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How to Juggle a Family and Law School (or a Law Firm)

I was recently asked this question by a reader:

I see that you had a baby during law school. Other than the tips from the post about outside time commitments, any advice for an upcoming 1L with two tots and a wife?

I was going to reply privately, but decided to post my response here so others could benefit from it as well.

So here is my advice to all those law students (or anyone really) who are attempting to manage school, spouses, children, friends, jobs, health, etc.

Manage Expectations

Your own, your wife’s, your kid’s. Law School is no joke and will be a major time commitment. Be sure that everyone around you understands what that means. You are going to be unavailable at times. You won’t be able to help out as much as you did before. There are going to be long hours of class and studying that are going to have to be a priority in your life. Don’t let the people in your life get the wrong idea about your time and be disappointed later down the line.

Communicate

The time you spend with your wife and children will naturally be diminished. It will be a strain on your relationships. Communication, trust, and making sure everyone is inline with the end goal (graduation, passing the bar, providing for your family) will help ease that strain. You will fail at this. That’s okay. When that happens, take the time to sit down with your spouse and genuinely communicate with them. Address any problems that have arisen and re-set your relationship. Don’t let things fester and go unaddressed.

Appreciate Your Spouse

Your spouse might not be the one in Law School, but this will impose a large burden on her as well. Where before she was able to rely on you for help, she now has to shoulder much of the childcare on her own. This will put a strain on her, and in turn, on your relationship. Be cognizant of it and don’t take her for granted. Make sure you let her know that you appreciate the hard work she is now undertaking as well. Surprise her with a small gift for no reason. Brag about her when you’re both out with friends. This will go a long way to smoothing over the inevitable bumps in the road.

Sleep

8 hours a night. Do it. It will improve every aspect of your life.

Scheduling

Get on this now. You are going to be pulled in a multitude of different directions and need to plan accordingly. Whether it is an old fashioned day planner or something digital like a Getting Things Done program, be diligent in planning, scheduling and setting of goals. You can’t juggle all of it in your head. It needs to be put down in writing.

Buy a Wall Calendar

Along scheduling lines – get yourself a large wall calendar. Put your entire scholastic schedule (classes, papers due, exams, seminars, etc) up there. It really helps to see the big picture. Anything else significant in your life (birthdays, trips, etc) should go up here as well. Don’t be surprised a week before a paper is due that you have a seminar to attend for another class, a birthday party to attend, and are supposed to go out to dinner with your wife for your anniversary. It will take you maybe half an hour to set it up at the beginning of each semester and will provide you peace of mind every time you glance at it. It will also be of great help to your spouse in understanding your schedule and commitments.

Keep Your Commitments

Starting now, right now, you are developing your reputation as an attorney. People you go to law school with will be attorneys some day too. Their perception of you in law school will carry into the real world. Party guy? Skip out on study groups? Late to class? Flake out on that committee you joined? The people you are in school with right now will share that with everyone else they come into contact at their firms when your name comes up. If you make a commitment to something at school, make sure you follow through. This is even more true with your family. If you say you are going to make the time to go the playground on Saturday afternoon, do it. Don’t cancel at the last minute to study Contracts.

Plug Your Leaks

To borrow a phrase from James Altucher, plug all the leaks in your life. Like to go out drinking with friends? Surf the internet? Play video games? Keep up with breaking  news? Anything that is distracting you from law school or spending time with your family is a leak that needs to be plugged. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t indulge when you have free time or keep up with hobbies or exercise, but the mundane things you do every day in your idle time are probably not worth it. You’re doing it because you’re bored. But are you bored or frustrated?

___________________________

To put it bluntly, it’s not easy. Expect problems, expect breakdowns, expect disappointments. These things are going to happen. But you can either let them drag you down, or you can learn from them and use them as opportunities to grow. More than ever before in your life, this is a turning point. You can either be a passive observer, letting the world direct the course of your life, or you can be a force of nature – imposing your will on the world around you and changing it to what you want to be. Choose the latter.

Lastly, subscribe to An Associate’s Mind. I try to provide useful tips to all would-be and new lawyers. I genuinely think you’ll get something out of it. There are a number of ways to subscribe in the Connect box in the sidebar. You can follow me on Twitter too.

Good luck in Law School!

Edit: Also see the new post Suggestions for Spouses of Law Students (or Lawyers)

P.S. – I love getting questions. Feel free to email me or ask me a question over on Twitter. I’ll do my best to answer it.

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About Keith Lee

I'm the founder and editor of Associate's Mind. I like to write, talk, and think about law, professional development, technology, and whatever else floats my boat. I practice law in Birmingham, AL.

11 comments

  1. Damn, I’ve already thought of 2 other things that I should of included: a positive mental attitude and write.

    The whole ordeal can be draining and a positive mental attitude can see you through. Lots of people will to try and drain your energy (leaks) if you let them. Stay positive and keep the end goal in mind. Some people won’t like the attitude and may be critical of you. Haters gonna hate. Move on.

    Write, write, write. More so than any other of your classes, your writing skills will carry over the most into real practice. The primary form of communication for a lawyer is the written word (to clients, opposing counsel, third-parties, judges, etc.). You can’t polish your writing skills enough.

  2. I’m a mother in law school. I started with a one year old (who is now three), and had my second baby in the summer in between first and second year. My husband is a PhD candidate, a full time professor. It’s been a helluva couple of years.

