Why I Chose a Four Year Law School Program, with Pros and Cons
Choosing the right school is difficult, but choosing to go “part-time” or “take evening classes” in law school seemed, to me, like a very difficult and non-traditional way of going to law school. I envisioned that Legally Blond moment of going to law school full-time and graduating quickly. To say I was disillusioned at my prospects is true, but I also knew that not all our plans work out the way we want them to but one must rise above all obstacles to reach one's goal.
This article is meant to show you the personal schedule of a "part-time" or "evening-student" law student, and the pros-cons of going to law school for four years.
With my Temporary Protected Status being an issue in funding my degree already, law school seemed unreachable for several of the summer months before the fall semester began. I did not know a four-year program existed for law school. I had been accepted into the day-program (full-time program) in the law schools I applied to, and paying $40K+ in tuition a year was far out of the reach for my family and me.
When I visited the law schools I was accepted into, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney stood out to me and it felt like it was calling my name. You can call that feeling destiny, but I call it God’s will. When I explained my issues in paying for law school, the admissions office suggested their four-year program which sounded very crazy to me. I had just finished obtaining my two undergraduate degrees in 4 and a half years, and I did not want to be in school for another four because it just seemed like too much time.
Yet, for a Latina that did not know how to negotiate/ask/inquire/navigate asking for help with tuition, and with parents who wish they could give the world to her but cannot because of their low-income status-- making the choice was easier. It was either finding a U.S Citizen or legal resident to convince and co-sign a large loan that could be the price for a house in the midwest to attend law school full time, or not go to law school at all.
So, I took what God gave me, and decided I would make a four-year plan. After moving to Indianapolis from my small town of Evansville, IN (where’s that? Right at the front-tip of the boot-shaped state of Indiana bordering Kentucky), I chose IU-McKinney as my school for the next four years.
My schedule from then on looked like this:
- Get up at 5/6 a.m., study if I could-- get to work at 7/8 a.m.
- Leave work at 5 p.m. (sometimes trying to beat traffic), and better be on time for class or get an absent-- which if you did not know, counts against you and the ABA keeps track of it!
-Then take a class at 5:30 p.m.or 6:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m., which meant I needed to read right after class for the next day. Don’t worry, I ate in between work and school, or in class (my evening professors were understanding).
Thereafter, I would head to the library, which was like my home, and I read and studied until 11 p.m. or midnight. Earlier in my first and part of my second year, I would often take a break to go for long-distance runs and lifting, then head back to the library.
Then, I would drive home, prepare my clothes and food for the next day, and do it again. It was not always perfect, and I had meetings for organizations in between or during lunch, or doctor appointments, interviews, or deadlines to meet-- but I managed. You will too.
Over the years, my work schedule changed depending on what time I went into work. Before being injured, I use to run and exercise a lot. I suggest that you take care of your body and leave room for exercise, even if that’s walking-- it helps manage the stress your body undergoes in law school. Any small amount of exercise can help manage your stress hormones.
Having been an A-type of person in college, I made sure to have a very detailed schedule and I stuck to my goals (grit! grit! grit!). So the summer before law school, get to know yourself more and find out what schedule and times work for you. If you have to make life schedule changes, be opened minded but also be realistic.
The reasons why a four-year law school program was the best decision for me are below, and I hope this makes you decide:
- I was able to break up my school payments into monthly installments while I worked full time
- I was able to hold 8 job positions in four years, 1 fellowship (two awarded fellowships combined in 1 experience), and sometimes could work on weekends if I needed extra money
- If I was able to pay down a certain amount of money each semester, and I was able to register for classes for the next semester even if I had not paid in full (check your specific school’s guidelines and keep a calendar for payments and registration dates), and catch up in savings during my school breaks by working extra
- MAJOR POINT: I was able to harness so much experience and sharpen my skills with my legal job opportunities (7 legal jobs) while earning money, and job prospects were higher compared to my colleagues with similar grades but less experience.
