For students balancing the demands of career, family and other interests, attending law school full-time may not be an option. Fortunately, many law schools offer part-time law programs (state-by-state list of part-time law programs). Approximately 1 in 10 graduates from ABA-approved schools attended a part-time law program, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Full-time students complete a law degree in three academic years while part-time students generally complete a law degree in eight semesters, or four academic years. Students admitted to a law school's part-time program can usually transfer to the full-time program if they choose.
While attending law school on a part-time basis offers many advantages, it also has several limitations. Below are a few advantages and disadvantages of part-time study.
Advantages of Part-Time Law Programs
- Evening classes. Most part-time law programs are offered in the evening, allowing students to maintain full-time employment during the day. Evening programs make law school possible for many students with employment and family obligations that would otherwise prevent them from attending law school.
- Reduced Course Load. Part-time law programs allow students to carry fewer credits and take fewer classes than full-time students. Although the course load is reduced, part-time students should still expect to spend 30 to 40 hours per week pursuing their law degree in addition to their employment and other responsibilities.
- Lower Admissions Criteria. The LSAT scores and GPA’s of students in part-time programs are excluded from U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings calculus, making it possible for schools to lower admissions criteria for part-time students. Part-time admissions programs are often more forgiving with LSAT scores and GPAs, placing greater weight on students’ professional experience and accomplishments. However, changes in U.S. News & World Report's ranking system may raise admissions criteria and force part-time program cuts, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.
- Reduced Financial Burden. Since part-time law programs are usually completed in four academic years instead of three, students can spread the financial burden out over a greater period of time. Moreover, working during law school may help offset the costs of a legal education and allow students to take out fewer loans.
Disadvantages of Part-Time Law Programs
- Tremendous Time Commitment. Law school, even part-time, is an enormous time commitment. In addition to class time, first year students are typically assigned three hours of homework per classroom hour and may be required to read from 300 to 450 pages a week. Law Review, moot court, externships, law clinics, extracurricular activities and on-campus interviews also place demands on the law student’s time. The demands of law school combined with the demands of family and/or a full-time job leaves little time for other activities.
- Less Prestige. Since some part-time admissions programs place more weight on work experience and accomplishments and less emphasis on GPA and LSAT scores, employers may view these programs as less prestigious. In some cases, attending a part-time law school program can limit one's post-graduate employment options.
- Higher Cost. Since most part-time law programs require an extra year in school, the cost of a part-time law school education is usually greater than the cost of a three-year program. Part-time students may also be ineligible for academic scholarships.
- Missed Opportunities Part-time students may miss out on opportunities afforded to full-time students. These opportunities include externships, clinics, moot court, on-campus interviews, journals, student organizations and other extracurricular activities. In addition, part-time students who work full-time may not have the opportunity to perform a summer clerkship which is the most common path to big-firm employment.