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Work, Life and Law School: How Do You Balance It All?

July 11th, 2012 No comments

Troy Riddle, Multicultural Affairs Officer

Working full-time and attending law school can be a scary notion.  However,  Troy Riddle, Widener Law’s Multicultural Affairs Officer, is living proof that it can be done.  Mr. Riddle is an alum of Widener Law’s Extended  (part-time)  Division, his entry below describes his experience and tips that helped him through.

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Law school is challenging for a student of any age or academic pedigree, but I believe it is exponentially more challenging for students trying to balance a full-time job and/or family. The sense of accomplishment one feels, however, when the four year’s are over is euphoric.

As an Extended Division student, I was employed full-time as a middle manager in the healthcare industry, managing a staff of more than forty. The nice thing about my work situation, however, was that my boss and the staff knew I was in law school, and provided a lot of support and encouragement to me. This support system proved invaluable to me. Especially on those days where I hadn’t completed all of my assigned readings and needed to steal a few extra minutes at lunch time to try and cover the material before making the drive from Philadelphia to Delaware.

Four years later, it was all over, and to be quite honest, I was a little sad. I actually enjoyed law school. The rigors of legal education challenged me in ways that I didn’t know I could be. I learned a lot…not just about the law and how to craft ingenious arguments, but about life and how the world really works and how the law influences it. Because law touches virtually every aspect of human existence, it’s almost impossible to leave law school without having at least one “light bulb” moment regarding something you previously thought mundane or ordinary.
There are many ways to approach law school if trying to balance it with work and/or family.

Here are a few tips/advice I’d like to share with you:
• Don’t make any life-changing moves or decisions.
• Know that at times you’ll have more reading than humanly possible to complete.
• Know that the people you always see in the library aren’t necessarily getting the top grades.
• Understand that your family and friends won’t understand the demands being place upon you.
• Talk to your professors when you don’t understand a concept/case covered in class.
• Take as many practice exams as you can and get feedback.
• Take time for you (both mentally and physically); exercise, spend time with the family.
• Take at least one day during the week for a reprieve. (I made Friday my “me day.”)
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help. (It doesn’t make you a poor law student.)

Much success to you as you embark upon what I think is the most transformative education one can obtain!

Thank you, Mr. Riddle, for sharing your experience!  If you have further questions about the part-time program please feel free to email the Admissions office at lawadmissions@widener.edu.

Knowing the Requirements

To become a lawyer that is allowed to practice the law in Pennsylvania, we must complete many tasks. One of these tasks is to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) at the required percentage set by the state you will be practicing law in. To learn more about the MPRE please visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners website. You should really consider taking the MPRE after your second year or during your third year. The test is offered four times a year and as of this writing, three locations convenient to those in the Harrisburg area are available. During your second year spring semester, you will most likely take Professional Responsibility. This is an excellent class that will review ethical and Professional conduct of lawyers when dealing with clients, peers and judges. The class so far has given me a good review of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct as well as leading cases that have modified those rules. Although each state has their own version of rules of professional conduct, they are all now based on the ABA framework. I am currently scheduled to take the exam this summer, so I will let you know how it turns out this coming fall.

The endurance to achieve Consistency

We are now five weeks into the second semester as 2EDs.   As always, the semester is moving quickly and it is an awesome feeling to know that we are almost at the half-way point of our legal education.  Every day brings a new challenge that will consistently test your commitment to continuing your legal education in the extended division.   To overcome these challenges, you must have the willpower to continue going to class, study and take notes each class, work your full time job and continue a relationship with your family.   Consistency is the key.  By now, you should have a good handle on what works for you and what does not.  This means consistently attending class, taking notes, participating in class and keeping a good outline that will work for you during finals will be your key to success.   If you can stay consistent throughout, you have an excellent chance of moving up your GPA each semester.  Good Luck!

The 1ED (1L) Rollercoaster –Is it really that bad?

Absolutely not!  But that does not mean it will be easy.  As an evening student, you will quickly find that time management is essential.   Right from the start you will be expected to read many cases a week in four different areas of law and be able to discuss the facts of each case, how the particular theory of law applies to the case and why the case turned out the way they did.   You will need to balance and use every hour of each day to achieve a maximum benefit.   I cannot stress enough how important it is to outline each class each week and do not procrastinate.  Keep an eye out for workshops presented by the academic fellows and professors.  They are a big help in understanding how to succeed in class and on the finals.  Also, when planning your schedule, don’t forget to allot time for yourself and your family.  They will appreciate it and you will enjoy think about something other than law school.

