Thursday, January 10, 2008

Honest Words for Prospective Law Students

I heard from quite a few people over the Holidays who apparently look at me as an inspiration - going back to school later in life, raising kids, doing the full-time job thing - and I wanted to say both "thank you" and "it's not as easy as I may make it seem." Some of you emailed me for advice about how much time it really takes and what I think about their specific situation. I've written back to those who wrote, but for others out there, let me be really honest for a moment.

OK - yes - I'm always honest, but I tend to focus on the fun stuff, because why get bogged down in the muck? There is muck. Believe me, there is muck.

For me, law school has been mostly fun and I hope it was a good choice. It was a very expensive choice that I will pay back for a good portion of the rest of my life. It has been a lot of sacrifice for me, and even more so for my family, because it was not entirely their choice to have me not at home more often than not. I am missing much more of seeing my kids grow up than if I was just working during the days. They would have me each evening and weekend. My wife has had to take on almost every household task there is - other than the grocery shopping that we do together, and a few minor things. (Thank you, Wife. You Rock!) The partner really gets the raw end of this deal, and I really recommend that anyone considering this crazy path talk it out extensively with their spouse, or anyone else in the family that will suddenly be fending for themselves, or for themselves and the younger members of the family - and the furry members of the family. I know everyone's situation is different, some will have to work full time, others part time, some not at all. Whatever your situation, figure out how often you will be in class, when you will study and how you will fit it into your schedule. If you will no longer have time for laundry or grocery shopping, figure out how it will get done.

Besides not having enough time, new law students are likely to face more academic stress than they ever have before. There is nothing quite like being graded based on one 3-hour final when you have no clue if you even understood anything during the semester. You may not have a single assignment, other than reading, by which you can test your knowledge. For some, after the first semester, it's not a huge deal, for others, it is always a huge deal.

What else? The law student will be meeting new people and learning new and interesting things that the partner likely knows nothing about, and probably does not care about. This can really create tension between people. The non-law student partner may be intimidated by the new career their spouse will take on, or may just be resentful of the time taken away from him or her. There are a lot of social dynamics at play, and they have to be dealt with on an ongoing basis. Law school is the end of several relationships. (Not our, Thank God, but we've had our rocky times, especially during the first year.)

What's the up side? Heck - you're going to law school! It's something many want to do, but a lot never get the opportunity to do. You will become a lawyer, or at least, get your JD, which if you are thinking of law school, is something you probably really want. It is a challenge. It is a great challenge and is fun, and many of us kind of get off on the stress, in a weird sort of way. You will increase your income potential (of course, I have also increased my debt proportionately). You will increase your social status, perhaps. People will either be impressed or mistrustful when they hear you want to be (or are) a lawyer. You will meet some really interesting people. You will learn some interesting things....and some really boring things, too. Some days you will love your classes, and others days, you are just counting the days until you get out.

If you really want to go to law school, and you have a family and a job - it is not going to be easy. It can be done, but it will be hard, and often, the hardest part will not be the academics, but the challenge of balancing the different areas of your life and not having enough time for any part of it. You will not be able to do as good of a job as you want in your school work, or spend enough time with your family. I have learned that good enough has to be good enough. I don't regret my decision - but I do regret certain things that have happened along the way....like missed bedtime stories, and not enough leisurely Saturday mornings with my family, and overburdening my wife with all the things I am not around to help accomplish. I have to believe it will be worth it for us. I hope for those of you taking the leap, you look carefully first.

1 comment:

Patti said...

I think you presented a really honest, raw portrait Dakota! Thanks for being MY inspiration to go back :)