When considering law school, one of the options you will weigh is whether to pursue the degree on a part-time or full-time basis. With rising tuition and an uncertain job market, prospective law students may have an incentive to keep working at their current jobs, if they are already employed or, to find a way to finance law school with a job that allows them to attend school at night. But do part-time law students give up something that is vital to their legal education? We interviewed experts from the admissions offices and career offices at law schools with part-time JD programs to help you understand the pros and cons of each program, to learn how admissions committees evaluate part-time applicants and to learn about career prospects for part-time law students. We also hear from a part-time law student who is working while attending school about how it all fits together. Listen to what they have to say.
- Andy Cornblatt, Dean of Admissions, Georgetown University Law Center
- Stephen Brown, Dean of Enrollment Services, Fordham Law School
- Melissa Lennon, Assistant Dean for Career Planning, Temple University, Beasley School of Law
- Jannell Roberts, Assistant Dean of Admissions, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
- Meghan Morris, Part-Time Law Student, Georgetown University Law Center
Welcome to Law School Podcaster, your source for inside information and advice on the law school application process. I’m Diana Jordan.
You want to go to law school, but maybe you have a job and you’re debating whether to quit and immerse yourself in law school or, to hang on to that job and begin a three- to four-year juggling act of law school, work, and family.Full-time? Or part-time? Maybe you just need to budget law school over a longer period of time to make it work financially or, perhaps you’re working in an industry that’s threatened by attrition or radical change and you figure a legal education will give you a leg up. Whatever the reasons, you’re deciding whether to go to law school full-time or part-time and there are many considerations.
In this show, we’ll consider the merits and drawbacks of going to law school full-time and of attending part-time. You’ll learn whether there is a stigma to going part-time.Whether as a part-time student, you might miss out on certain aspects of your education and why that may not necessarily matter.And you’ll hear how to pay for your law school education and why sometimes it might be worth hanging on to that job, despite the number of work and study hours that cut fiercely into your sleep.
You will hear from deans of admission at law schools with part-time programs, including Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, Fordham Law School in New York, and Georgetown Law School in Washington, DC. We get the perspective of a Georgetown law student who works for a member of Congress while attending law school part-time. And we will also hear from a dean of career planning at Temple Law School in Philadelphia.
We begin with Assistant Dean Melissa Lennon from Temple Lawwho gives us some guidance about that part-time, full-time dilemma. “Talk to people who have done it both ways and then make sure that whatever law school you’re considering has a certain amount of flexibility in case you change your mind.”
The pros and cons of attending law school full-time or part-time vary according to your personality, employment, and family situation. Assistant Dean of Career Planning at Temple Law School, Melissa Lennon, paints the situation in broad strokes. “One of the merits of a part- time track is, presumably, if you’re doing a part-time track, you’re also working and therefore you have an income.And if you’re doing a full-time program at any law school you, at least in the first year, you are prohibited from working. So, there is certainly an opportunity cost to making the decision to go full-time, kind of in a little bit more of a big picture way, the first year of law school, especially, is a pretty intense time.Many people recommend that students have kind of a singular focus on the study of law during that first year and in some respects that’s really great and there’s certain luxury to being able to say that the only thing that you have to do right now, the only thing on your plate is studying your class work, your course work, in the first year of law school.On the other hand, that does take you out of the world a little bit and if you are in a part-time track, you do get to maintain your connection to the outside world and friends and family in a way that sometimes, I’ve seen, full-time, day division, 1L’s don’t do. Again, you know, there are pros and cons to each way of attending law school and going about getting your degree.And it really, really depends on the needs and personality of each individual student.”
At Georgetown Law School, Dean of Admissions Andy Cornblatt says potential law school students have to consider a couple of major factors. One is time. “Most of our part-time students have been very, very successful in talking to their employers about them signing off and being supportive of them coming to law school.Although the classes begin at 5:45 and we have many, many students here who have full-time jobs or 30-hour-a-week jobs, 5-hour-a-week jobs, or 20-hour-a-week jobs, they are able to sort of work it out.With respect to their employers, they’re able to work it out because the employers understand what they’re doing and understand that there will be moments and times when they’re going to need a little extra time to really be successful here, at any part-time school for that matter, but specifically for Georgetown. So, there would be a week in December during exam week when usually our students who had no problem with the employer giving them the week off, et cetera. But if it’s a situation with your job where they’re still going to expect you to work – there’s no such thing as a 40-hour-a-week job in this country – if they’re still going to expect you to work 50 hours a week and sort of figure it out some other way, that’s generally when the time becomes just too stressful and too difficult. If that were the case, then I would strongly recommend that students in that category, assuming that they can work it out and this is what they want to do is they’re genuinely undecided, then probably the best thing to do is to apply to the full-time division and be a full-time law student so they can devote all their time and energy to their studies. It is true that it’s a reduced load for the part-time program and therefore, you are able to work and almost all of our students do that.It’s still a lot of hard work.And if you can build in some time and if the place where you’re working is supportive, then I recommend the part-time wholeheartedly.If it’s going to be a little more stressful and so forth, then I recommend that you go full-time.”