- You can switch to day-time/full-time classes after your first semester if your economic situation improves! I did! I got married during my last year of law school, and I was a “hybrid” student my last semester so I could graduate on time. My economical situation did no improve, but I was able to register for my last semester classes and make a payment plan after graduation. I finally got my physical diploma and graduate certificate a few months ago, and was able to give it to my parents! Even though we are still paying off my tuition (I am under $2K now! Yay!), it makes a difference to reach that graduation goal.
Nonetheless, there were some drawbacks:
- ALL of this was stressful! It was difficult to receive my next notice of tuition payment while trying to focus on school. Law school is hard, some people make it look easy, but it takes a lot of drive and dedication.
- You may not be able to live luxuriously like your peers who come from lines of attorneys, but if you budget well and research resources you can graduate! You will THRIVE, and you WILL accomplish your goals. Trust me, four years feel and seem like a lot of time but IT IS WORTH IT!
- You may not have a social life. Although I was part of many student and professional organizations and held leadership positions, I was tired-- and I was an extrovert before (meaning I got my energy from talking to many people). My social life consisted of my colleagues, and I did not get to see my family very often. Another article about dealing with family distance and our Latino families is coming up!
- You may not get to attend some fun events the school hosts because you will be in class, BUT the first year the most important part is excelling in your studies by learning how to study, learning how to write a law school exam, and LEARNING the law. Even if you don’t get the best grades, or even get Cs, there are resources to help you and you can graduate and become an attorney. However, the first year should be about learning how you will study smart, efficiently, and consistently for the next four years. You are preparing every day for the final, and those final exams are preparing you for the bar exam.
Legal lingo and terms of arts are very different than reading for pleasure or entertainment. Understanding what you're reading, and how to pull what you need is key to succeeding in law school, the bar exam, and on the field. Now, since it is four years of law school, trust me when I say that you will have plenty of opportunities to network and find the right people.
- In law school, you have to be selfish. As a Latina woman breed to take care of family, friends, guest..etc., I did not know how to be selfish at first. This selfishness is not coming from a bad place, however, it comes from a place where you want to take care of your future, the future of your family, and the future of a community that will improve because of your decisions. SO, I tell you now, it is perfectly okay to be selfish and spend time on a goal that you will reach. Your family and friends, those that truly love you, will learn to understand and will be there when you finish. Four years will go by, but your degree and family will remain, and you will come out stronger, smarter, and wiser than ever before.
- It may cause strain in relationships, but again, you gotta do what you gotta do. If you need help, there are resources available for students coping with family stressors. I lost three loved ones and my dog between law school and taking the bar exam, but you will find the strength to rise. Just make sure to ask for help, speak up, and find the resources to get you through it.
- You may be the youngest in your class (for some the oldest), but this does not mean you are not capable. You are worthy of being in law school, you have earned it, and you are capable of reaching everything you came for!
- Some people may try to dismiss you when they hear “part-time student,” but you will be surprised when the majority of attorneys admire the GRIT and PASSION it takes to be a part-time student. I once had a partner from a top 5 international law firm tell me “You are not part-time anything! You are a full-time worker and a FULL-TIME law student, and I admire you for that. I have a lot of respect for part-time students.” So walk proudly.
The one thing I want you to get from this article is this:
You can achieve your goal of earning a Juris Doctor and becoming an attorney as long as you consider your pros and cons, budget very well, manage your time, and prioritize. Having to change from a day-time schedule to a night-time schedule is hard, but it is worth it because the experience is something not many day-time students will have-- which will make you more qualified for an attorney position. Additionally, if you are struggling for money, it will make it easier to reach yours. Lastly, know that you gotta do YOU at YOUR TIME, at YOUR PACE, and know that your community and family is proud of the choice you are making in considering or attending law school.
I hope this helps! Join the conversation on our social media pages @OfficialLawtina.