Balancing Work and School

About the author:

Matt Alva is a Summer 2009 JIOP alum and clerked for Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois. He is currently an associate at Matushek, Nilles & Sinars in Chicago, Illinois.

Published: August 22, 2014

Future success as an attorney obviously begins when you are in law school, but for reasons you may not immediately consider. Your grades are the driving force behind your future employment, but the practical work experience you gain during law school is also greatly important. For one, this work experience can help you determine which areas of the law you enjoy and want to pursue in your career. But on a practical level, working during law school also gives you experience in your future trade, which is an important selling point during the job search. Needless to say, I fully encourage working during law school. Following are a few tips to help you successfully navigate being a law student who works.

 

Time Management

Managing law school, family, friends, and work is going to be difficult. To help mitigate all of these commitments, you need to make and keep a manageable schedule. This can start when you make your school schedule. If you plan on working, be sure to set off blocks of time that are substantial enough to be of value to an employer. Often, employers will want a certain hourly commitment and setting off blocks of time will allow you to meet those commitments. 

 

The need for practical experience is vitally important to your future legal success, but it cannot adversely impact your law school performance. Be sure to keep that in mind when creating your work/school schedule. Set aside time to study. Going back to the days when I played sports in high school, I always felt that I was most efficient and productive when I was “in season” because I knew my time was limited and I used it wisely. The same can be said of law school and working during law school. Time will be limited, but you will be focused, driven, and you will use your time wisely.

 

Setting Expectations

An important part of succeeding and learning from a practical work experience is setting expectations with your employer at the beginning of the process. Employers usually respect student schedules, and one that does not may not be the right employer for you. Ultimately, these expectations will shape your workflow and keep you balanced with your school schedule. They will also give you the opportunity to impress your employers. Having manageable expectations that you can meet and exceed are important signs of growth and maturity as a professional. Your employers will recognize this work and reward it. Conversely, if you take on too much, get overwhelmed, and fail to meet expectations, you will have a problem. Setting manageable expectations will improve your standing in the workplace and prepare you for success.

 

Flexibility

Spotting issues is a law school favorite. As you try to manage work and school, you should examine your workload and life in the same way. If you start to see cracks in your ability to handle work or school, you need to address them immediately. Letting issues compound to the point of no return is counterproductive and damaging to your career. Once you notice issues, have the confidence and flexibility to adjust. Adjusting to circumstances shows strong character and your employers should respect your ability to recognize areas of concern and your willingness to fix them. Moreover, addressing any issues you may have early on in a process can hopefully mitigate any potential harm in the long run. This willingness to be flexible will serve you well as an attorney.

 

Finally, a few side notes. One ancillary key to success when managing work and school is your ability to maintain some semblance of organization. Especially for lawyers, who seem to generate tons of paper, it is really important keep your papers in order. I am a “file” person—someone who keeps both paper and digital files that help me maintain organization in the chaos of the law. 

 

Do not neglect your home life. With all that law students are juggling, it can be easy to neglect our support systems. Try to avoid neglecting those that care for you, even when things get difficult to manage. Make time for yourself and those you care about because life is not all about work and school. As someone who always worked during law school, I hope these tips help you find balance in your work and school efforts.

 

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