Part-Time Programs vs. Full-Time Programs
In addition to traditional three-year, full-time J.D. programs, many law schools offer part-time degree programs as well. For those students interested in law school but not ready, willing, or able to make legal education their exclusive focus for three years, part-time programs can provide a valuable option. For students who are considering both, below is a brief overview of the two types of programs.
The typical full-time program at most American Bar Association-accredited law schools requires 12 - 15 credit hours earned for each of six semesters, meaning that most full-time students complete their legal studies in three years. The ABA does not permit full-time students to work more than 20 hours per week while attending law school, and some schools don’t allow full-time students to work at all. These prohibitions do not extend to summers, during which many students enter legal internships, and some schools do offer summer courses.
At schools where part-time programs are available, classes are often offered during evenings and weekends and can take longer to complete than standard, full-time programs. Many part-time programs require students to take summer classes as well, but these programs do not generally place a cap on the number of hours students are allowed to work during their legal studies. The average course load for a part-time program is between 8 and 11 credit hours per semester.
A common concern for law students is the financing of their legal education, and the two types of programs offer different benefits and constraints. Full time programs limit the hours that students are allowed to work, and at some schools law students aren’t permitted to work at all during the school year. For students who are not able to pay for law school, or to secure sufficient financial aid, part-time programs offer the option of working while pursuing one’s degree. While part-time programs can provide greater flexibility, however, they can also cost more overall. Because they take longer to complete, this can also mean entry into the legal field one year later. Another important consideration for those seeking aid is that law schools tend to set aside a larger portion of their grant and scholarship funds for full-time students.
Many students contemplating a part-time legal education have concerns about the comparability to a full-time program. Because the majority of opportunities in law school are based on academic performance, part time students may miss out on certain resume-building activities, such as law review, if employment interferes with their schooling. Further, programs may provide more limited course selection for evening and weekend classes. On the other hand, professors who teach in part-time programs and those who teach in full-time programs are typically drawn from the same pool. At Georgetown, for example, law professors are rotated between full- and part-time programs, so the quality of any given class is likely to be comparable.
Where employment opportunities are concerned, there are potential advantages associated with both program types. Part-time programs take place over a longer span, and require fewer credit hours per semester, leaving more time to research, network, and interview. On the other hand, the summers off during a full-time program are typically used for legal internships, which allow students to gain experience while demonstrating their abilities to potential employers. For many full-time students, the legal internship between 2nd and 3rd year can lead to full-time employment with a firm after graduation.