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April 09, 2006

Advice for Parents Heading to Law School

As my 1L year winds down, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would tell someone who asked for my advice about going to law school as a non-traditional law student with children. No one has specifically asked for this advice, but since a large number of the hits on this blog come from people searching for things like “law school with kids” and “mother in law school,” I’m thinking that it might possibly be helpful advice. I would have loved to have found this kind of advice collected somewhere two years or so ago.

So based on my vast experience with the subject (one and 3/4 semesters) here is my list (so far) of what it takes to handle law school as a parent with kids. (List subject to revisions and additions.)

1.Absolute organization. Organize your house, organize your backpack, organize your schedule, organize your time. You name it, ya gotta organize it. I am a highly organized person anyway and that trait served me well this year. I kept everything in its place and I was meticulous about making sure that things stayed on track during the school year. I tried to live by the golden rule of only touching a piece of paper once. I made a binder with a divider for each member of the family and kept class lists, field trip forms, team rosters, receipts, etc. in the binder. I did laundry on a certain day, studied on a certain day, went grocery shopping on a certain day. My methods of organization could constitute an entire post, but if you want to know how I handled something in particular, e-mail me. This includes school stuff. I have an organization plan for every subject, and for items within each subject. I was religious about sticking to all of it and I think it was one of the things that helped me to keep things running smoothly all year long.

2. Buy two of everything so you never run out. This advice was given to me via e-mail at the beginning of the semester by another mom who is a law student. (I wish I could remember who it was!) It was excellent advice. We never ran out of toilet paper or soap or cleaning supplies or laundry detergent or pencils or dog food during either semester. I stocked up, and every time I had to replace something I bought two of them. That meant no running out of the house at the last minute late at night for toilet paper. And that’s a good thing, believe me.

3. Make the slow cooker your best friend. I know it sounds like a 1970’s way to cook a meal, but I can’t tell you how many times I used it this year, and especially this semester. It was heaven to come home exhausted at the end of the day to a warm ready-to-eat dinner. It takes a little bit of planning ahead to have everything ready to go, but it is well worth the effort.

4. Arrange back-up day care. Especially if you’re going to have to use some kind of day care on a daily basis for a significant amount of time. What happens if your babysitter’s kids are sick? What happens if your babysitter is sick? And along the same lines, what happens if your child gets sick?

5. Stick to your schedule, and make time to be a parent. I worked my schedule out each semester so that I studied one full day on the weekend, one full day during the week, and during my 2 hour train ride to and from the city. This meant that most of the time I didn’t have to do any homework in the evenings or on Saturdays, which meant I could spend that time with the kids. Or at least I could spend it driving them around in the car. During my first semester I was able to be at practices and games and, most importantly, at the dinner table. The second semester was a little more difficult because of my schedule issues, but we have almost made it through. When I am at home, I try to be here and engaged. I listen and pay attention and really talk to my kids as much as possible. I don’t know if they have found me to be more or less accessible or present than I was before August, but I hope that my efforts made it a little easier for them to share me with school.

6. If you are in a situation similar to mine (a stay-at-home mom going to law school) consider going part-time, at least to start. For a long time I was planning to go to school full-time until I spoke with a law professor who was in law school when her children were born. She suggested that I consider going part-time, at least at first, until I knew what the work load was going to be like. I followed her advice, and I am so glad I did. Juggling part-time law school with a full-time gig as a mom is a LOT of work. It’s going to take me longer to finish, but I’ll finish with my sanity intact. My original plan was to transfer to the full-time division after my first year, but now that I know what is entailed I’m almost certain I will continue to go part-time until the end. It has worked out very well for me and for my children because I’ve been able to balance being a good mom and a good student, both of which are important to me. (Click here for the studying advice of another mom who is going to law school full time.)

7. This is not just for law student parents, but for any law students. Cut your books! I know it might seem cruel and heartless, especially for all you book lovers out there, but it is one of those decisions I will never regret.