Class Preparation – Reading cases takes a certain amount of skill and concentration.    Before law school, I considered myself an excellent reader.  I could read quickly and retain the information with little effort.  But when I began reading cases in Contracts I and Criminal Law, I felt as if I was reading a foreign language.  The solution for me was to slow down, learn the concept at the beginning of the chapter and then read the case holding and rational.  Then I returned to the beginning of the case and read it again.   The bottom line is to learn what you should be reading and then estimate how long it will take to finish a subject.   You will quickly find that the information is less intimidating and you will be able to follow along and participate more in class.   Find what works for you and stick to it.  If what you are doing is not working, change your habits immediately.  It makes no sense to waste time.   Also, do not be afraid to ask questions in class.  More than likely, there are others in your classes that have the same questions.

Before you know it, fifteen weeks pass and finals are here.   This is the point where you find whether your time management and preparation has worked for you.   If you do it correctly, the reading period before finals should be a time for you to just review the material covered.  If you find that you are just beginning to make outlines and organize the subjects covered, you have waited too long.  This does not mean you will not do well on the final exams, but it does decrease your chances of doing well on them.

After finals are over, enjoy your time off, you have earned it!  There is no need to stress about grades, because they will not be released until mid to late January.  So just prepare for the spring semester and when classes start, focus on them.  It is also a good idea to meet with your fall semester professors after grades come out to find where you scored points and the areas of exam writing that you need to work on.  Most professors are more than willing to meet with you if you ask.   When grades do come out, keep in mind that this is law school.  You are surrounded by the best and brightest.   If you are used to top notch grades and being at the top of the class, be prepared for less than stellar numbers.   Don’t lose sight that the standard for excellence is much higher than anything you have ever done before.   Keep the faith and do better in the spring semester.

Spring Finals will creep up quick enough and then there is finally a nice long break to recuperate.   Law school is tough, but chances are that if you are attending classes at night and working full time, you already have the will power and determination to see it through and you will do well.  I had my doubts during the spring semester and I now know that law school will only become the nightmare some suggest it is, only if you let it.  Good Luck!

Hi and welcome to my blog!

Hi and welcome to my blog!  My goal for this blog is to inform anyone interested in attending law school what it is like from the perspective of an evening student at Widener University School of Law.
So why do you want to go to law school?  I know there are many answers.  For some, maybe it is a chance of being a part of a noble profession.  Others, maybe a significant pay raise and job security, and some maybe a chance to help others.   For myself, that question has a simple answer.   Passion!  Passion for justice and resolution of life’s problems.  The chance of entering a profession that I would look forward doing for the rest of my life.
Putting all the lofty ideas aside, if you are truly considering law school, here are some general tips that may help you.

  • Do well on your undergrad degree.  Although undergrad GPA is not the only factor law schools look at, the higher the GPA, the better chance you have of getting admitted.
  • Determine which law schools you would be interested in attending.  – visit www.abanet.org for accredited schools.
  • If you are working full time, many schools now offer evening / extended programs.
  • Start preparing now to take the LSAT. – visit www.lsac.org for more info.
  • Look online or at a local bookstore for study aids on taking the LSAT.
  • Be ready to dedicate many hours to reading and attending class.
  • Have a good support network.  If you are married or have children, discuss with them that this commitment will require a lot of time, which means less time for everyone else.
  • If you have questions, ask law school admissions counselors, LSAC, or the ABA / your state / local bar associations.  They are generally very eager and willing to help you get the information you need.
  • If you have little or no pre-law experience, try to learn some of the common terms used in law / law school.  (Case Briefs, Socratic Method, etc.)
  • DO NOT READ the book 1L by Scott Turow!

If you are thinking about attending law school in the evening, here are some more specific tips that may help:

  • If you are planning on working a full time job plus attend school in the evening, make sure that your employer will be flexible when you need them to be. .  (e.g. – special projects, final briefs, mid / final exam weeks).  Just be up front with them and most employers will work with you. However, you know your employer and their mentality, so ultimately it will have to be your decision on discussing such matters with them.
  • Again, if you have immediate family, discuss with them how they feel about you attending law school and any thoughts or concerns they may have.  Involve them in the process.  If you visit any open houses, bring them along, so they can talk to admission counselors too.
  • Effective time management is essential to succeed.  Procrastinators beware!  With working a full time job, full time class load, and staying connected to your family, time become very valuable.  Know your priorities and stick to them.
  • Most important, if you are accepted to a law school take some time off before the fall semester begins and do something fun!