While attending law school is often thought of as a full-time occupation, it is possible to attend a part-time program and still receive your JD degree. Part-time programs are open to all types of students, though they typically attract working professionals and those who have long since graduated from undergraduate schools.
In this article, we'll discuss the major reasons that someone may choose to attend part-time law school over a full-time program. We'll also help you weigh the pros and cons of a part-time program so you can make an informed decision and give you some tips to succeed when enrolled in law school part-time.
Why Attend Law School Part-Time?
Part-time law school is a popular option for working professionals who want to obtain a law degree and wish to keep working while they do it. Even though the American Bar Association (ABA) dropped their 20 hour a week work limit for full-time law students, many law schools themselves typically limit how many hours a law student can work per week, making it impossible for a professional to keep a full-time job while also attending law school.
Part-time law school makes sense for anyone who has been out of school for a while, anyone who may have other regular daily obligations, or someone who wants to obtain their law degree but wants to avoid the stress of committing to a full-time program.
The Pros and Cons of Part-Time Law School
Below, we've created a list of the pros and cons of attending a part-time law school. You can weigh them against each other to help you make a decision on whether or not to choose a part-time program.
The advantages of a part-time program can't be denied, especially for the older student or working professional.
Most part-time law schools will hold their classes in the evenings, freeing up your days to work full-time or to attend to any other professional or familial obligations you may have. The schedule of classes in a part-time law program can make obtaining a law degree a possibility for many who cannot quit their job or drop their obligations to study for their degree full-time.
Reduced Course Load
Most part-time law programs will not require students to have the same number of classes as full-time students, reducing the overall course load for each semester. Part-time course loads will typically be 4 to 6 credits lighter each semester than if you were a student attending full-time.
This can be great for students who learn more slowly or those who would otherwise feel overwhelmed with a high number of classes each semester.
Reduced Financial Burden
Because a part-time law school program will have fewer classes each semester, each semester's financial burden will be reduced, compared to a full-time law program. And because most part-time programs are designed to allow students to work, there is less chance that you will need to take out loans or borrow money in order to attend each semester of school.
Students will also be able to spread the payments for their law tuition out over the extra 2 to 3 semesters that occur with a part-time program—something which can make all the difference for an older student or working professional that doesn't want to take out too many loans.
More Lenient Admissions Criteria
Part-time programs generally don't put as high of an expectation on GPAs and LSAT scores as a full-time program would. This is due to the fact that many part-time law students have been out of school for a long while or are experienced professionals.
Achievements, professional accomplishments, and career experience are much more important to the admissions committee of a part-time law school, and the admissions committee is much more likely to be lenient with applicants than a full-time program would be.
A part-time law program also has many cons that may be dealbreakers for a student looking to enroll.
Even though part-time law school programs are designed to let students work or attend to obligations during the day, this can make for very long, stressful days. You can expect to put in 30 to 40 hours of weekly studying and class attendance time in a part-time program, as well as attending on-campus events, office hours, and interviews; this time is in addition to whatever obligations or career you have during the day.
The long days of a part-time program can be very overwhelming for some students and may cause burnout or extreme stress. When enrolling in a part-time program, keep in mind that it will probably feel like you are working 2 full-time roles in order to get everything completed.
Due to the more relaxed admissions criteria present in most part-time law school programs, it is common for employers to look down slightly on part-time programs. Of course, this is not the case for every employer out there, nor is it necessarily a fair point of view, but you should keep in mind that a part-time law degree might not hold the same weight as a full-time program would in certain scenarios.
If you are trying to obtain a law degree because you want to be hired by a very competitive, prestigious legal employer, a part-time law program may not be the best option for you, though extensive experience and a well-packed resume and job application can occasionally smooth over the fact that your degree was obtained part-time.
Extra Time in School
A part-time law program will require you to spend at least one extra year in school, with an additional summer's worth of classes. This means that you will graduate in 4 years, instead of the 3 that a full-time law student would graduate in. And even though you pay less per semester of school, attending for an entire extra year could make your overall cost of a JD higher than it would be in a full-time program.
If you are looking to get your degree as soon as possible, a part-time program may not be the best choice for you, as it is unlikely you will be able to graduate with your degree in under 3 years.
More Limited Networking Opportunities
Even though a lot of school events are planned to take place between the regular and part-time class schedules in order to allow the maximum number of students to attend, as a part-time student it can be difficult to attend every event you want to.
Many moot court competitions, externship opportunities, networking lunches, on-campus interviews, and workshops will be held during the day, when most full-time law students can easily attend. If you are working full-time or have other obligations that stop you from being available during most weekdays, it can be hard to network and make the same connections that a full-time law student would be able to.
Additionally, anyone who is otherwise occupied during the day may find it hard to secure summer employment or clerkships, which are typically the fastest route to employment right out of law school.
Tips to Succeed in Your Part-Time Law Program
These tips can help you succeed and make the most out of a part-time law program, should you decide to enroll in one.
Seriously Weigh the Pros and Cons
Before enrolling in a part-time law school, you should seriously weigh the pros and cons. Think about your daily obligations and how you would fit a part-time law program into your life. You need to be fully equipped for both the advantages and disadvantages of a part-time law program, as this will help prevent you from being taken off-guard or burning out, throwing you off the path that leads to your JD degree.
Manage Your Time
Time management is everything in law school, and even more so for a student who is in a part-time program and attending other daily obligations. Make schedules, work out your day, and try your hardest to be effective with every minute you can, as this will help you complete everything you need to get done with as little stress as possible.
Being aware of upcoming work or law school events can help you plan your days around them, maximizing your chances of success in both. For instance, if you know there is an upcoming interview day on-campus that you want to attend during the day, make sure to budget the time off of work well ahead of time. Similarly, if you know you will need to stay later at work one day, try and complete your studying and assignments ahead of time, freeing up more time for your career.
The more aware you are of upcoming events and the better you plan ahead, the more likely you are to achieve everything you need to get done without issue.
Attend School Events
It may seem overwhelming to complete your daily obligations, attend class, study, and then jet off to a school event, but it is important that you make time to attend campus events when possible. These events will present you with opportunities to network and make potential employment connections, in addition to getting to know your classmates and future colleagues better.
The Path to Your JD Degree
Attending law school is not easy, and being enrolled in a part-time program can be even more difficult in some ways. Juggling daily life obligations, a career, and law school classes can be overwhelming to even the most dedicated and hardworking students out there. However, as long as you fully understand the pros and cons of your part-time law program and strive to organize your time as much as possible, enrolling in a part-time law school can fit well into your life and will give you a clear path to obtaining your JD degree.