Law school applications: Working during law school

During your first year of law school, as a full-time student, you can expect to log 12-15 hours per week in the classroom. The most frequently cited benchmark for outside study time is 2-3 hours of study for every hour of class time. Please note that that figure is an average—some students will study more and some lucky (or brave) few will study less. That means straight schoolwork will take up, on average, 45-60 hours of your week.

Now compare that time to what you are doing currently, either combining school and work as an undergraduate, or working full-time as a graduate. If it seems like a lot to you, then you probably will not want to work your first year of law school. If it seems like very little, then you may want to explore employment options.

Consider the following as your think about whether working during law school is a realistic part of your financial planning:

  • law school entails a different kind of studying for most people, and it will likely take you longer to prepare for class than you are accustomed to;
  • almost all first year law students face a very steep learning curve;
  • first year grades are critical for clerkships, summer internships, and possible transfers;
  • all schools, as mandated by the ABA, restrict full-time students to no more than 20 hours a week of employment during the school year (enforcement of this rule varies considerably, however);
  • depending on where you go to school, the opportunities for paid employment will vary widely;
  • in upper years, you will have other demands on your time besides classes, including moot court, law journals and other student activities.

Don’t forget your summers. Most students try to obtain paid legal employment during the summer. How easy that is depends in large part on where you go to law school, and what the local market for law student associates is. This can be a highly remunerative source of employment if you are in a big law firm in a medium or large city. Summer legal employment may be much less financially rewarding (but beneficial in other ways) if you work in a public interest firm or for a small law firm. Summer employment is not just a way to make ends meet and potentially diminish the next year’s tuition bill. It is also an investment in your future career in terms of professional networking and the exposure to actual law practice. Make sure you talk to your law school’s career services center about summer employment during your first semester at school (they will likely reach out to you first, or at least publish a timeline of job search activities for first year students).

If you enter a part-time law school program, things look pretty different. You can expect to work a job during the day, go to classes in the evenings, and study on the weekends. (There’s some variation to this depending on your work schedule.) On the upside, this allows you to seek or maintain employment that can defray at the very least your living costs. On the other hand, your time is nearly 100% devoted to work and study for the four years of a part-time program. This is just one set of considerations for those of your considering a part-time program, of course, but an important set.

See more “Financing Law School” resources

See an overview of the entire application process