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Can you work your way through law school?

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In his call for support of young lawyers (without actually saying what he has or will do to support them), ABA President William Robinson mentions that when he was a law student he worked the graveyard shift as a security guard. [Read it on the ABA site, the only place left willing to post something favorable about Robinson.] Working 11pm-7am is rough, especially for a law student. Not as rough as junior associates who work 9am-7am, and then are expected back at work at 9am again, but still rough.

So, what if you wanted to do the same thing, work your way through law school, as a diligent young adult should? Yeah, fat chance.

First of all, ABA accreditation rules require schools to limit students' paid work to 20 hours a week. That pretty much kills it. Not that this is a bad rule. It's inconceivable that someone could work a full time job and have a full load of classes and expect to graduate as a competent attorney. Robinson included.

But, Robinson talking about how he worked his way through law school just reveals how out of touch he is. Even without the ABA's rules (and we recommend that you don't worry about them, it's a rule the school is bound to follow, students are obligated to only follow their school's rules, and really, no one's going to know), you just can't work your way through law school.

Let's assume you're making $7.25 an hour as a minimum wage grunt. Not that unrealistic for law students. You have the same job prospects as someone with a liberal arts BA, but are limited on what jobs you can take because you need to be at school during normal business hours. Robinson worked as night security, The Paper Chase's James Hart worked at a bar (an Italian restaurant in the pilot). $7.25/hr is probably what many working law students would get. We'll also assume you work 50 weeks a year. You do have exams, after all.

At Robinson's alma mater, Kentucky, if you got instate tuition, you'd have to work 48 hours a week. That's just to pay for tuition. Books, heat, and top ramen not included. If you were paying out of state tuition, full fare, you'd have to work 85 hours a week.

If you were James Hart, you'd have to put in 125 hours a week at Ernie's Tavern. We haven't consulted the show's book runner, but we're pretty sure Ernie's wasn't even open 125 hours a week. No way he'd have time to be on law review, or take pro bono cases, or nail Kingsfield's daughter. ...Wait, he only nails her in the movie, not the show. Maybe his work commitments was the difference.

 

Assuming you have to live while in law school, though many law students seem to be the walking dead, we'll assume you need to be at no less than poverty level, $10,890 for an individual. That's another 30 hours a week at min wage.

So, if Robinson were back at Kentucky, working his way through law school, he wouldn't be working 11pm to 7am. He would be working 6:45pm to 7:00am, and that's 7 days a week. 1:24pm to 7:00am if working 5 days a week.

If he had to pay out of state tuition, he'd be working 3:30pm to 7:00am, 7 days a week; or 8:00am to 7:00am, 5 days a week.

If he was paying in state tuition, but complying with the ABA's 20 hour limit, and living at poverty level, he'd have to be making $28.19 an hour as a night security guard. That's more than many people earn as lawyers.

James Hart would be working about 8:50am to 7:00am, if working 7 days a week. If working just 5 days a week, he'd need his days to be 31 hours long. Although, he can probably cut out the cost of living. Surely once you get up to 125 hours a week, Ernie just lets you eat for free from the kitchen and sleep in one of the booths. After all, Ernie isn't a stupid dick.


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