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Tipping the Scales

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By Kelsey

It seems “work/life balance” has become the catch phrase for both lawyers and law students. It’s no secret—law school demands a great deal of time for success, and prepares aspiring lawyers for similar demands in practice. Some of us return to law school with family demands already on our proverbial plates. While juggling law school and life sounds daunting, take heart. Life experience works in favor of a successful balancing act.

When I began TU Law in the Fall 2014 semester, I returned to the classroom as a mom of two boys, ages 14 and 11. I quit working as a writer and adjunct instructor to venture into a career change. I had two kids, a house, a car, and a fiancé. But I also came with experience managing those obligations and working, too. A freelance writer coordinates a hectic schedule of interviews and drafting. A working mom balances job and kids, both their activities and simply having time to spend with them.

The first year of law school presents the sharpest learning curve. Between class, readings, study groups, outlines, networking opportunities…a 1L is busy, to put it mildly. However, a typical job makes the same demands on time; rarely do we just “do our job” without meetings to attend, committees to guide, and projects to complete. Interestingly, a law school schedule leaves open windows of what you might have called “free time” in another life.

During 1L Orientation, I kept hearing, “Treat law school like a job.” Essentially, the advice is to be on campus at a set time and leave at a set time as well, exactly like a conventional job. The aforementioned free time can be a dangerous trap. To avoid working until 2 a.m., I disciplined myself to use time between classes to get work finished. I actually calendared every hour of my day in a planner. Did I go home every night with nothing to do? No, but I reduced my evening study time. Did I get weekends off? No, but same concept: put in a standard work week and have more time on the weekends to enjoy family. I carried that skill over from my work life, and it’s been important as clinic and internships become a part of my law school journey as well.

I also chose not to work. It’s tough to leave a paying career and watch the loans pile up, for sure. But for my family’s sake, my sanity’s sake, and my law school performance’s sake, we tightened our belts and made it through. After the 1L year, opportunities to earn money arise, and the pressure diminishes. Until then, though, law school provided enough work for me to balance!

At this point, it probably sounds like never-ending rigor. It’s incredibly important to take time for yourself as well. Law school allows for some scheduling freedom (see “free time” above), and some of that should be used for downtime. Just like study time, though, calendar it. Know that sometimes, you’ll just need a break.

To answer a question I hear quite a bit as an ambassador, yes, you can have a life in law school…it just takes discipline. I’ve taken vacations, been at kid events, attended concerts, gone out with friends. And the crowning achievement in work/life balance? I got married the spring of my 2L year. While in clinic. It can be done, and it can be done successfully.