At Fordham Law School, Assistant Dean for Enrollment, Stephen Brown, says given no life issues, full-time is the way to go. But there are advantages to going to law school part-time. “You can really immerse yourself in studies for three years.You can take clinics that work with clients who meet during the day. You are better able to take internships and externships because you don’t have other commitments during the day. Many students though, their employers are paying for their education, that’s a good reason to go part-time.Part of the reason they’re attending part-time is because they’ve seen the impact of the law on the work they’re doing now and want to further that. Many of our part-time students will stay with their employers.”
Many of the part-time programs were designed with the working student in mind compared with three years of intense study for full-time students.There are certain drawbacks for all law school students.Assistant Dean of Admissions at Loyola, Jannell Roberts, says both full-time and part-time students must be committed, and she examines some of the challenges facing full-time students first, then part-time students.“We strongly discourage full-time students from being involved in anything, particularly the first year, that will take away their time, you know, so they’re fully engrossed in the law school experience.And I don’t know if that’s necessarily a drawback, but it’s obviously a much heavier commitment.And then there are additional opportunities once they’ve passed the first year where they can work.The ABA standard is that they can work up to 20 hours a week so they do have more opportunity once they’re an upper division student.And then with respect to the part-time program, the part-time student is juggling a lot of responsibility at once.So, this has to be a person who’s extremely motivated and extremely focused to know that they can handle the rigors of law school and whatever else is going on in their life that may prevent them from going to school full-time.”
Statistically, it may appear that it’s easier to get admitted to a part-time program than to be admitted to a full-time program.Georgetown’s Dean Cornblatt says that fact, however, is tempered by the reality of the part-time students’ life experience.“These are people who are bringing other credentials, not simply statistical credentials. So, it’s not dramatic if the difference of one or two LSAT points and one or two points in terms of the GPA. But as far as how it looks, it looks slightly easier or less difficult, but that’s a little bit deceptive because if you are 22 or 23 year-old, who is coming with the sort of comparable credentials, full-time and part-time, the chances of being admitted to Georgetown are exactly the same.”
Loyola Assistant Dean, Jannell Roberts, says in the past, there used to be a difference for admission standards for part-time and full-time students. “In the past there was a difference. I think for most ABA schools, I think because we were seeing the non-traditional student apply to our part-time programs, we felt less wedded to those statistical predictors like the LSAT or the undergraduate GPA because they were not as representative of someone who had been out of school 5 years, 10 years, 15 years. Now, with the reporting change from US News & World Report, which is an organization that puts out a ranking that a lot of students look to, they are including part-time information as part of their ranking profile. So, I know that for some schools, that means that the standards for part-time programs will actually increase if there was a difference.”
Roberts says the applicant pool is different. “They know that they’re a little bit wiser.They’re a little bit more clear sometimes about why they’re going to law school. So, in a sense, it’s even a little bit more focused, we see in the evening program that those students generally have more life experience.I don’t necessarily think that they, credential wise, are different. I think they come from as many interesting schools and have done, you know, really terrific things in their background.So, I think the profile is different again because of the other life requirement that that student may have.”
At Fordham, the applicant pool among full and part-time students is similar, but the admissions are very different. Assistant Dean Brown says the ideal part-time student has several years of life experience and has the intent to keep working.The full-time students have stronger GPAs and LSATs and usually have planned to go to law school. Part-time law students often decided to attend as a result of their job. “There’s a myth out there that if your grades and scores are weak, you should apply to the part-time program because they will accept anybody. Our students who seem to have weaker grades and scores are accomplished in other areas. And because we have the same teachers teaching and we award the same degree, we look for people who have similar academic indicators in terms of success. There is not a big difference. Last year, the median for our full-time program and part-time program was within the standard error. So, for us, the criteria are similar and in terms of the numbers, slightly weaker in terms of GPA and LSAT for our part-time students but much stronger work experience and real-world experience.”
