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It’s hard to grasp what part-time law school is like unless you’ve lived it.

When Ryan Groff ’20 was trying to figure out if a part-time JD was right from him, he knew he needed advice from people he could relate to—truly relate to.

“I have a family. I have other stuff I need to balance,” says the father of four and full-time paralegal and firm administrator. “That's a much different set of factors to consider than someone who's maybe fresh out of college who doesn't have a lot of professional experience.” So he sought out students in similar situations before ultimately deciding to enroll at New England Law | Boston.

Now that he’s on the other side, about to start his final year as a part-time evening student, Groff is happy to pay it forward when people ask for his law school insights.

If you’re considering a part-time JD program, be sure to read this hard-won advice and top tips for evening law students below.

Adjusting to law school is tough…

Like many incoming law students, Groff braced for “retraining his brain” to think like a lawyer—but it was still hard and made all the more challenging by his part-time schedule.

“The first few years were really difficult,” Groff says. “Just getting used to law school, getting used to the kind of study that you need to do, and taking that difficult course load your first year is just really hard.” Even with a master’s degree behind him, Groff still found law school to be a big academic adjustment.

Luckily, being aware of the difficulties of part-time law school—preparing for the worst, in fact—can actually be the key to success and happiness in the program in the long run.

…but it gets better

Yes, the learning curve is steep in law school (and it’s steep for a reason), but the difficulty tapers off, as Groff and his part-time peers can attest.

“My third year has gone much better,” Groff says. Some of that is familiarity with law school, some of that is getting past the challenging foundational curriculum, and some of that is getting to dive into the electives he’s passionate about. “I get to invest in the subjects that I want to study and that align with my career aspirations,” he says.

Remember that law school is a team sport

Whether it’s your spouse, family, or roommates, other people will often have a stake in your decision to go to law school part time. They’re also critical support systems throughout your years as a law student.

“As a spouse, it's really been important for me to have somebody that's on the same page. [My wife] and I made the decision to go to law school together,” Groff says. “Even though I'm the only one sitting at a desk in a classroom a few nights a week for a few years straight, it's really a toll on the whole family.”

Examine the law school community

Your support network at home is just the tip of the iceberg. “It really takes a village to go to law school,” Groff says. And you’ll find the rest of your tribe in your JD program.

When you’re looking for part-time programs, find out how the law schools on your list foster connection among students, from organizing events to making sure everyone knows what their resources are and how to access them.

In Groff’s experience, that commitment to community is often baked into a law school’s institutional values, and you can assess them through talking to students, faculty, and administrators.

“It was really important for me to see a program that was personal,” he says. “I heard over and over again how relatable, how understanding, how personable New England Law's program is.”

Prepare for long days

“My schedule's totally full,” Groff says candidly. “I usually start my day at 6:30 a.m.…If I have to study or prepare at all in the mornings, I'm up by 5:30 or 5:00.”

Groff drops his kids off at school and heads to work, arriving by 8:00 a.m. so he can leave early to get to law school on time. He works a 40-hour week, with classes typically on Monday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday nights between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. (though not always so late).

“I can get home to see some of my older kids who are still awake, which I really appreciate,” he says. “That helps our family just keep that much more of a normal schedule.” At the end of the day, he catches up on some assignments if he can before waking up and doing it all over again.

Get (or stay) involved in things that matter to you

With all of the balancing and prioritizing evening law students need to do, some things will need to go on the back burner. For instance, you might have to take a break from a favorite hobby or spend less time socializing.

But even though you may need to make some sacrifices, your identity shouldn’t be one of them. You need to hang on to what makes you, you.

For Groff, that means getting involved with extracurricular activities he “cares deeply about,” including volunteering with the national IRS Tax Advocacy Panel and serving as the head student representative for a company he says is making bar prep more affordable and accessible for students.

“We are multidimensional beings,” Groff says. “It’s important to admit this during trying times, because that’s when we can feel like we are defined by only one thing.” And being reduced to a “single story” isn’t healthy, he says.

“Part-time law student” will always be just one piece of who you are!

Seek out “twilight” events

Just like you can get involved in your law school community as a part-time student, you can and should attend campus events when you’re able. They can be invaluable networking opportunities, social breaks, and previews of your future career. Fortunately, law schools with part-time evening programs will often schedule events between day and night classes to accommodate all students.

“Obviously I don't get to be at the law school during the day a lot,” Groff says. “But I was really impressed that New England Law makes space and actually seems to intentionally bring those folks to campus at a time when evening folks potentially could get there.”

Know that it’ll be hard, but you can do this 

Part-time law school can take a lot out of you, and Groff believes it’s important to be straightforward about that reality.

“If you're going to law school…there's not just financial cost,” he says. “There's emotional cost, there's intellectual cost, there's spiritual cost, there's social cost. I think it's really important for us to plan ahead and think about those things.”

But as difficult as part-time law school may be, Groff is also quick to remind students that nothing is permanent. “Life happens in seasons,” he says. “You can absolutely do anything for a little bit.”

Learn more about the part-time evening law school experience.