Since I started law school a few weeks ago everyone’s been asking me how it’s going. My Zen-like answer is that the best and worst things about studying law are one and the same.
First some background. I’m what you might call a value-oriented law student. I chose to go not to the highest-ranked school I got into, but rather the one that offered me the best deal financially. It didn’t hurt that I clicked best with the people there but ultimately money was a huge part of my decision. I’ll get a JD and get away with a minimal debt burden.
Going part time is a big part of that. I’ve got an established career, a good salary, benefits and financial goals I don’t feel like foregoing. By going to school part time, I keep my whole salary while finally getting my legal education moving. Win-win, right?
At my school “part time” means 11 credits, which is only one class less than our classmates in the traditional, full time program. Consequently when I’m not working, I’m studying, and that’s about it. I study in the morning, I study at night. I study on the bus to and from work. I study over lunch. I often study through dinner and I stay up late, studying. I’m not complaining – I chose this and, fortunately, I’m loving it – but the truth is I’m barely keeping pace. It’s literally all I can do just to keep up with the assigned reading, note-taking and oh yeah, outlining (evidently it’s a thing) and the homework for my legal research and writing class. I’d love to spend time reading hornbooks, listening to Sum and Substance or meeting with my professors outside of class (not to mention networking, volunteering, etc) but I just can’t. Not because I’m not motivated, not because I don’t want to but because I simply don’t have time. And the only reason I don’t have the time is that every single day I squander the best of my waking hours being gainfully employed.
Forty hours never seemed like that much work until I had to explain Pennoyer v. Neff. If I had that much time, or even half of it, just to study, I would be pimp shit. Instead I’m settling, at least for now, for being merely excellent.
For their part, my employers have been extremely encouraging about me going back to school. But they’ve also been completely clear that they’re not interested in renegotiating my schedule. So if I want to give more time and energy to law school, it’s easy, I either have to quit working or quit sleeping.
My school is one of just a couple in the nation to offer a weekend part-time program. Again, it’s great that I get to keep working and earning, but in addition, the people I’m studying with are a unique bunch. They’re much older than traditional law students—median age in my section is 34. We’ve got two practicing doctors, a COO for a large local company, a dean from another college, a couple of engineers, a bunch of compliance officers, a former prison guard and one guy who manages a gas station. If I was nervous about one thing about law school it was the other students. A system based on the socratic method depends on quality student contributions and let’s face it, in undergrad most of your classmates are morons. Not so with these folks.
Again, I chose this, and I’m not complaining. I knew my social life would get punched in the face. My friends have been great very understanding, supportive and excited for me. It sucks having to skip social events or head home earlier than I might otherwise, but it’s not like I crawled into my grave.
What’s actually most distressing is not that I’m a student on the weekend but that I am not a student the rest of the week. Saturday and Sunday I’m typically at school from 8 in the morning until at least 4:30 in the afternoon, sometimes longer if I stay late to study (which I almost always do). The entire time I’m there I’m engaged in the most demanding intellectual enterprise I’ve ever been a part of. It’s intense—it’s law school. And then it’s over. I’m ejected back into the real world which has always continued rolling along quite uninterrupted by my epic little adventure.
I don’t socialize with the other students outside of class. Like I said, they’ve got kids, careers and other things going on. A bunch of them don’t even live in town. And besides, who’s got the time? Consequently it’s just me and the books. I’m definitely in law school, but I feel like I’m not really a real law student.
Also, there’s just no football for me this year, or the next four. Let me know how it goes.
From friends to family to colleagues in the office and people in the street, everyone I meet is impressed that I’m in law school. I’ll take whatever props people want to throw my way, but what I really appreciate is that I don’t actually have to explain my job or what I’m doing with my life any more. The magic words “law school” are enough to derail basically any conversation that might require me to explain my weird job, my creative endeavors, hobbies or anything else I consider personal. People congratulate me all the time just for getting in and all I can think is I only took the LSAT because it doesn’t contain any math
I knew this could happen but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Right away, before class even started, it was Hey, you’re in law school, I’ve got this problem . . . . Fortunately most people understand that I cannot give legal advice, but they seem oddly crestfallen when I explain that, even after a few weeks of school, the only thing I really know about the law is that I don’t know anything about the law. One day I’ll be happy to help folks out, but in the meantime, I tell them, find yourself a lawyer. I hear there are plenty out there looking for work.
So will I if I don’t stop screwing around on Bitter Lawyer and get back to civ pro . . . .
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