Should You Work During Law School?
That’s a rhetorical question, right?
$140,616 – the average law school debt – is a big number. And it’s pretty hard to make that up over the holidays and summers. Then again, good luck just finding a job (or even a paid internship).
But some students have commitments… and the bills that come with them. Many times, financial aid covers those expenses (and declining enrollments mean more scholarships, too). But not everyone is so lucky. If you’re in that situation, you have to balance your short-term needs with your long-term aspirations.
Shawn P. O’Connor, CEO of Stratus Prep, has some advice on this dilemma. And it can be summed up this way: Be very, very careful.
For starters, unlike MBA programs, law schools are very grade-driven, according to O’Connor. To many employers, your class rank is your destiny. In hiring, your rank and grade point average are used to measure you against other candidates, some of whom may be classmates. These peers are probably not working, so they have more hours, energy, and focus to devote to mastering the content. That gives them an inherent advantage over you at test time. As O’Connor notes, “…if your grades suffer as a result of working, the consequences can be much more costly than the money you make working part-time.” To put it another way, working in law school may be a “penny wise and dollar foolish.”
Here’s a second reason for caution: O’Connor cites American Bar Association regulations, which maintain a 20-hour work restriction on students who are taking more than 12 hours of classes. Even if you need to work, you can’t exceed this limit.
Finally, your first year of law school is also the most important one in O’Connor’s view. First, it is a huge transition. Students are thrown into the fire, where they must adapt to a faster pace and a larger volume of work. Even more, they’re doing this while basically learning a new language and way of thinking. Even more, your 1L grades matter the most, as they’re “the only grades available for evaluation when you apply for internships between your second and third years.” Without a strong internship, you face a serious disadvantage in being hired after graduation.
For students participating in part-time programs, O’Connor emphasizes setting boundaries and keeping work to 15-30 hours per week. He also encourages these students to adopt flexible schedules and maintain good communication and relationships with their supervisors. In the end, always remember that school should come first, says O’Connor: “You should dedicate the majority of your focus to studies.”
Source: U.S. News and World Report
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Source: University of Virginia Law
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