I have been a career counselor at two law schools with excellent part-time programs, where classes are held in the evenings so students can work full or part-time. For some applicants, the evening division is ideal: they work during the day at jobs they enjoy, earn money to pay for law school now rather than collect debt for later, and make contacts. Other law school applicants are disappointed to receive offers of admission to part-time programs rather than day programs, and hope to transfer to the day divisions at their schools after first year.
This year, US News & World Report changed its methodology to combine admissions data for full- and part-time students when computing the infamous rankings. "In the past, we'd just used full-time," said Bob Morse, the director of data research for the magazine. "But some schools we think were gaming the system. There were some part-time programs that were set up just for US News reporting purposes." (See the WSJ Law Blog here and the Law Librarian Blog here for discussions about this change.) The practice of admitting students with somewhat lower GPA and LSAT scores into evening programs may disappear because of this change, but it's too early to tell.
If you choose a part-time program, work full-time while attending law school, and remain in the evening division for four years (rather than the three years of a full-time program), you will need to make some strategic decisions while you're a student to position yourself for your post-graduate job search. Because of your day job, you may not be able to attend many career service programs, participate in most or all clinics, or take time off for summer legal jobs. Thoughtful planning can help you make the most of your time in law school. Here are some suggestions:
- Select courses that reflect your interests and add a section titled "Relevant Coursework" to your resume
- Highlight transferable skills from your current employment in your cover letters and resume
- Be prepared to articulate your goals for prospective legal employers, so your choice to work and attend law school can be explained as a unmitigated asset
- Get involved with student groups. If a group you wish to join doesn't have opportunities for evening students, create those opportunities and become the group liaison from the evening division
- Compete for Moot Court or journals
- Consider working as a Research Assistant during the semester or summer, for a professor who will allow you to set your own hours and work independently
- Reach out to non-profits and government agencies in your community to see if they accept students as volunteers for discrete short-term projects, evening work, or weekend work. Some law schools will find and promote these opportunities
- Seek law-related projects with your current employer
- Ask your current employer for one (or two, if possible) summer sabbatical(s), when you can seek full-time legal employment
Are you considering or currently enrolled in a part-time program? Share your experience here.
Nicole Vikan is a graduate of NYU Law School. She spent her first law school summer at a large law firm, and her second summer in the Homicide Investigation Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. She returned to the District Attorney's Office after graduation and spent five years as a criminal prosecutor, handling cases such as robbery and assault. Nicole then joined Fordham Law School's Career Planning Center, where she advised students seeking employment in the private and public sectors. She is currently a career counselor at Georgetown Law Center's Office of Public Interest and Community Service. As part of the Anna Ivey team, Nicole works with law school applicants and people exploring legal careers.