Law school is hard — and can even be described as grueling, but doable. Tell any attorney about your dream to go to law school and they will reflect on their horror stories from the first year, the bar exam or even their notorious property professor.
While going to law school full-time is difficult, pursuing a law degree part-time brings a different set of challenges. That’s why we’ve assembled a list of advice for surviving part-time law school. But first, let’s break down some of the basics of part-time law school.
Part-Time Law School 101
Why choose part-time law school?
There are many pros and cons to a part-time law degree, but the major pro is that law school provides a way for working professionals, and others who have commitments during the day, to pursue a legal education. At Stetson University College of Law, for example, the part-time program is an evening program, which makes it easier for adult learners to attend class.
How long does part-time law school take?
Part-time law school typically takes four years, including the first summer, instead of three years if you go full-time.
According to Admissions Director Darren Kettles, “[Our part-time J.D. program] was designed for working professional people that have great demands on their time. The structure that we have currently in place is an evening program that takes four years on the books, though we have seen people complete it in shorter periods of time, especially if they’ve gone over the summer months.”
While most courses are held at either the Gulfport campus or Tampa Law Center, there are some credits that can be taken online; currently, 15 distance learning credits are approved by our accrediting body, the American Bar Association.
Is it easier to get into part-time law school?
While this may vary depending on the school, at Stetson Law, part-time students are required to meet the same admission requirements and graduation requirements as students in the full-time program. Our part-time law students come from different backgrounds, and many hold advanced degrees.
Your law school resume should also be specific to law school, and not just list general experience.
As Peg Cheng, author and founder of Prelaw Guru, says, “You need a resume for applying to law school. That said, turning in a generic work resume with your law school application will do nothing to improve your chances for admission. But show admissions officers a well-written, concise and engaging resume, and they will not only be impressed, they will remember you. And that’s the name of the application game: being remembered.”
Key Advice for Part-Time Law Students: 8 Tips to Remember
1. Prepare yourself, your family and your employer
You will not have much free time once school starts. If you coach youth sports or lead a book club, you may find that one or more of your extra duties has to take a back seat for a few years.
Make sure this is the right time for you and your family, and engage them whenever possible by bringing your spouse or partner and children to events on campus. Host a study night so your family gets to meet your study buddies, or bring the kids to the library on the weekends to do their homework while you read for class.
2. Get your schedule organized
Some students think that they will go to school two to three nights a week and then read a bit over the weekend, leaving most else in their life unchanged. That is not a reasonable expectation.
According to part-time J.D. student Amber Nicole, setting the necessary time aside was crucial to her long-term success in law school. “Going to law school involves serious weekly planning and time management, [which] is very important – my advice is to just clear your schedule and make sure that, when you come to law school, you can focus entirely on school and on studying.”
If you want to be a successful law student, you have to put in the work. Get your calendar organized ASAP. Make sure your assignment due dates, exam dates, class schedules, registration deadlines, and financial aid deadlines are logged on your calendar. Put all of your personal reminders, such as doctor visits, birthdays and anniversary dates on the calendar, too. No one will accept law school as a reason for missing a special day.
Hieu Le, a part-time JD law graduate, suggests not only scheduling everything, but being specific about it:
“The biggest mistake I’ve seen and have made myself is underestimating how much time it takes to get everything done. In order to have time for it all, you must become a scheduler. For instance, I found it most efficient to schedule blocks of studying time on the weekends. In those blocks of time, I would not just write ‘study.’ Instead, I scheduled precisely what class I was studying for and what component of the class I would be working on for the day. So, if I needed to outline for Crim Law, then my schedule would read something like, ‘Saturday (1-5) Outline for Crim Law - Chapters 10-14.’ This method proved to be golden — try it out!”
3. Meet with your professors
Being a part-time student doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the entire law school experience. Connecting with the faculty allows you to learn the material on a deeper level and explore your interests.
Le says that reaching out to your professors can provide extra assistance on concepts that you need help with. “Your professors want you to understand the material and are more than willing to help those who want to help themselves!”
Ashley Cease, Assistant Director for Academic Success and Bar Prep and Instructor in Law, echoes this sentiment. "One thing that is so special about Stetson is our faculty. They have an open door policy. They want to work with you, they want you to succeed, so all of your faculty will be happy to review practice problems and your writing with you before the class as well."
4. Give yourself breaks
Recognize that burnout, if reasonable planning and adjustments are not put in place, may occur and that you may not be the perfect student, parent, partner or housekeeper for a couple of years. Give yourself a break. This is all about building a better, more fulfilling life for you and your family. It will take sacrifice. People who love you will understand if you don’t pack a homemade lunch every day or let the Honey Do List pile up.
Due to the heavy course load, Le says that it’s necessary to take breaks. “It’s not uncommon to have 3-4 hours of reading to do each day. Take quick breaks in between to give your eyes and your brain a rest. Your brain is one big muscle. Like with the rest of our muscles, it needs a period to rest. Any avid exerciser will tell you that it is during rest periods that your muscles stretch and grow. If you want to retain everything you’ve just read and be sharp for class, just in case you get cold-called, be sure to give your brain a rest!”
5. Keep your exercise routine
While you may not think you have enough time for exercise, it’s important to keep your body active, as it helps with stress and keeping your mind healthy.
Le says, “Your new schedule and responsibilities will be time-consuming and hectic. Keep up your workout regimen the best you can. Continue to run, do yoga, lift weights, whatever you were doing before law school to be physically fit. If you’re not a fan of traditional exercise, find some physical activity to exert energy and get the endorphins flowing. Law school is stressful, and you will need some sort of physical exercise to remain healthy, both physically and mentally.”
6. Communicate with your employer
While your family may understand, your boss may not be as flexible. Be strategic about your approach to how you balance work, school and family. While work travel may not be negotiable, perhaps you can arrange to travel between semester breaks or limit it during the school year. Remember, you do have an attendance requirement!
Some students take vacation time while they prepare for exams. Others ask their employers for flex schedules one or two days a week. More and more employers allow for remote work — see if you can take advantage of that benefit during particularly intense semesters.
7. Reach out to your classmates
While you may want to just focus on your own studies, connecting with your classmates is definitely an important part of going to law school.
“Help your fellow classmates because the day may come when you need help, too,” Le says. “Sometimes kids are sick or other obligations arise when you have an assignment due. When a classmate misses class, offer your notes. It doesn’t take anything away from you to be kind. Sure, there’s some grade competition, but there’s also a thing called character. Lean on others and allow others to lean on you. It’s a tough journey, but one that’s easier to take when you have friends.”
8. Don’t give up
Remember that law school requires a significant amount of complex and time-consuming work. As you progress through your program, you may find that you read more efficiently and digest the material without having to read a case six times. You may also begin taking skills courses, such as Trial Advocacy or Elder Law Practice Management, and discover strengths you never knew you had. Also, be prepared for a few setbacks — not everyone can get an A.
Le says to remember that law school is a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, endurance is key. “You’ve made a commitment for the next few years of your life, so pace yourself. As with any marathon, some parts of the race are harder than others. Law school is the same way. When fatigue sets in, dig your heels in and keep going. Rely on your desire, determination and grit to finish, but you can and will finish.”
Your journey will be tough. If you plan ahead and lean on your support system, both at home and at Stetson Law, you will survive and succeed, like many before you, in part-time law school.
Topics: Applying to Law School