    I agree with what you write above, and I’ll add one thing – I think that being a parent has given me some traits that have helped make me a better student, and being a student has allowed me to be a better parent. Gross, right? But here’s what I mean – as a parent in law school, I know my time to study is limited, and that I have lots of obligations on top of reading for class and writing a comment for the journal. So I don’t mess around. If I’m in a study group that’s devolved into a social get-together, I politely find a way to leave. If I’m reading my assignments for class and find out they aren’t going to help me get a good grade on the exam, I quit reading for class, and pick up a treatise or hornbook instead. I don’t tab every book, I don’t highlight every other sentence. I do the minimum to do well (and I’m doing well). I’ve trimmed the fat in my studying, I guess I could say. Some of my friends have 500 page outlines, stacks and stacks of notecards, books highlighted in four different colors according to some or other code. That’s totally up to the individual, if that works for him or her, but I don’t have time for it, and sometimes I think that helps.

    And as for being a better parent – well, when I was working, I had to get up and leave for work at 7 and I got home at 6, and saw my son nary a minute between. In law school, I get a lot more flexibility. If it’s a lovely afternoon, I can choose to blow bubbles on the driveway and then take them to the park, and do my reading after dinner while my husband gives the kids a bath. When I was pregnant, I planned my schedule to allow for an afternoon nap every day – I didn’t get that while I was working and pregnant with my first son. The flexibility of law school has given me lots more special moments with my boys, moments I didn’t get while I had a full time job. It’s been a very special time for our family. Excluding the three weeks or so leading up to exams, and then the two week exam period, I get as much time with the family, if not more. Of course, being poor as dirt means my husband and I don’t go out on dates anymore, but we know that this will be a limited time period, and we are dealing with that.

    If you are ready to have a family, and you’re in law school, don’t let law school stop you! Just try really hard not to land the due date anywhere near exam time . . . as much as that can be controlled!

    • Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It is solid advice.

      I agree with you in regards that having a tight schedule because of family/job commitments can really help one “trim the fat” from their study routine. I had similar experiences with notes, study groups, and books (actually didn’t buy the book for Con Law and made a B+ regardless – ha!).

      I suppose it is true that you could have more time with your family, as you did. For me, I still worked 30-40 hours a week clerking the entire way through school. So it made for a severly cramped schedule. But I agree, if you’re ready for a family, don’t let Law School hold you back.

  3. I did a fulltime(60 hrs+/week) job, marriage, and a small child, all while doing law school.

    Here’s my advice:
    You’re not going to have the time to get the A’s. Give it up. As mentioned earlier, figure out the min. it will take to get thru school. Figure out the min. it will take to appease your spouse so you don’t get beheaded when you come home every night. Figure out the min. it will take to not get fired (important if you’re the one paying the mortgage/rent).

    If you can pick up loans to take a part-time job (instead of afull-time one), I would recommend it. If you can go to school part-time (I did), I would recommend it. If you can find a nanny or relative to help out your spouse with raising the child, just to take some of the load off, I would recommend it. But always keep at least 8 hours of one weekend day, and 4 hours of the other, for family time. The rest is for studying.

    • There’s definitely some truth to that. When my son was born, I know my grades suffered that semester. That entire Fall was a a haze. Constantly up and down all night long, work, school…something had to give and it was my grades.

      But you just grit through it and push on.

  4. I am so grateful to have read your post and the responses. It’s definitely a confidence booster in that it reminds me that not all law school students are fresh out of college with golden letters of recommendations to get them into school. You also helped to validate my insistence that I am not completely and utterly insane for considering such a task. Most importantly, you helped to remind me that it will be hell for my husband…which is what I needed to see most because as much as I have tried to convince him thus far that it will be like me trading one full time job for another (just with a lot…less….pay) your post gave me that little dose of reality that crack is bad for relationships. Er I mean, I should accept the reality of what it will be like before it smacks me in the face. To quote Gillian- I know. Totally gross. But I really appreciate this insight. And when I get brave enough to admit I may have been slightly off, I will show this to my husband.

    • Glad it resonated with you Megan. Law School is definitely doable – even for “alternative” students. It’s just important to be cognizant of what it’s going to mean for your time and relationships before you go in – and that your spouse is aware of it as well.

      It’s also important to have realistic expectations about what will happen after you graduate. The legal profession is in the worst shape it’s been in for years. It may be difficult for you to get a job when you get done unless you have stellar grades. Even if you get a job, it might not be the sort you had expected to get.

      Best of luck in school, and if you have any more concerns, feel free to drop me a line.

  5. I am writing this at 4 a.m. after taking a day off from school to “be there” for my adult children. It is not any easier to go back when they are grown, their needs are just different. But here I am, unable to sleep because I feel so guilty for taking a day off (I’m a 1L.). This is hard, and at my age I’m hoping it is worth it! But… I’ve dreamed of this since I was eight. I have to remind myself that this is thefulfillment of my dream. Now, I have to pray the profs don’t call on my hazy mind tomorrow!

    • Law school is tough. Most people there don’t have jobs or a family and the high energy of youth. Competing with that as an older, “alternative” law student can be hard. But you have your own advantages as well. Real world experience and perspective is very valuable. But law school is meant to be tough – the practice is much more difficult. Dig deep and push through.

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