have demanding jobs and families to support. No matter how supportive the students family is, there will inevitably be friction involved in the student's balancing of school, job, family, and recreation schedules. Often conflicts will arise at work, where the student's employer may view his law study in a negative light (as simply a "ticket out" from his present job). For example, such employers will tend not to understand that the student is unable or unwilling to make that important and time-consuming business trip because of his law studies.
Many part-time law students get very little sleep. Most have the sense that each part of their lives-school, job, and family-are compromised to some extent by their situation. If they are able to sleep only four or five hours per night, their minds are not fresh for study or work, and they may be irritable and short with family members. If they spend too much time with their families, they will be unable to complete their law assignments, and may fall behind, with a consequent diminution in their academic performance. If they excel in their jobs, they may have no time or energy left for family or law school. Rather than being able to develop any comfortable routine, part-time law students must often study whenever they can in a "catch as catch can" manner, often studying on weekends and at odd hours.
Throughout their studies, part-time law students must sometimes be prepared to deal with the negative feelings employers and families often have about their studies, as well as criticism from their professors for not keeping current on their assignments. Accordingly, in order to successfully effect (to the extent possible) the difficult balancing act that will be required, the student should sit down with those affected- employers and family members-before undertaking a part-time law study program in order to completely explain the course of action she is going to undertake. While this may not be easy, it is critical to enlist the support of these important people from the start to avoid future conflicts. The part-time law student will experience enough stress without adding fractured relationships caused by poor or incomplete communication.
It is also important for the part-time student to develop a rapport with his professors that will establish the necessary flexibility with respect to the student's ability to attend classes. If work or family conflicts make regular attendance difficult, let your professor know what is going on and what you are doing to make up for the classes missed. Most law professors are reasonable persons and will understand the rigorous demands the part-time law student is placing upon himself and others in his life.
Aside from realizing beforehand the severity of the time constraints involved, the necessity for a skillful balancing of many areas of the part-time student s life, and the unhappy reality that success or performance in many of these areas will almost inevitably be compromised, the principles of studying law part time are no different than would otherwise be the case. Obviously, options such as moot court, law review, and judicial clerkships and externships will almost certainly be unworkable, but the principles of briefing, using study aids, outlining, and preparing for examinations discussed elsewhere in this book still apply. Thus, although part-time law study is not a preferred option, knowing what to expect and dealing with it as directly and honestly as possible will help the student make the best of the situation.
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