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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Thinking About Going to Law School Part Time?

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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I got a great question in an e-mail earlier from a prospective evening law student that generating a discussion worth sharing.

I read your blog on part-time law schools ranking and I totally agree with you. Having said that, and after reading other online opinions on evening/part-time law schools I am at a loss as to how can one decide which school they should go with.

It’s probably no surprise that I consider attending a part-time program a great idea. Here would be my considerations looking back from a few years into it:

(1) Location: go to law school where you want to practice. That’s not to say you couldn’t go to another jurisdiction later, but you’re most likely to get the best opportunities in your jurisdiction, so hopefully it’s where you want to live, etc. This is particularly important for evening students who may be more prone to relying on networking or building on existing job opportunities such as moving over to the legal department of their present employer or in an industry in which they have significant experience.

(2) Parity of Opportunity: this is probably the hardest to evaluate. Our school makes very little distinction between part-time and full-time. It’s easy to switch, there aren’t any unnecessary obstacles to participating in extracurricular activity such as law review, moot court, mock trial, etc. I’ve talked to people at other schools where those things aren’t options for evening students. It may not be a deal breaker for everyone but it would be a red flag for me.

(3) Reputation: notice I didn’t say ranking, as those can be two very different things. Certain schools are known for different things and it affects their approach and how prospective employers/clients perceive you. It won’t always match up with the literature so it’s the kind of thing you can only get by talking with practicing lawyers, judges, etc, with the caveat that everyone’s personal experience and therefore advice can be different.

Overall, I tend to downplay the importance of the choice of where to go to law school as far secondary to the decision of whether or not to do it at all.

On another good point from the same conversation:

I know for some, reputation is what matters. For me I think what matters is that the school really prepares you to be a lawyer, to practice the law rather than drilling theory into you.

Before law school I would have thought this was more important than I do now. There are definite distinctions between law schools on this point – some are famously esoteric, others try to prepare you to practice the day you walk out the door.

First, allow me to dispel a natural, but I think erroneous assumption prospective students often make about any educational institution – it is not an entity that speaks or acts with a single mind. It is not even a coalition government with a cumbersome but workable democracy. It is more like a collection of feudal lords with a significant degree of tenure-conferred autonomy. As a result there are various factions each with their own concerns and aims, who more often than not are free to pursue their own agendas.

If you’re in to public interest law you’ll find public interest people at virtually any school you go to. If you’re interested in white shoe corporate work, that may be a rarer bird but its out there. There are practical ‘skills-oriented’ profs at every institution and if that’s your bent, you’ll naturally gravitate toward them, participating in clinics, moot court, mock trial, etc. Some schools give those activities more precedence than others but at very few is it absent entirely.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that schools often market themselves in ways that reflect some vague aspirations but seldom the reality of a place. Just because a place says it will prepare you to practice does not mean it can or will. I would be very skeptical of a place that has relegated theory to the backburner.

On a related note, I’ve come to look at law school as a last chance to do things I’ll likely never do again. Legal education is not and should not be a trade school; it’s an initiation ritual and a process of indoctrination where one learns to navigate and engage disparate viewpoints to arrive at a sense of one’s own mind and develops the means to express it in a rational and persuasive manner. I would look for a place with a healthy divergence of thought.

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5 Responses

  1. CiciS says:

    Two questions then:

    1. What do you mean by? "I’ve come to look at law school as a last chance to do things I’ll likely never do again" Plesae expand if you can.

    2. How does one look for a place with a healthy divergence of thought? It is very hard for a lay person to see beyond the law schools' advertisment.

  2. Luke says:

    1. When I first came to law school my inclination was to be very practical in class selection, activities, etc. My thinking was that I needed to be marketable and establishing a niche expertise would help me establish that marketability. I have since come to believe that (1) nothing in law school would really give me a marketable expertise and (2) law school is the last opportunity to explore the law on ones own, rather than at the behest of ones firm, clients, etc.

    For example, I took a wonderful course in Legislation my second year. I had some vague notion that it might entail some exercise in crafting statutes. Instead it completely revised my thinking on the proper role of the courts in the legal system and how statutory interpretation can be used creatively. In another setting, I did a commercial mediation competition in moot court. Prior to that I had no real idea what commercial mediation even was, but I ended up as a much better negotiator as a result.

    By seeking out things I knew little about, I consider myself to have a wider groundwork on which to build my advocacy skills than I would have otherwise had.

    2. This is a tough question in general. I'll post further thoughts if I think of anything, but I'm not sure anything short of feats of investigative journalism would unearth the reality of a place without being there. I would start by taking a look at the faculty scholarship on the law school's website. Talking to alums is the next step, the more recent the better. The blogosphere is also a source for information, though not a place where you would get a balanced view since some profs are more net-centric than others.

  3. [...] Gilman has posted this very thoughtful post on going to law school part-time. I think there’s much merit in what he says. I [...]

  4. lukegilman says:

    Casebook Sherpa at Fight the Hypo has his own take on the subject in response to this poist in Going to Law School Part-Time.

    His post made my think of a caveat to my first point about location: "On the 'go where you practice' point – your description made me think of a caveat to my original post, that being that there are some places that really lend themselves to a vibrant evening law program and D.C. has got to be one of them, due in no small part to size of the legal community there. I think evening programs thrive where there are abundant job opportunities, i.e. large cities, that shift the cost-benefit analysis in favor of working. For someone evaluating evening programs, I think there's a premium on large cities with robust legal markets that might cause one to look a little further afield even if you were thinking of eventually going back to a smaller market."

  5. lukegilman says:

    Casebook Sherpa at Fight the Hypo has his own take on the subject in response to this post in Going to Law School Part-Time.

    His post made my think of a caveat to my first point about location: "On the 'go where you practice' point – your description made me think of a caveat to my original post, that being that there are some places that really lend themselves to a vibrant evening law program and D.C. has got to be one of them, due in no small part to size of the legal community there. I think evening programs thrive where there are abundant job opportunities, i.e. large cities, that shift the cost-benefit analysis in favor of working. For someone evaluating evening programs, I think there's a premium on large cities with robust legal markets that might cause one to look a little further afield even if you were thinking of eventually going back to a smaller market."

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