Anyone who’s currently attending law school full-time or already graduated understands how much time, energy, and money a person must invest to graduate. To make things even harder, life outside of school also takes time, energy, and money.
While it would be great if everyone who has stepped foot in law school could spend all their time on their studies, the reality is many law students have to work at least part-time to make ends meet.
I urge anyone attending law school full time to be cautious about how much time they spend working a job while attending school. The American Bar Association used to have a 20-hour limit on employment for a law student that is enrolled in more than 12 credit hours.
Here are some tips on how to make it through law school successfully while working:
1. Find An Understanding Employer
No matter how much you might need that extra cash, law school is always going to be your number one priority. An employer who will want you to be on call and be able to run into work every time they beckon you are setting yourself up for failure.
Be honest and upfront with potential employers about where your priorities lay with them. Why waste time quickly getting the first job that wants to hire you only to be fired later because you can’t invest the time required by your employer?
Your best bet is to seek out jobs in the legal field that understand the demands of law school. If you can’t, at least seek out a job with professionals who understand how important education is and how much time it takes to master professional skills. Be sure to look for jobs that have set hours instead of hours that change every week. The last thing you want is a conflict between you and your studies.
2. Find a Job That Clears Your Mind
Many times over your three-year journey in law school, you will feel overwhelmed. The drain on mental capacities can be severe.
Working at a job that requires intense intellectual rigor might not be advisable right now. Also, working at a job that is boring and dull to you is not a good idea right now either.
I’m not saying you can’t take a job in the legal field.
If you are hammering away on contract law, property or torts right now in school, but your passion is in the field of criminal defense and you have a job lined up with a criminal defense attorney that excites and inspires you, by all means, take that job!
But if the job is working for a lawyer who mainly deals with contractual disputes and your job duties are mainly pouring over page after page of dry contractual language, it is probably not in your best interest to pursue such a job.
3. Find A Job That’s Less Than 20 Hours/Week
Spending 60 to 80 hours a week attending class and reading hundreds of pages of cases and statues is tough. Trying to work more than 20 hours a week and spending 60 to 80 hours a week with law school is close to impossible.
You must have time to rest and relax every single week. If you don’t find that time to relax and rest, your grades, mental and physical health will suffer.
4. Find A Support System
Your journey through law school impacts more than just you. It impacts your friends, family, wife, children, and classmates.
Find a support system to help you keep a clear mind and relax. If your support system is your family, set up a weekly time to visit them once a week. If you have classmates you are close too, set up a time to hang out and have a cup of coffee between classes. If you have a mentor, stop in and see them once a week to talk.
If these options are not available for you, find a counselor and visit them once a week. A professional counselor can keep your focus and mental health strong.
5. Remember, Attending Law School Is A Privilege
Law schools only take the best and brightest minds. It is an honor that you were allowed to attend law school. If you must work while in school, remembering how privileged you are to attend law school can keep your spirits up while working.
6. Embrace The Journey
There is no need to be worried about that test you have coming up in a few weeks. There is no need to be worried about that reading assignment you have due tomorrow. Focus on what you can do today, whether in law school or at work. Focus on what you are doing right now!
Worrying is only a waste of time.
Embrace the three-year journey through law school. After you have made it through, you will look back with pride on your major accomplishment.
7. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others
The facts of your current life situation are completely different than anyone else. While certain classes may not be enjoyable, surely other classes will be for you. While the current job, you may not be one you want to make a career out of, do the best you can while at it.
Learn whatever you can while you’re there and meet as many people as you can. You’ll find you that someday down the line you’ll be able to apply something you learned at your old job to a situation that arises up in your future.
8. Let Hard Times Make You Better
Let these times strengthen you into being a better person. Looking back at my life, the hard times I was able to make it through were some of the greatest accomplishments in my life. The tougher the accomplishment, the sweeter then taste of victory. If you fail in your job, learn from your mistakes so when you get a career you won’t make that mistake again.
9. Manage Expectations
Manage your own expectations and the expectations of your employer. Every employer has the right to expect an employee to show up on time, treat customers with great service, and to complete tasks competently.
An employer does not have the right to expect you while going to law school to give them free legal advice and to do more than you can handle physically or mentally. Clearly tell your employees if you are not going to be able to complete a task because of your commitments to law school and firmly remind that law school will always come first.
While succeeding in law school and a job at the same time is a difficult task, if you keep in mind the nine points above, you’ll give yourself the best chance of being successful at both during this extremely busy period of your life.
Shawn Haff is the owner of The Criminal Defense Law Center of West Michigan. He received his J.D. from Cooley Law School in 2009 and currently represents individuals charged with criminal offenses like drug possession and drunk driving