We’re probably a month out from most law schools opening their doors again for the Fall. There is also going to be a new (though smaller) crop of 1Ls heading in those doors. It’s been a few years since I first touched on the topic of being in law school with a family, so I thought I would update the post and discuss it again.
A reader asked:
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.
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. This is easily the number one thing that people fail at when entering law school. Mostly because they don’t know what to expect themselves.
Since you likely don’t know, allow me to give you a preview. You are going to be unavailable often. You won’t be able to help out as much as you did before – whether it be at home, with the kids, chores, etc. There are going to be long hours of class and studying that are going to have to be a priority in your life. Hobbies, TV, sports and the like are all going to have to fall by the wayside. This can be jarring to people who have come to rely on you. The sooner you communicate to people in your life that you are going to have less time available to spend with them, the better.
Don’t let the people in your life get the wrong idea about your time and be disappointed later down the line.
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. But, you’re going to fail at this. You’re going to get stressed out (or your spouse is) and you’ll shut down, blow up, or seethe in silence.
That’s okay. Everyone goes through it. Even that person who you think is always cool and collected at school has moments of breakdown and freaking out in private. When it does happen, 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. There is a tendency to want to push things to the backburner and focus on law school or whatever matter is at hand. Don’t. Letting things fester and remain unaddressed will only cause things to build up in the background – and eventually blow up.
Appreciate Your Spouse
Your spouse might not be the one in Law School, but this will impose a large burden on them as well. Where before they were able to rely on you for help, they now have to shoulder much more of the childcare on their own. This will put a strain on them, and in turn, on your relationship. Be cognizant of it and don’t take them for granted. Make sure you let them know that you appreciate the hard work they are undertaking now as well. Surprise them with a small gift for no reason. Brag about them when you’re both out with friends. This will go a long way to smoothing over the inevitable bumps in the road.
8 hours a night. Do it. It will improve every aspect of your life.
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 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. You can do it right at the bottom of this post. 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)