Everything you need to know about working during law school
Written by: Enjuris Editors
Working during law school is a possibility for most students. But, there are pros and cons to doing so.
Law school tuition is rapidly rising and job salaries are slipping. This new reality has forced many prospective law students to consider working during law school to cover their living expenses.
There are, however, certain disadvantages to working during law school.
What’s more, some law schools flat-out prohibit students from working and others urge students to limit the number of hours they work.
For example, William & Mary Law School currently has the following message for incoming law students posted on their website:
“We recognize that it may be necessary to have a steady or extra income while a student. However, we strongly encourage you to limit the number of hours that you work during the academic year while in law school so that you may devote ‘substantially all working hours to the study of law.’ We interpret this as a limit of 15 hours of outside employment per week. The Vice Dean may grant permission to work up to but no more than 20 hours per week in outside employment.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether you should work during law school. In this article, we’ll look at the pros and cons of working during law school so you can decide what’s best for you.
Pros of working during law school
Approximately 75% of law school students take out loans to finance their education. Of the students who took out loans in 2018, the average amount borrowed (not including interest) was $115,481.
The main advantage of working during law school is that you’ll need fewer loans to survive and therefore you’ll have fewer loans to pay back after you graduate. However, there are 3 less-obvious benefits to working during law school that you should consider:
An opportunity to clear your mind. Studying the law can be grueling. What’s more, law students have a difficult time “stepping away” from the law because they spend most of their time surrounded by law students who are constantly thinking about the law, talking about the law, and (in some cases) trying to intimidate or undermine the confidence of other law students. Having a job forces you to step away from the law and interact with people outside of law school. As a result, you’ll gain perspective and avoid law school drama and anxiety.
Time management. Although working during law school gives you less time to study, this might actually be a good thing. People with less time to accomplish something are forced to be more efficient with their time. Having a job can help you avoid procrastination and learn to work smarter rather than harder.
Resume building. If you’re able to get good grades and work during law school, it will be seen as a plus by potential employers. Law firms trying to determine which candidates can handle multiple cases and grueling hours will be impressed by your ability to successfully manage both work and law school.
Cons of working during law school
During your first year of law school, you can expect to be in class roughly 12–15 hours per week. In addition, you can expect to spend roughly 45 hours per week studying. At roughly 57–60 hours per week, law school is a full-time job and this doesn’t even include the other demands that you’ll likely have to deal with in your second and third years of law school, such as law review, moot court competitions, and mock interviews.
Having less time to study is particularly problematic because your law school success determines, in part, the jobs you can get after law school. For example, most large law firms won’t consider candidates who don’t finish in the top 15% of their class.
While having less time to study is the biggest disadvantage to working during law school, there are a couple of less-obvious disadvantages as well:
No free time. The research shows that having “downtime” actually makes people more productive. Most law students attempt to turn off their brains by watching movies or taking walks outside. Working during law school may limit or completely eliminate your downtime.
Summer conflicts. The vast majority of law students spend their summers participating in legal internships (some of which are paid). There are many benefits to legal internships, including networking, resume building, and setting yourself up to receive a job offer from the internship. Students who work may not be able to get the time off necessary to participate in a legal internship.
Enjuris tip: For those who want (or need) to work during law school, but don’t want to suffer some of the disadvantages, consider attending law school part-time.
What jobs are best for law students who want to work during law school?
The type of job you perform can mitigate or intensify the disadvantages of working during law school. Let’s take a look at two hypotheticals to illustrate this point:
Laura is a law student at Harvard Law School. Housing in Boston costs a small fortune and she wants to work during law school to help with the expenses. She takes a job working as a parking attendant where she spends most of her time sitting in a quiet booth. Her employer allows her to bring her books to work and so she is able to study for most of her shift.
Rick is a law student at Gonzaga Law School. He decides to work while attending law school and takes a job as a bartender. The bar is loud and busy, and Rick often doesn’t get home until 3:00 in the morning. Because of his schedule, Rick is frequently exhausted and can hardly stay awake during his classes. What’s more, his employer needs him to work during the summer and he must, therefore, turn down a prestigious internship offer.
Clearly Laura’s working situation is more conducive to the demands of law school than Rick’s job.
Types of jobs that tend to be ideal for law students include:
Dorm receptionist/security monitor
Campus tour guide
Enjuris tip: Talk to your law school (or even the associated undergraduate school) about possible work-study programs. Often, on-campus jobs that offer flexibility and allow you to study while you work are available.
Looking for more tips on how to survive law school? Check out the Enjuris student center.