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Can You Be a Law Student and a Parent?

JD University of Georgia School of Law

As a parent, whether you are single or married, there are many situations for which you need to be prepared in anticipation of law school. In this article, I have outlined some practical steps that I have learned by trial and error and from talking to other law school parents. My hope is that it will encourage parents, particularly single parents like myself, to attend law school and still go after their dreams.

Studying and time management are probably the most important concepts for parents in law school. My best advice is to study early and often. You do not have the luxury to fall behind in studying as much as your childless counterparts. I know that it sounds cheesy, but find those books that prepare you for law school. For example, reading about book briefing and outlining saved my life. Do those example case briefs. If your school offers an early look into what law school is going to be like, take that opportunity.

Time to study becomes even more important before exams. If possible, I would arrange other care for your child during this time. My family stepped in during exam time and more importantly, while studying for the bar. This help from my family afforded me time to focus only on my exams and gave me the ability to have those late night study sessions. Although these were strenuous times for me and there was a great deal of anxiety from being away from my child, I tried to focus on the fact that it was temporary, and I was investing in both of our futures.

You need a tool to help you manage your time. For example, you will need to schedule study/school time as well as personal/family time. I am old school so I had a physical planner and I mapped out time to read, brief, and outline. Obviously you have to plan around how you learn, and hopefully those self-help pre-law school books will prove useful. I’m a visual learner so I relied a great deal on outlines, self- made graphs, and tables. Whatever your style, just make sure that you are planning effectively to get through your material. You also need to add in cushion time. This time is for those things that you think should take you thirty minutes and they end up taking you three hours to complete. You should be able to cut down on cushion time immensely once you get into the flow of classes. Just be flexible and realize that there is no magic formula. You have to do what works for you.

Take advantage of all of your time—whether it is time in the morning or between classes. I opted for the bus instead of driving around campus to give me an extra few minutes to read. I would take my outlines and graphs to read between church services or before the food came out at a restaurant. I would skip going out for lunch and even some social functions for the sake of my schedule. I know that it seems like small increments of time, but those ten and fifteen minute intervals really add up.

I also formed a list of duties at home. I would do certain menial tasks in the mornings and the evenings to keep my weekends as free as possible for studying. For example, in the morning, I would wipe down counters in the bathroom and the kitchens and throw a load of clothes in the washer and then vacuum and sweep at night. I would have small tasks like those every morning and night that would cut down cleaning time on the weekend, leaving me time to study.

The first step in securing financial ability is choosing your school wisely. Cost should be a significant factor, but not the only factor that you consider. I chose to attend a state school that was closer to family, instead of two schools that offered scholarships for law school. I am still not certain that I made the best choice, but in the end it worked out for me. The most important factors that influenced my decision were that the schools offering scholarships were incredibly far from home, and like most scholarships, they were based on maintaining a certain GPA. Hindsight is 20/20. Now I see that I could have maintained that GPA, but I was terrified about the rigor of law school and was unsure that I would be able to maintain that academic level while caring for my child. Although attending a state school was not free, it was considerably less expensive than a private school or out-of-state school.

Obviously you need to cut as much cost as possible and save whatever you can, which requires a certain amount of planning before you even begin classes. This should give you good practice because in order to make it through the next three years, your life is going to be all about planning. I took out my 401K and set a goal for what I was going to save once I decided to go to law school. Having a roommate or living with family while in school will certainly help your savings account grow.

I managed to squeeze in some income in not-so-traditional ways. I sought out tutoring companies and I was able to get a job working for a company that did in-home tutoring. It was great because I was able to dictate my schedule and it was rarely an issue if I needed to cancel a session. Capitalize on holiday hiring. I worked third shift so I could still attend the last few classes and attend study groups with friends. Taking materials to work with me, such as note cards, is another strategy for taking advantage of every available moment.

To say financing was hard is an understatement. I was not as prepared as I should have been for the cost of law school, and I recommend planning from the beginning to prevent additional stress. You are probably not going to be able to maintain the same level of living that you did before law school, and the sooner you come to grips with that, the easier it will be. Find reasonable housing and try to avoid any major purchases that are going to cause more bills.

One of the vital things that I learned after the fact is that student loans are not considered income. This allows students to take advantage of some government benefits. There was some pride-swallowing, but seeing all the benefits made it easier. The benefits included help with food, a portion of childcare, and health insurance. I also qualified for income-restricted units in a pretty nice apartment complex. The market rate was the same amount that I was paying my first year but the restricted units saved me $350 a month for my last two years. Yes, you have to keep up with appointments and supply information every few months, but the benefits were worth it, and I knew that this was a temporary fix.

I also did some small things that made a big impact. I used coupons consistently. I saved way more from the coupons than the six dollars I spent buying papers. Some grocery stores give student discounts when you show your identification on certain days. I bought used books, and I sold those used books online versus the bookstore. You can also cut personal costs—instead of getting a pedicure every two weeks, stretch it out to a month before the nail salon sees you. I allowed my hair to be in its natural state to preserve some additional cost, and I even based our family outings on specials. For example, every Tuesday, Papa John’s would have five dollar pizza, and we would frequent the botanical gardens because admission was free. You can’t stop living because you have a child—you still want to share things with them and let them have a somewhat normal life. I would seek out specials on food, nights that children ate free, and free activities/fairs in my city.

Do your homework on the cost of living in whatever city you are going to school. Although federal loans allow an increase in the amount of aid based on dependent expenses, these expenses are limited to what you pay a provider and do not include things such as food, clothing, and all those extras that are needed when you have a little person to take care of. If you have a school-aged child, the cost of the after school program in public schools is usually significantly less than daycare. You should also check out the YMCA or Boys and Girls club, which often base your payments off of available income.

Work on finding a consistent baby sitter, nanny or daycare with extended hours. You will need those breaks to be able to study efficiently. The extended daycare was a life saver for me. The daycare center was open until midnight and open on Saturdays. This, of course, was an additional cost, but worth it. I managed the cost by only letting my child stay late on Tuesday and Thursday and early Saturday mornings. My undergraduate university maintained a list of babysitters that were frequently used by professors, so you may want to see if something like that exists at your institution.

Above all else, the best advice I can give is to find some people with children that you can exchange information with and possibly study alongside. Those friendships have two additional benefits from my childless friends. One, we were able to exchange children, allowing each of us to have a break. Two, we were also able to make play dates where we studied together and the children enjoyed themselves.

Finally, although this probably seems like the last thing you should be doing, get some sleep and find time to exercise. Trust me it is easier said than done, but those two things can alleviate stress and prevent health issues that so many people experience in law school. My hope is that you will not have to reinvent the wheel and these tips will help you survive the toughest job on earth, being a parent, and one of the most rigorous academic challenges, law school.

Comments

This is a great post. I love that it encourages mothers to pursue their goals. As a law student who is graduating this spring, I am glad someone dedicated a post to the fact that being a parent and a law student is more than possible. There are unique chellenges involved, that is true. For me one challenge was campus invovlement. So many of my classmates opted to join every club and organization, and go to social and networking events. As a parent, I had to value my time and prioritize things in a more serious way. It just wasn't possible to dedicate my time to things that I was not 100% interested in. Another special consideration was employment. As a 1L looking for my first law clerk position, I knew that I had to stay local, and that if I were dedicating an entire summer to a position, it really needed to be a paid one. The biggest challenge of course, is time managment. Fortuntely, time management is a highly prized skill. overall, I had a lot of help and support in pursuing law school as a parent, and I am very grateful for it.

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