I categorically determined lawyers were jerks after an attorney blew me off while I was researching an eighth-grade career project. I decided then that I would pursue another vocation — until I applied to law school on a whim during my senior year of college. Now I too am a jerk.
I didn’t exactly follow a traditional path to becoming an attorney, so it was no surprise that I ended up as a part-time law student. Though part-time law programs now have their own separate category in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, some suggest that they are made up of an inferior class of students that didn’t make the cut as full-time applicants.
As an attorney, I have no regrets about opting to study the law part-time rather than take the full-time opening I was initially offered. Here are four reasons that part-time law school worked for me:
1. I made money. I accepted a full-time job as a victim advocate in a prosecutor’s office two months before gaining admission into my law school’s incoming class. I had a tough decision: quit the job to study, defer admission, or enroll part-time and do both. I chose the latter because my office was supportive, and I needed the salary to afford law school. Part-time tuition was (and still is) cheaper, and a regular paycheck covered my living expenses without requiring additional student loans. Another bonus: I didn’t have to stress about finding gap employment between graduation and being licensed; I already had a job.
2. I gained valuable experience at work. Another advantage of keeping my 9 to 5 was that I interacted with attorneys and judges in a courtroom every day. I didn’t need a textbook; I could see firsthand how the public, other criminal justice professionals, and the judges responded to attorneys’ trial tactics. My co-workers were also available and willing to explain legal concepts that I may not have understood in class. The best thing, however, was that my employer allowed me to litigate cases under Virginia’s third-year practice program. As a result, I sat second-chair on a real double murder trial while my classmates reenacted imaginary fact patterns for mock trial.
3. I had more control over my curriculum. The full-time curriculum for a Virginia law student is fairly standard: three years of coursework, May graduation, and July bar exam. The standard part-time curriculum is four years, but it’s possible for a part-time student to finish early and take the February bar exam. My work schedule may have limited my class selection to anything that started later than 5 p.m., but it allowed me to play to my personal study strengths. Knowing that it would be far more difficult for me to buckle down with my books during beach season, I opted to load up on credits early, graduate in December, and soak in my BarBri materials with hot cocoa to prep for the February test.
4. My success meant more to me. My family and friends can attest that working full time while attending law school was not easy for me. I spent all of my free time reading or outlining, survived on a few hours of sleep each night, and my personal relationships suffered. My immune system also hated me; I suffered three outbreaks of mononucleosis and became my doctor’s first 25-year-old shingles patient as a law student. Even after all of that, I didn’t do that well academically. Working through those struggles, however, gave me an indescribable feeling of personal achievement when I finished my degree and passed the bar exam on the first try. I’m fairly confident I would not feel the same had I followed any other path to where I am now.
More from this Contributor:
Lawyer Lessons: Five Things You Won’t Learn in Law School
Setting the Bar: Winning Your Case with Courtroom Savvy
May it Please the Court: Tips for Dealing with an Imperfect Judiciary