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Student Lawyer

Personal & Financial

Should You Work While You’re in Law School?

Danielle M Kinchen

Should You Work While You’re in Law School?

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If you’ve considered working to cover some or all of your law school costs, you’re not alone.

In the past, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar restricted full-time students from working more than 20 hours per week.

In 2014, however, the ABA eliminated that limit.

Instead, individual law schools may maintain employment policies for their students. Some schools, such as New York University School of Law in New York City, forbid students from holding jobs during the school year.

Others, such as William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia.; Boston University School of Law in Massachusetts; and Temple University—James E. Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia allow students to work up to 20 hours.

So, should you take advantage of the option if your school permits it? Full-time students take at least 12 hours of class time per week. The benchmark for study time outside the classroom is two to three hours for each hour of class time. So between class time and outside study, you’ll often study 36–48 hours per week.

This time frame may fluctuate depending on your situation and as exams approach. The point is that attending law school is a full-time job in and of itself.

Leaning Toward Working?

Before you choose a job, consider several factors: the rigor of your academic schedule, family commitments, and financial responsibilities.

“Moreover, an important aspect of your career development is your engagement in the law school community, which allows you to gain a broader perspective and build relationships with classmates, administrators, faculty, and alumni,” said Yvonne Denenny, director of career services at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

It’s uncommon for full-time law students to take a job during the school year, according to Marcia Pennington Shannon, the assistant dean of the office of career strategy at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. Shannon recommends at least waiting until the end of your first year of law school before taking a job.

“I think you first need just to get used to law school,” Shannon said. “There’s nothing like it.”

Especially for students with BigLaw ambitions, remember that large law firms look to your first-year grades to determine if you’ll be eligible for a summer internship and later employment. “Doing poorly in law school will limit your job options,” Shannon said.

Denenny said it’s more common for third-year students to take on a job: “By that point, students are more efficient with their studies and have actively engaged in law school clinics, journals, and organizations.”

Work May Be Good for You

Shannon and Denenny recommended that if you’re attending law school full-time, you should work no more than 20 hours per week, though this number could be smaller depending on your commitments. They recommend flexible on-campus jobs, such as working in an administrative office, as a research assistant for a professor, or in the library, where you can study on the job during slow periods.

In that spirit of flexibility, Eli Medina, a second-year full-time student at the Louisiana State University, Paul M. Hebert Law Center, also on the school’s law review, worked as a ride-share driver during the break between the first and second semester of his first year. He said the job is ideal for those who can make only small time commitments outside the classroom.

“There are no minimum-hour requirements,” Medina said. “I can work as little as I want. And if I want to quit, I don’t have to give a two-week notice. It’s something I can just pick up and go with when I want.”

Nonetheless, Medina recommends waiting until after your first semester to begin working, even as a ride-share driver. “Law school is a big commitment; all your focus should be on that,” he noted. “By the second semester, you have grades behind you, and you know where you stand. You know what worked for you and what didn’t.”

Having a job apart from law school can even be a stress reliever. “For some people like me, driving is relaxing,” explained Medina. “You get to talk to people who aren’t in law school—it’s great. You’ll learn that it’s important to take breaks throughout law school, and those breaks need to be meaningful. I encourage it, with permission from your law school.”

Experience, Too? Bonus!

Also, consider law-related jobs that would give you hands-on work in the legal field. Mid-sized firms and public interest groups appreciate experience in their new hires. Shannon and Denenny recommended you consult your school’s career advisors for assistance.

“With tuition so high, if you can find a job that pays and gives you the kind of experience you want, that’s the sweet spot,” Shannon said.

Positions as a paralegal, a law clerk at a smaller firm, or an employee at a government agency could be helpful if you can get one with a limited-hours requirement. “The priority has still got to be school,” Shannon said.

Shannon stressed the importance of visiting your school’s financial aid office if you’re looking for ways to save money and afford your legal education. “The first place to start is the financial aid office, where you can work on a budget,” she said. “I think it’s best to start thinking about that at the beginning if possible.”

Another option is to take law school at a slower pace. “If you want to think about a way to afford law school a little bit easier, you can work full-time and then go to school part-time,” Shannon said. “It’s not an easy thing. You’re juggling school and the job demands of a full-time job. But for many, it does keep the expenses lower.”