Managing Family Obligations While In Law School
A trip through your local bookstore likely yields many books touting endless advice about how to successfully navigate the difficulties of law school. Unfortunately, there tends to be a dearth of guidance when it comes to navigating law school…with a family. This post hopes to help those who are taking more than just a backpack off to law school. Here, we compile our best advice for managing family obligations while in law school.
Managing Family Obligations While In Law School
Welcome to Law School: Maximizing Orientation
If you are attending law school with a family, orientation is likely not on your mind—at all. But it should be! While it is true that orientation is typically geared towards those straight out of undergrad who likely don’t have as many family obligations, orientation is much more than free pens and candy. Rather, orientation brings together nearly all of the law school’s resources into one place, usually during a several-day period. Some law schools have groups specifically for students with families, and many law schools also offer resources specifically targeted to students who are going to law school after a career change. (Check out this blog post about approaching law school after a career change.) Pro tip: if the school does not offer a group or resources that supports where you currently are in your life, you could consider starting your own group!
Separate from the various clubs and organizations that may be of interest to students with families, orientation offers you the opportunity to get to meet the faculty, staff, and students with whom you will be working over the course of your legal training. Building relationships with those people can be a critical component in your law school journey. While managing family obligations in law school may seem completely at odds with the life of law school, remember that many faculty and staff have children themselves and can be a great resource when parenting and studying may feel overwhelming. (For additional information on the importance of getting to know your professors, check out this post.)
On a very basic level, simply because you have a family to support does not mean that you cannot take advantage of all the student resources that are of interest to you! In other words, if you played rugby in college, you can still play rugby in law school, even if you have a child. If you were president of your student government group, there’s likely a similar group at your law school. The bottom line is, don’t neglect your own interests because you have family responsibilities. The two can co-exist, and in fact, in order for you to succeed in law school, they must co-exist.
Law School: Plan, Prepare, Perform (Repeat).
To ensure that you are maximizing your limited time, a simple, but powerful strategy is implementing three Ps. First, plan with all of your might. Get a planner to write out your schedule. Go electronic with iCal or Google calendar—whatever works best for you. Start by penciling in all your class obligations and time for studying. Then, without any shame, pencil in all of your other obligations—cooking and cleaning, dropping off kids at school, taking parents to the doctor, etc. Be ruthless in chronicling your responsibilities and obligations. Not sure where to start in planning your law school obligations? Check out our law school prep course to learn more about strategizing law school.
After you have outlined and calendared your resopnsibilities, consider what, if any, can be delegated. Also look for opportunities to “bundle” events as a means to increase efficiency. Can you only go shopping on certain days? Put on some headphones and re-listen to that portion of a lecture that’s been giving you grief. Can you stack your classes in a way that gives you extra time at night or in the morning? This might allow you with larger blocks of study time. Would carpooling be helpful? You might be able to catch up on emails while someone else takes the wheel. By thinking creatively there may be ways to get two things finished at once!
Once you’ve planned, the next step is to prepare to implement what you have planned. Preparation can manifest in a number of ways, but let’s start with the foundation. In order to have a fighting chance, staying healthy is a must. Getting a good night’s rest, eating well, and taking regular breaks are all ways to stay grounded and balanced. In addition, practicing mindfulness, the simple act of recognizing what you are doing and how you are doing it, can be a powerful way to help you to stay on track.
This awareness is necessary not only to stay present in the moment but to recognize when something needs to change. Failure to witness your own process can lead to failure elsewhere. Of course, preparation means not only preparing meals and reading bedtime stories, but it also means preparing for class. Reading the assigned cases, taking notes, and starting your outlines early, will all serve you well when final exams roll around. This type of preparation, while daily, saves giant chunks of time that otherwise would end up in a category known as “cramming.”
The final P, for “perform,” speaks for itself. Planning and preparing are of little to no value if there is no actual performance. While this may seem obvious, many law school students suffer from another P—perfectionism—which can be the enemy of the good. Performance, in this context, means simply that—doing. Performance can also mean scheduling an appointment with a therapist to talk about the difficulties of law school or calling a friend to talk about something completely unrelated to law school. In short, performance is staying in the flow of law school, and indeed, the flow of your life.
Assess, Reassess, and Resource
While putting together a plan that incorporates studying and responsibilities outside of law school is important to help you stay on track, even the best-laid plans can sometimes fail. What do you do when life simply gets in the way of your law school obligations? Nursing a sick child, providing support for a new medical diagnosis, and working through a bullying episode at your child’s school can all take up time and can leave you feeling drained. In these instances, staying caught up with assigned reading and attending class can seem like an insurmountable challenge. This is why it is important to continually assess and reassess what is going well and what is not going so well.
To assess, take about five minutes a day or week and reflect on what is going well and what you find to be challenging. It might even be helpful to write down your reflections. If you already keep a journal, try incorporating your reflections into your regular journaling process. Make sure to reflect on different aspects of your life. Don’t stop at law school! How is school pick-up/drop-off going? Do you feel like you’re available when your children or parents need you? Are your law school outlines up-to-date? Take stock of what is and isn’t working so you can determine whether your should reassess your priorities.
If something is not going the way you want it to, pause and give some thought on how to improve it. It might also be helpful to incorporate a friend or loved one into the conversation. One point to consider as you reassess is whether you are utilizing the resources available to you. Having trouble with a particular subject? Consider carving out time to visit a faculty member or an advisor. Struggling to help an aging parent? Determine whether a sibling or trusted friend might be able to help for a day or two so you can get caught up on your outlines. Worried about missing your child’s school play? Consider whether you might be able to attend a different class time instead of skipping class altogether.
Don’t forget to assess what is going well! If you’re mostly caught up with your school work, don’t be afraid to take some additional time to spend with your family and vice-versa. Balancing your responsibilities can certainly be challenging, but give yourself some grace and acknowledge what is going well!
In closing, managing family obligations in law school can be a harrowing but wildly rewarding experience. Planning, preparing, and performing is a basic three-step strategy that can help you to develop your own successful way of being (and even thriving) in law school! Furthermore, by continually assessing and reassessing your circumstances, successes, and failures, you will have the ability to make changes as needed, when needed.