Balancing Law School and Work: Tips for Success
Many students who head off to law school find themselves not only in the classroom but also in the workplace. Some of these students are working in clerkships or doing other sorts of legal work. Other students are continuing with the jobs they had before they began law school. While balancing law school and work can be difficult, it does not have to be impossible! This post provides helpful tips and guidance on how to approach balancing law school while also working.
Balancing Law School and Work: Tips for Success
First Things First: Do the Math.
As you decide where you want to attend law school, you may want to make the following consideratons. If staying financially afloat is your main priority, you might first consider doing a part-time program that allows you more flexibility to work while attending school. If you are currently employed, you may be able to reduce your current hours to accommodate your law school schedule, and in the alternative, you may be able to stay working full-time while ticking away at your law degree.
At this point, it’s important to do the math to see how much time you’ll need to work while staying afloat while also attending law school. Once you’ve completed that process, consider what, if any other monetary resources to which you might have access. Do you have savings? Any passive income? Think far and wide. By putting actual numbers on paper, you can begin to see your own personal financial reality and then make an informed decision about whether to work, how much to work, as well as what other options are available to you.
Create a Plan
While this may sound cliché, creating a plan, then consistently executing the plan, is a sure-fire way to pave the way for financial and law school success. So, what should this law-school-financial-success-awesome plan include? While there are many ways to hatch a plan, we have found that the most successful law school students tend to create comprehensive schedules. This is especially important for those who are balancing law school and work.
The schedule should include all commitments including family and work obligations (for more on that topic check out Managing Family Obligations in Law School), law school classes, office hours with teaching assistants and faculty, sleeping (yes you must sleep), working out, studying, completing assignments, binge watching Netflix, mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, procrastinating (just kidding, try not to do that!) and any other thing that you do. Without an honest overview of how much time you use, you are at risk for failing to commit enough time to be successful in any area of your life.
Once you’ve gathered a list of all your commitments, it’s time to put a good planner to use. What do we mean by planner? Basically, anything that you feel comfortable using! It can be a large paper calendar, it can be a fancier calendar journal, it may be an electronic journal or any other device that you will actually use. A planner is also a great place to keep track of deadlines, appointments, and yes, your work schedule. After you’ve jotted down all of the above, it’s time to assess.
Look at each day and imagine going through that day—literally, see yourself going through each of the day’s activities. Can you honestly imagine waking at 5:30am to study before work at 9am because that’s the only time you might have? What about attending evening courses after working a full day? The only person who can answer any of these questions is you! No matter how good the plan may look, if it’s not something that will work for you, it’s a useless plan.
Once you’ve walked through the day, walk through the entire week. This vantage point may shift how you are thinking about your schedule. What seems sustainable on Monday may not seem that way by Friday. On that note, get real honest about your weekends. Will you be working both days? One day? Will you need time to schedule out your week and just relax? Oh, and another thing, sometimes plans don’t go as planned. So, if you’re trying to leave class at 2 and get to work by 2:15 at a job that is five miles away, you might be cutting it a bit close. The key thing to remember is that there is no one way to do this—rather, it all depends on who you are, how you live, and what you would like to do.
Leverage Your Resources
Now that you have pulled together your trusty law school plan, balancing law school and work can be enhanced by leveraging your resources. Many law schools have student affairs professionals, academic deans, and faculty advisors who are willing and able to help students navigate the challenges that law school students face.
There are also many student support groups, and your law school may even offer a group for students who work while in law school. (By the way, if that club doesn’t exist, there is nothing stopping you from creating it!) Think of it this way: students who are working during law school likely have very tight schedules and therefore those same students may be interested in forming study groups because they have the same (or similar) time commitments. This type of connection is also a great way to help you create relationships with other students as well as help you and your peers stay focused on your shared goals.
In addition to the above, many law schools offer audio resources to which you have access. This can be particularly helpful if you are spending time commuting to and from work. You may consider recording your own notes, so that during your drive you can listen to them. You might also be able to review a lecture, listen to a relevant podcast, or any other audio material. This is a way to stay on top of your law school work and help you to avoid falling behind. Similarly, if you have a meal break at work, that time can be used to review flash cards and outlines, to read notes and cases, and to work on any assignments.
The other resource you may not be considering is, in fact, your employer. If you feel comfortable, you should communicate with your employer about your law school commitments and responsibilities. By being up front with your employer, you may be able to negotiate flexible hours or time off if necessary. It’s also important to consider what times of the semester may be more difficult for you to work such as mid-terms and finals. To that end, you might consider working more hours some weeks so that you can ease off during the more demanding parts of law school.
One more resource that may be available to you might be the one you would not ever consider—family. Depending on your relationship with your family, effectively utilizing family members can be a great way to help you balance law school and work. Family members might be able to pick up and drop of children, drop off a meal or two, or even throw in a load of laundry.
If family is not readily available, friends might be a good alternative. First determine what you need, and then think about who might be able to fill that need. If family and friends are off the table, you may consider online websites that provide users with low-cost services. It may seem counterintuitive that some of the money you earn might go to someone doing things that you are perfectly capable of, in the long run, that hired cleaner may save you time and sanity.
Law school offers an extraordinary number of opportunities. Law Review. Moot Court. Clubs. There are endless ways to spend your time, and indeed if you aren’t paying attention, you can easily go bankrupt. Balancing law school and work might require you to just say no, some (not all!) of the time. Indeed, overcommitting can be a significant impediment to achieving success in work or law school. To avoid saying yes to things you don’t want to do and no to things you want to do, create the habit of continually prioritizing and assessing.
While it may sound trite, setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound) can help you figure out what is best for you. If you want to do moot court, be sure to find out what that time commitment is and then go through the process discussed above—do the math. Can you ‘afford” to do the activity you want to do, both in terms of money and time? If you can’t afford it now, will the opportunity present itself at a different time? By answering these questions up front, you will be able to make an informed, thoughtful decision.
Setting limits might also include very basic things like giving yourself enough time to reboot and recharge. While it is unlikely that you will be able to take an extended vacation during law school, especially if you are also working, you can still find ways to re-energize. You might consider scheduling two days a month or one day per week where you neither work nor study. You might build in a brief yoga and meditation practice that you do daily. Balancing law school and work is not a passive process. Rather, it takes time, effort, and continued motivation to stay successful in both areas.
It is also important to remember that law schools often offer paid positions to students. Should you find that your off-campus job is such that you are feeling the time crunch, you might speak to someone at the law school about any openings that might be available. Even if the job pays less, it may be worth the time you save not having to commute. Similarly, many employers now offer part-time jobs that can be done remotely—big plus, you get to decide where, when, and how long you work—sort of ideal for law school. Forcing something that doesn’t work with your schedule will likely not work out well in the end. Setting limits can mean that you will not continue with a schedule that is hindering your ability to be successful.
In closing, while balancing law school and work can be difficult, with a little bit of thoughtful preparation, it is very possible. By creating a plan, evaluating how that plan feels once enacted, leveraging your resources, and setting appropriate limits, you are providing yourself with a reliable framework to use throughout your entire law school career. Identify what does, and does not work, be willing to adjust, and ask for help. For tons of free resources, including additional blog posts about working in law school, creating a weekly study schedule, and how to succeed in law school, check out the rest of our site.