Part-Time Law Programs

December 27, 2010 at 5:39 pm (Applying to Law School, Choosing a law school, full/part time)

The PreLaw Winter 2011 edition is out and one article I thought would interest some of my readers is on part-time law programs. More specifically, the difficulty in juggling part or full time employment while pursuing a J.D. part-time.  The article can be read here.

According to USN&WR, there are 84 law schools which offer part-time law programs.  This number is down 3 from 2009.  Some part time programs are exclusively evening classes and others are integrated in to the daytime courses with no evening classes scheduled.  A 2009 article, “The Attractions of Part-Time Law School” notes some of the challenges and pitfalls of juggling work and school.  Not surprisingly, many of the schools offering part time programs are within 40 miles of the U.S. Capitol; five of the six top-ranked schools to be exact.  This is because many working professionals are seeking a law degree as a way to enhance their resume in their current fields or have already gotten their feet wet in the legal profession. Other part timers are seeking a law degree as a complete career change but want to maintain their steady employment to help cover the cost of law school and maintain current living expenses. In the current state of the economy, it makes sense to be leery of leaving secure employment and taking on student debt.

The trouble with balancing work and school, aside from time constraints, decreased time with family and friends, and of course added stress is that opportunities to participate in clinics, journals, or moot court may pose a challenge to students who are restricted in time and do not have the flexibile schedules to attend and participate in extracurricular activities. Not only does this hinder the overall law school experience but this can mean fewer networking opportunities and a skinnier resume than full time classmates.

U.S. News & World Report now ranks part time law programs. The rankings can be viewed here.  Before U.S. News & World Report began including part-time admissions into overall law school rankings, part-time admissions tended to be less stringent than any given’s full time program. In other words, a 155 may have been the median for a part-time program at a particular school but a 165 was required for admission to the same school’s full time program. Now with the new incorporation of part time into full time rankings consideration, this seems to no longer be the case.  For more on this, see the part-time law school ranking methodology.

While it may seem financially advantageous to pursue law school part time, fewer scholarships are available for part-time students.  Since there is an expectation that a part time student is maintaining full time employment, less financial consideration is made for part time applicants.  One school I applied to explicitly told me that if I was looking for scholarship consideration then I must apply to the full time program because part time applicants are not considered for scholarships at all.  Many external scholarships also specify applicants must be enrolled in a full-time program.  For example, the American Judges Association scholarships are all for full-time law students.  Further, one’s income will affect the eligibility for subsidized interest loans as the law students financial need will not appear as great as if they were working part time or not at all.  Additionally, scholarships that can be applied for independently (aside from the law school) tend to specify eligibility as enrollment in a full time program.  AdmissionsDean.com has done a nice job of compiling a comprehensive list of scholarships available for law schools.

The fact that there are fewer schools who offer part time programs can seriously limit an applicants ability to select a law school that is truly a good fit. If your limited to a very small region that you can commute to while still maintaining your household and employment then you may find your stuck with a school less desirable than one farther away. I understand that law school is not intended to be a particularly fun experience, but I think its also important that the law school offer programs of interest and a high potential for post-graduate success. For a listing of part time law schools and their admissions standards, click here.

You may also find that a fewer percent of part time applicants are admitted to a particular school than full time applicants. For example, law schools accept 200 to 400 students for their 1L incoming full time law class but only 50 for their one part time section. Depending on the number of applicants received for the part time class, admission as a part time law student may actually be more competitive than for the full time class.

Additionally, adding an extra year of law school can mean an additional year of stress, one year farther away from attaining your goals, and in some cases another year of earning a reduced income.  Some fees calculated by each school under the total cost of attendance are not per credit hour, but rather, are per year. So attending a part-time program can mean an additional year of those required fees, making it actually more expensive over the law school career than attending a 3-year full time program.  If as a part time student you are unable to cover the entire costs of both tuition and living expenses or if (heaven forbid) the employment you relied on terminates, you may find your taking out loans anyway and instead of three years, for four years. Further, part time students are almost always required to take courses in the summer – a time when your full time classmates are securing essential externships, clerkships, and networking for future employment.

These are just some things to consider.  Part time programs offer an excellent way for non traditional students to pursue a law degree. Additionally, individuals with financial constraints may find it best to enroll in a part-time program. Just be certain the decision you make is the best possible and most sound decision for you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: