Thoughts on Being a Parent in Law School

by Liz Billinger

If you’re planning on going to law school as a parent: think about it.

No really. Think.

Think about where you are now, and where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. Chances are you’ve already had the “what do I want to do with my life?” discussion with at least three guidance counselors, parents, friends, roommates, and one or more significant others. You want to help people. You want to see justice served. You want to ensure everyone has a voice. You want to make the world a better place for the next generation. But it’s not just yourself that you have to think about anymore: you’re a parent.

Think about the lawyering skills you already have just from being a parent. You know how to survive on very little sleep (2am feedings. ‘Nuff said). You’ve spent significant amounts of time dealing with people with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye (ever try to feed a two-year-old vegetables?). And you’re adept at negotiating agreements under pressure (Skittles are not a breakfast food, contrary to popular 3-year-old belief). Think about what you’ve learned as a parent, and how this will help your understanding as a law student. Think about the law school curriculum. You’ll be asked to become an expert on many different areas of law, from Arbitration to Worker’s Compensation. If you can master a Children’s Tylenol milliliters-to-weight-and-age formula, Taxation of Individual Income should be a piece of cake. Each class requires focus and stamina, skills you already have if you’ve ever taken a child to the toy store to shop for someone else. Find what works for you: do you prefer to listen to music as you study, or have absolute silence? Are you a quick thinker who’s not afraid to be cold-called, or prefer to volunteer when you’re sure you know the answer? You’ll be asked “How do you do it?” more times than you can count. But really, it’s not any harder to make it through law school as a parent than on your own. The reading doesn’t get more difficult just because you’re a parent. The papers don’t get any longer. What it really boils down to is scheduling.

Think about how you will balance homework and home life. You’ll feel pulled in a million directions: spending time with your family, being relatively social with your classmates, and, of course, getting the homework done. The best advice I ever received is this: treat law school like a job. Arrive and leave at the same time every day, whether you have class or not. I use down time between classes to do my reading, which lets me focus on my family in the evenings. I try not to do homework on Saturdays unless it’s during finals or a paper is due the following Monday. Yes, there will always be the occasional extra-long reading assignment or paper that takes longer than anticipated, but those aren’t as frequent as you’d think. Schedule both time to study and time to NOT study—then stick to your schedule. Okay, so you probably won’t get to go to all the PAD events or all the Bar “Reviews.” You won’t get to watch tv very often (but you’ll be too broke for cable anyway). And the few times you’ll pull all-nighters will be because your child is sick rather than because you’re cramming for finals. But think about all the other things you’ll have to look forward to.

Think about the experiences you’ll have. You’ll make some of the best friends you’ve ever had. You’ll take classes with some of the brightest professors in the field. You’ll have opportunities to intern, clerk, and practice with some of the top professionals in the state. Then every step of the way, you’ll remember why you’re doing this. Why you keep pushing forward through all ninety credit hours. Why you can’t wait for the day you put on that cap and gown and take goofy pictures on the steps of the law school holding your little one. And most of all, showing your son that just like Mommy did, they, too, can achieve anything.

Just think.