Many law schools across the country have part-time programs through which students can obtain law degrees during nights and weekends while maintaining a full-time job. In many instances, part-time students can obtain a law degree in only one more year than it takes full-time students. It can be very difficult for part-time students to handle the duties of being a student along with the work responsibilities and possibly family obligations that these sometimes-older law students may face. Since most law school classes are graded on a curve, it might be unfair for part-time students to compete for grades against full-time ones because full-time students have more time to study and fewer obligations outside of school.
I went to Georgetown Law, which had and still has a very robust part-time program. During my third year of law school, I was enrolled in the Street Law Clinic in which I taught legal subjects to high school students throughout the District of Columbia a few times a week. Since I had to report to school during school hours, I had trouble scheduling my law school classes during the day because I did not know when I needed to teach law to high school students. As a result, most, if not all, of my classes during this time were evening courses so I had the most flexibility for my clinic duties.
Taking night classes was an interesting experience. The law school is much less busy at night, and it was odd going to the academic buildings on campus at night without the bustle that was usually seen and heard on campus during the day. Moreover, people were much more subdued in the night classes, likely because some of them ended as late as 9 p.m. or later, so people were likely tired from a long day and had had to enroll in the late class.
The students were of course different in these part-time evening classes. Most of the students had full-time jobs, and many of the students came from work still wearing their professional attire. As a law student, I pretty much always wore a T-shirt and mesh shorts all year long, so I definitely seemed out of place in this crowd! In addition, it seemed that part-time students were older and were more likely to have family responsibilities due to their being more likely to pursue legal degrees later in their careers. Overall, part-time students are an amazing group of people. Individuals who earn law degrees part-time are likely to have more experience, be more mature, and already have established careers, so they bring a lot of benefits to a campus community.
However, part-time students likely do not have the same amount of time to study as full-time students. Part-time law students likely need to work at least 40 hours a week, which can leave them with limited amounts of time to study, and family responsibilities may impose obligations that full-time students are less likely to have.
From my own experience, I often did better in part-time classes than in full-time courses. I think this might have been because I was competing against part-time students who had more time pressure than me and could not devote the same energy toward studying that I could. Moreover, I know several people who have enrolled in part-time programs full-time so that they can have an advantage in classes. Some individuals wish to transfer after their full year of law school, and if they can study full-time in a part-time program they may be able to get better grades and even finish law school in the normal three years after they transfer.
I would love to hear from part-time students about this potential unfairness, although I am unsure if anything can be done to level the playing field. Of course, the best move is probably to allow only part-time students to take evening classes, but this might disadvantage full-time students who wish to take evening classes because of clinics or other responsibilities. Moreover, some adjunct professors may only teach evening classes since they work various jobs during the day, and it is difficult to cut off such classes from full-time students. In any event, more law schools should consider how it might be unfair for full-time students to compete against part-time students in curved classes and evaluate ways to level the playing field for everyone.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.