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Is Part-Time Law School for You?

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2009 marked the first time U.S. News and World Report ranked the 87 part-time law school programs, showing just how popular this way of earning a Juris Doctor degree is becoming, especially in the Washington D.C. area as five of the six top ranked schools are found near the Beltway. The American Bar Association estimates that about 16% of law students attend school part time.

So is part-time law school for you? Read on to find out more about this growing trend.

What are part-time law school programs?

Part-time law school programs offer students the opportunity to earn a Juris Doctor degree without enrolling in a full-time day program. Many part-time law classes are held in the evenings from Monday-Thursday and sometimes courses are also offered on weekends and/or in the summer.

Most part-time law programs take four years instead of the traditional three, although some do offer the opportunity to switch from part time to full time and earn a JD in less time. Be sure to investigate your options carefully to make sure the options available to you also fit within your time and budget constraints.

Who are part-time law school students?

One of the reasons for the increasing popularity of part-time law school programs is because many working professionals simply can't afford to leave full-time employment to pursue a law degree; accordingly a majority of part-time law students are full-time workers in other professions, often business or law-related.

Others choose part-time law school for financial reasons, as it can be less expensive and budgeted over more years than a traditional full-time degree.

As they have often already been in the workforce and continue to be throughout law school, part-time law students are often a bit older than full-time law students, many of whom come directly from undergraduate education or enter law school after a year or two in the workforce.

What are the advantages of part-time law school programs?

As stated above, students may find that part-time law programs better fit their budgets, both regarding cost and the ability to space out classes over more years. Of course the ability to work full time while taking courses is also an advantage for working professionals, especially parents, who can't take time away from their jobs to pursue higher education.

Part-time law school classrooms are truly unique arenas in which to learn as the mix of students of all ages, backgrounds, life experiences, and careers offer the chance for great class discussions and participation. Part-time law students also report there is much more collegiality and a willingness to help peers than what they hear happens in the full-time division.

What are the disadvantages of part-time law school programs?

As part-time law students often have many obligations outside of school, including full-time employment and possibly families with small children, they simply have less free time. This means there is less time for both extracurricular law school activities and clubs as well as to gain practical experience in clinics, internships, and the like.

But on the positive side, many schools that offer part-time programs have spots reserved for part-time students on legal journals or special evening clinics, ensuring there are opportunities available for those part-timers who wish to pursue them.

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