Brown says, full and part-time students have similar academic experiences but the culture is different. “Our full-time tenured track faculty teaches part-time and full-time, so there are no issues there, but the ability to participate fully in the life of the law school is different with many part-time students not having that same opportunity because of their work.” Brown says, at Fordham, they see part-time students from all walks of life.“We see students coming from financial services. We see students, part-time students, who are paralegals and legal assistants.We have a big part-time community from the pharmaceutical industry looking to continue engineering and patent work.And these students are furthering their interest in these areas and looking for promotions at their current job or to meld their scientific, financial backgrounds with their legal backgrounds.”
And at Loyola, Assistant Dean Jannell Roberts agrees that the students in the day program generally haven’t had as much life experience as those at night in the part-time program. “We have had every year students enroll with us from Boeing. We have students from the entertainment business especially when the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) strike happened, many more people who are in the industries thought about being in the industry in a different way, so they thought about being an attorney or colleagues, just based on some of the newer issues that are involving intellectual property, the protection of an artist’s work or what should an artist be paid for his or her work.We get students from, of course, the traditional industries like business and even some doctors. We’ve had even a couple of doctors who’ve been to medical school, who have been practicing and with all of the things going on in the health care industry, have decided to make a slight turn and go into health care law.”
Students come from many fields. At Georgetown, because the law school is located right near the US Capitol Building, many work on Capitol Hill for senators, congressmen, agencies, or patent offices. Many are older; some are college professors, medical doctors, members of the Armed Services. Dean Cornblatt says the Admissions Department has its work cut out for it when it comes to deciding who gets into the part-time program. “In many ways, sort of, making decisions in the part-time division is harder.Full-time is plenty hard but for part-time, it’s harder because it really is a whole bunch of apples and oranges and how you compare a professional athlete with a dentist, with someone who has fought in Iraq, with somebody who is the legislative assistant to a congressman and you’re trying to sort of decide one versus the other.It’s more interesting but a harder decision.”
There are several ways to apply for the part-time program at Georgetown and sometimes Dean Cornblatt says Admissions will call a student and offer an alternative. “At Georgetown, you can apply for the full-time division, you can apply for the part-time division or you can apply to both.And by applying to both, that’s an option. By applying to both, you basically left it in our hands to decide which of those programs we feel is more appropriate for you. So, it is that way the applicant is doing that, in addition, we will often get – these generally tend to be older applicants – we will often get 5 to 10 times a year, I or someone in my staff will call the applicant, say, ‘I know you’ve applied to the full-time division.It is very tight. We have no room now but your profile seems to fit a little bit more with the part-time division. Have you considered that and would you like us to consider that?’If they say no, that’s fine and we will continue to consider them as full-time students. But often, they will say, ‘You know what?I haven’t really thought about that’ or, ‘You know, I played with that.’ And then at that point they may say yes, and then we’ll consider them as part-time students.”
The admissions timeline at Georgetown skewed slightly differently for part-time applicants.“We totally understand that our part-time applicants will often come in a little bit later than the full-time division.These are people, again, who are older and out in the work world, and therefore will be less, sort of caught up in kind of the current that sweeps you along. When you’re 21, 22, and 23 and you’re a college senior or just out, you are very much well aware of the rhythm of this and when you take the LSAT and when you should get your application in, your professors are right across the quad, so you can go ahead and get their letters of recommendation.All that’s much easier to do than if you’re 35 and you’re out working and you want to do this but you’re not in that rhythm.That is part of the air that college seniors breathe and is much less so for older applicants as they apply.So, by March 1st for example or March 15th, I have probably admitted 85% to 90% of the full-time division.For part-time division, I probably admitted 65% to 70%.”
For Loyola, the program deadline is around the 1st of February, and for part-time applicants, it’s around mid-April. At Fordham, the part-time students engage in a four-year program.Assistant Dean Brown says there, the part-students seem to build more of a community. Otherwise, the part-time and full-time programs are similar.One caveat. “It’s good to be working while going to school part-time in the view of many employers, but not good at all to be going to school part-time and not working.”
First year law student, Meghan Morris, is working. She is in the evening division at Georgetown Law School. Her dad’s a lawyer and her brother just graduated from law school, but it wasn’t the family history that led her to law, it was working on Capitol Hill for Congressman Stephen Lynch of Boston. “For me, I couldn’t imagine going back to being a student.I really enjoy the fact that my job overlaps with what I’m learning in class and what I learn in class, is helpful to my job.It’s a good fit for me.”
