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The Attractions of Part-Time Law School

Teacher, police officer, banker: Part-time programs fit many working lives.

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In Dallas, when Southern Methodist's law school reinstated its evening program five years ago, it did so with the local legal community on board. Administrators stressed that their part-time students could work full time; many secure full-time legal jobs long before they graduate. Schools with evening programs help with the burden by doing the little things—keeping their administration offices open later, scheduling extracurricular activities, even having a monthly pizza night so students can socialize. At Fordham, the Law Review and other organizations have spots reserved for Evening Division students. Even at schools that don't reserve spots, part-time students still find ways to play a pivotal part.

Fun mix. Part-time programs attract students with a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, some of whom are pursuing law as a second, third, or even fourth career. And admissions decisions are based not just on grades and the LSAT but on professional experience, too. "It's a really interesting, fun mix of students," says Georgetown's Cornblatt. "These are people with narratives, stories, real biographies." With this mix, classes often have a vibe of their own—students aren't shy about sharing their perspectives. Says Treanor, Fordham's dean: " You can really have this incredible richness—you can have in a classroom a doctor, an investment banker, and a schoolteacher, and a police officer, and a journalist. So, when you're teaching, you really have these people who can say: 'This is what I'm working on,' 'This is how it actually happens.' " Classes are also taught by a mix of tenured faculty and adjunct professors; the adjuncts' legal experience is often unique. For example, Fordham students have taken an insider trading course with an attorney involved in the Martha Stewart flap. Another thing to think about: Achieving high marks may be less important for the average part-time student. "The pre-occupation with grades is slightly less in the evening than it is during the day," Cornblatt of Georgetown explains. "It just has a different atmosphere to it."

So, while the idea of going to law school while working full time is daunting, for many who have tried it, it has been not only doable but enjoyable. And it's not just the school but the students who make success possible. "I found in general we were very supportive of each other," says Stern. "We all know we're in the same boat and are very reliant on each other."

Fordham classmate Paul Marks sums it up: "I think the whole school shares notes."

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  • Nikki Schwab

    Nikki Schwab is a reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at nschwab@usnews.com.