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Being employed while still at Law School

published July 11, 2005

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<<Some do it; some don't. But for a large number of students, working while in law school is a necessity and fact of life. Fortunately for many working students, several law schools have made attending law school while working possible. Many campuses have student organizations that support their full-time law students who attend evening classes.

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"Working full-time and attending school at night can be very difficult, especially in terms of making time for family and social relationships," said law student Kristen Prinz, co-vice president of the Evening Law Student Society (ELSS) at Chicago-Kent College of Law. "At the same time, though, I believe that having a packed schedule forces me to make the most of the time I have. In my case, I am not sure I would do as well in school if I didn't have to manage my time so carefully. The more free time I have, the lazier I become."

One of the goals of ELSS is to offer evening students an opportunity to take part in the school's academic and social resources. One of the ways it does this is by serving as a "communications liaison" between evening students and the administration. Prinz said that most of the ELSS students work at least part time throughout the school year and about half work full time.

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"Chicago-Kent does cater to students that work by offering evening classes, as well as often providing many speaker events between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Most evening classes begin at 6," explained Prinz. "The choices are understandably more limited, though, than day courses. This makes it difficult to take all of the courses I am interested in. ELSS attempts to work with the administration to make certain courses and activities more accessible, but because the evening program is smaller and there are less hours to schedule classes, there are limitations that will likely always be there."

David N. Oskin, 3L, has been working full time as an engineer since he began law school at Chicago-Kent. He said though his experience has been tough—with an hour's commute to and from the suburbs and being away from home 6:15 a.m. to 9 p.m., four days a week—it can be done.

"Some may believe that evening students are evening students because they couldn't get into the day program and are therefore inferior," said Oskin. "This may be true for some, but the majority of evening students I know are all very bright and extremely diligent. As I am now entering my fourth and last year, I would say with confidence that those that are left are the strongest in the school."

Like other ABA-accredited law schools adhering to ABA standards, the Saint Louis University School of Law does not allow students to work more than 20 hours a week in any semester in which a student is enrolled in more than 12 class hours. Though working while in law school is generally discouraged, several law schools do offer evening sessions.

"We maintain an ABA-accredited full-time and part-time program for the study of law. Full-time students enroll in 12-17 hours per semester. Part-time students enroll in 8-11 hours per semester," said Doug Rush, Assistant Dean at Saint Louis University School of Law. "Our policies provide that full-time students are not permitted to work more than 20 hours per week. Part-time students are allowed to maintain full-time employment, but are reminded that they should not let their employment interfere with their study of law."

Saint Louis offers a full-time and part-time program and has approximately 650 full-time students and 250 part-time students. The study of law typically takes a full-time student three years to complete and a part-time student four years to complete, including attending summer school. For part-time students, Saint Louis offers evening classes from 6:00-9:50 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and occasionally Saturday classes.

Part-time students must complete their first 30 hours by taking three, 10-hour semesters in the evening. Once they complete their 30-hour core curriculum, they can take classes in either the day or the evening. Full-time students who have completed their 30-hour core curriculum are also able to take classes in the day or evening.

"Many day division students choose some evening classes in order to take specific courses or select courses taught by professors who may be teaching in the evening that semester," said Rush. "This option also allows students to select a schedule which leaves mornings or afternoons open for work."

Melinda Lackey, 1L representative of the Evening Law Students' Association (ELSA) at the University of Houston Law Center, is one of those working law students. She said that working while in law school can be done.

"It just requires a lot of patience and time management," explained Lackey. "I have a fairly flexible job, so I can leave a few minutes early if I need to and can make time to study at work from time to time. But for the most part, reading and preparation for class has to be done before and after class during the week, and weekends are invaluable for preparation."

Lackey said that 95% of the students in ELSA and in the evening program work full time. She said that 1% don't work at all, another1% raise their children during the day and attend school at night, and the final 3% are teachers with at least part of the summer off.

Beverly K. Bracker, Esq.—Associate Director, Career Services, at Thomas Jefferson School of Law—said that they discourage students from working their first two semesters. She said full-time students are restricted from working in excess of 20 hours per week. The school offers evening classes for its part-time students, many of whom work full time during the day.

"We urge students not to work during their first two semesters, but after that, we strongly encourage them to get as much legal experience as possible during law school. Hands-on legal experience helps to make students more attractive to employers because it builds their practical legal skills," explained Bracker.

Bracker said it allows students to experience different practice areas and different types of employers in order to see where their interest lies and where they will fit in best post-graduation. She said it also helps students develop relationships with attorneys, which can lead to mentoring, great references, and job offers down the line.

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"Finding time in your schedule to gain legal experience can be difficult, but the vast majority of students who have done it will tell you that it was absolutely worthwhile," said Bracker. "Students regularly report that an internship or other piece of legal experience was the best thing that they did during law school. In addition, many schools offer students the opportunity to earn course credit for internships, which enables them to take a lighter class load."