But is it a comparable education to go part-time instead of full-time? Meghan Morris says there are drawbacks to going to school part-time.She misses out on activities like the journal and clinics. “We’re right around the corner from the Supreme Court and the government is here and everything, that they are always having meetings and different panels and things like that and I just have to pass them up, which is definitely unfortunate.But I think that you can make time to do those things and I think that the school tries to make it possible for us to attend things when they can but it’s not always possible.”
Also at Georgetown, Dean of Admissions, Cornblatt, weighs in on how much time as a part-time student you will have to attend activities that would strengthen your resumé and provide networking opportunities. “There is no question that if you’re working full-time and you’re going to school at night, you’ll really have a difficult time finding the hours to get as involved as a full-time student would. But that’s something that most students can kind of gauge and look at and see what their current – outside of law school situation is and the truth is that it’s inverse proportion as, you know, the more you’re involved outside in terms of work or, otherwise, the less you can be involved at law school.The reverse is true too.The less you’re involved and the more free time you have, you’re able to take advantage of it. But that’s entirely up to the student. It’s not a question of the law school. The law school is Georgetown’s offering all of these opportunities to all students. It’s just a question of how many hours each of the students have.”
At Fordham, Assistant Dean Brown says part-time students will miss out on the great life experience at law school but there are variations.“Some schools with large part-time programs will have afternoon meetings for some of the student activities so that evening students could take advantage of getting out of work a little early and still being able to participate. Here at Fordham, we have 17 clinics and three of the clinics will accommodate evening school students. Many of the clinics are court-related or negotiation-related and working with offices that are 9:00 to 5:00 or 8:00 to 4:00, so students don’t have that opportunity unless they can participate remotely.And then some of our students manage to do that on their own company time, to get involved in telephone counseling and working with clients during the day. It really depends on the school and the activity students are looking to participate in.”
Then there’s the question of money. Meghan Morris is finding that her boss, the House of Representatives, is supportive.“Well, the feedback from my job has been really good and my boss is really supportive of me going to school.It’s helpful for the office as well, so that’s definitely positive. But in terms of student loans and things like that, the House helps people pay back their student loans but only when they’re paying them back.”
When it comes to financing options, Dean Cornblatt says students have to take into account what is being offered by the company and by the law school.“If one were to go part-time, then clearly the tuition is less.You are able to have some income while you’re in school and all of that works out for you financially.That’s a better situation for most – for many of our students financially. On the other hand, in terms of scholarships and grants, we do not offer grants to our part-time students. So, if getting grants and scholarships is vital to however you’re going to finance this thing, then I would strongly suggest that you apply full-time rather than part-time.”
Full-time law students usually fund their education by taking out loans, but Assistant Dean Brown says it can be a different story for part-time students. “Many colleges and universities do offer tuition remission for their employees or dependents of their employees.So, students here at the law school, we probably have six or seven who are working as professionals in one or another area of the university and then attending law school at night, paying tax on the benefit, but still that’s costing them substantially less than if they were paying out of pocket. Many of our part-time students will negotiate with their employers outside of work in terms of covering tuition for length of service afterwards.Those are the more creative ways to address the part-time programs.”
Brown notes that tuition is lower in the part-time program so students often need to borrow less. Forty-six percent of Fordham students are from New York. Fewer employers these days may be willing to pay for students than five years ago as employee benefits tighten. But Assistant Dean Brown says some paralegals have made such an impression that Big Law is willing to invest in them. “That works on so many levels because the student is not worried about a job after graduation, is not worried about borrowing, and indeed will go back to a big firm where, even if the student borrowed, you know, she would be able to pay off relatively quickly. It’s a win for everybody and the firm gets somebody they know.They don’t have to rely on two or three interviews before they hire somebody at $160,000 a year.”
Assistant Dean Brown gives an example of how one student will finance his education.As we’re talking, an e-mail just popped up from an applicant to the part-time program who is reporting that he is very pleased that his firm is going to pay for his legal education if we admit him.And the twist of this is you don’t have to give us money. I’m prepared to come tomorrow and indeed, he is at a firm in New York.It fits perfectly.We hope he listens to this.
That potential law student is lucky. Assistant Dean Melissa Lennon at Temple notes that one of the challenges in a tight job market, particularly for part-time students, is to have legal experience. “Employers will look for some kind of legal experience gained during the law school period.So, if you would not have the opportunity to get an internship, to do a clinic, to do things like that, sometimes that’s the challenge.I mean, that’s always been a challenge for people who attend law school at night and I think it always will be.We do our best to make different opportunities available to them. For example, in our clinical program, you know, a lot of those programs are based around courts. So, let’s say you’re representing people hoping to get social security, disability benefits, you can only represent those clients in court and court is generally, you know, held during business hours.So, if you can’t be available during business hours, then that clinic is not available to you. So, there is just some immovable kind of obstacles that stand in the way.On the other hand, it really does help a part-time student when they’re applying to employers who are in their industry or in related industries. So, they already have all of this experienced in that particular business or in that particular arena. So, there are some ways that it can be really a benefit that a day division student would never have had. I mean, some evening division students have just an incredible wealth of knowledge and understanding about how a particular industry works.They tack the JD on to that and that’s a terrific package you’re putting together.”
