Can and Should I Work through Law School?
There are a lot of reasons why you might ask the question. Law school is obviously expensive, even at a place like KU, where affordability is a genuine priority. Some people like to use non-law school work to stay grounded or to follow an external passion. Law-related work can be a great opportunity or a way to get closer to our eventual goals for a legal career. For whatever reason an individual is asking, this question comes up a lot. As someone who’s worked through all three years of law school, here’s my thoughts on whether you should work and how to do so in a healthy way.
Try to avoid it at all costs. It is strongly discouraged for really valid reasons. Your first year, you’ll be immersing yourself in a new environment, in a new way of thinking, and a new language and way of communicating. This will take a lot of energy and focus and is not the time to be cutting corners. Expect your school work to be hard in new ways and take more time than you expect them to, to do properly, especially in the beginning. You need to give yourself enough time to really be immersed, and you’ll want to ensure you have enough time to get to know new friends, take advantage of opportunities to get involved with the school and rest and relax as you get acclimated. These take time and should be prioritized especially in the first year. If you absolutely have to work – and I was definitely in that position – I recommend keeping it as minimal and flexible as possible.
Second year and third year:
Now that you’re settled in, you’ve got more of a sense of what you’re capable of. There are also more opportunities to work within the law specifically, as a research assistant, through a firm, through pro bono work. Many of these opportunities are paid and getting some extra money while learning can be a great opportunity. However, your grades and school involvement are no less important during these years, so you need to consider these demands.
- Prioritize your education. There are a million reasons for this including the importance of strong relationships with your professors, your grades, your education and your overall knowledge of the law. You’re a student, so make sure you’re starting with a strong base there.
- Work ahead and plan ahead. You’ll also want to anticipate your school schedule, and only work on days where you know you’ll have more than enough time to get everything done as thoroughly as you want. Planning ahead as well can mean all the difference in anticipating issues and knowing how you need to work ahead to make it all work. I tend to be planned two to three weeks in advance, especially for big projects. It alleviates so much stress.
- Communication. Make sure everyone, job and school wise, has ample notice of any conflicts or if issues arise. The more clear you can be and the earlier can make all the difference.
- Go for flexibility! Jobs like tutoring allow for you to set your own schedule and even sometimes work from home. Serving jobs and their ilk don’t require you to read which can provide much needed breaks for your eyes and keep you on your feet.
- Clinics. If you’re looking at working during these years for experience alone, consider working for clinic or experiential credit to minimize the effect on your classwork and to give you credit.
Know your limits and take care of yourself. Ultimately, it’s a cliché, but you truly cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself so you can be your best self for all the things you do.
– Libby Rohr is a 3L KU Law Student Ambassador from Leawood, Kansas