Attending law school full-time isn't always an option for students who are balancing the demands of career, family, and other responsibilities. Fortunately, many law schools offer part-time law programs.
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.
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.
- Reduced course load: Part-time law programs allow students to carry fewer credits and take fewer classes, but part-timers 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 GPAs of students in part-time programs are excluded from the U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings calculus, making it possible for schools to lower admissions criteria for part-timers. Part-time admissions programs place greater weight on students’ professional experience and accomplishments.
- Reduced financial burden: Part-time law programs are usually completed in four academic years instead of three, so students can spread the financial burden out over a greater period of time. And working during law school can help offset the costs of a legal education and allow students to take out fewer loans.
Perhaps one of the greatest advantages to attending part-time is that you at least have the option to work while you're studying. The American Bar Association doesn't allow full-time students to work more than 20 hours a week, and some schools have their own even stricter rules that prohibit full-time students from working at all.
Disadvantages of Part-Time Law Programs
- Tremendous time commitment: Even part-time law school is an enormous time commitment. 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 in addition to class time. Law review, extracurricular activities, and on-campus interviews also place demands on a law student’s time. The demands of law school combined with the demands of family or a job leave little time for other activities.
- Less prestige: Some employers might view these programs as less prestigious because of their relaxed admissions criteria. Attending a part-time law school program can limit one's post-graduate employment options in some cases.
- Higher cost: Most part-time law programs require an extra year in school, so while you might pay less per year, the cost of a part-time law school education overall can be greater than the cost of a three-year program. Part-timers might also find that they're ineligible for academic scholarships.
- Missed opportunities: Part-time students can miss out on opportunities that are afforded to full-time students, such as externships, clinics, moot court, on-campus interviews, journals, and student organizations. In addition, part-timers who work full time might not be able to perform summer clerkships, which is the most common path to big-firm employment.
Your school/study workload should be about four credit hours lighter per semester if you attend part time. Weigh this against your schedule and your reasons for not attending full time.