Megan Morris says there is additional pressure for part-time students.“That’s another drawback for part-time students that, depending on your job, you have to get legal experience. So, if you’re not in a legal job, the people that I’ve spoken with, anyway, in career services and things like that say that it’s really important to get that experience somehow.”
Assistant Dean Lennon says there is no stigma to going to law school part-time.“Part-time students’ knowledge of a particular industry can really be an asset that a day division student wouldn’t have. So, I mean if you are working in a major pharmaceutical company and the law firm to which you are applying has clients that are major pharmaceutical companies, then that’s going to be an asset and it wouldn’t matter that you went to law school in the evening.The timing can sometimes be challenging to the extent that large firms hire largely from summer programs and if you don’t have the ability as an evening division student to take part in a law firm summer program, which is usually anywhere from 8 to 10 to 12 weeks during the summer, that could sometimes be a challenge. But there’s certainly no stigma that I’ve ever observed.”
At Loyola, Dean Roberts says that students tell her that being a part-time law student can be perceived as an advantage. “What they say is that, hey, you know, when I put that I’m an evening student on my resume, it gives me a talking point with an employer.And it also can reinforce to that employer that, hey, I can be great at doing multiple things. And so, I think it can even be one of those things that help them stand out.”
But what if it doesn’t work for you? You opt for part-time and you clamor for the single focus of a full-time law school experience or, after you get accepted to the full-time program, your boss offers to pay. So, you decided to stay on the job and you want to switch to that part-time program.
Assistant Dean at Temple, Melissa Lennon says, if you’re on the fence, know that you can change your mind. “At Temple, there are people who start out in the evening division and then transferred to the day division.If they work a little extra hard to make up some credits but you are able to do that in graduate within three years and there are people who start in the day division full-time and go on to a part-time track. So, I would say talk to people who have done it both ways.And then make sure that whatever law school you’re considering has a certain amount of flexibility in case you change your mind.”
At Fordham, students are admitted separately to the full-time or part-time program.But after the first year, evening students can take classes offered during the day and vice versa.Plus, there are weekend classes and they can transfer between programs. “Once the student has completed the first year and the first semester of the second year in the part-time program, they will have lots of flexibility in terms of taking courses. As students decide that work and school are not working for them or as we’ve experienced in the last year or so, the lay-offs in some of the industries our students are coming from, they can certainly transfer into the full-time program and finish in three years.
Dean Cornblatt says his best advice is to get your application in as soon as possible whether you are employed or not. “If you feel as though you’re not sure and you’ll be happy either way, apply to both and let us make that decision for you. You think if you want to go this route or that route, go ahead and apply to that division. We will always, and I get many, many requests in the spring.‘I applied to the full-time division; I would like to go part-time,’ or the reverse. I will do the best I can to be flexible and to see if we can find room to see if you can move back and forth among divisions.But that’s more likely to happen sooner in the process than later.”
As for the future, Dean Robert says that distance learning trend will be slow to begin in law school but there is another trend under way. “What we’ve seen in legal education is a movement to more clinical training.So, you have more opportunities for students to have practical training, to be in clinics, to be working with clients while they’re a student so that when they are done, they really can hit the ground running and I think that’s the trend that I’ve seen legal education both for part-time students and for full-time students as well.”
Our experts tell us if you want to continue working, go to school part-time.If all you want is law school, go full-time. They say there is no stigma against going to law school part-time. In fact, some employers may perceive your ability to multitask as a powerful advantage. How you use your time, of course, is up to you. And it may be tricky trying to capitalize on the law school experience while juggling a job, school, and a family. No surprise here. If you’re considering a part-time program, you’re best served by knowing your own needs, the balance in your life, and what it means to you to go after it.
For more information, a transcript of this show, or to sign up to receive more law school podcasts, visit www.lawschoolpodcaster.com . Look for us on Face book and Twitter to get the latest news and insight into the world of law school.I’m Diana Jordan with Law School Podcaster. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for more shows as we explore another topic of interest to help you succeed in the law school application process and beyond.