I went to a law school that had a very tight-knit community. Part of our orientation involved all faculty leaving the room while a panel of 2Ls and 3Ls talked to us about some more…down-to-earth issues that we should be aware of. I don’t remember much of that talk, but I do remember one comment, mostly because it was so very clearly not applicable to me. “Because this is such a small group of people, if you aren’t already in a committed relationship when you start school, you WILL end up having an unfortunate hookup with one of your classmates before you graduate.” And then whoever had made that comment went on to explain why it was best to not hook up with the classmates that you see every day.
If I had been questioning the wisdom of going to law school as a married person, I would have stopped questioning right then. Navigating the dating world AND law school? Not my idea of fun. If you’re already married and wondering whether that’ll be a drawback if you decide to attend law school, here are some factors to consider.
Peer Pressure Ended in High School…Right?
In law school, there is often a lot of pressure to attend certain social events. My school had fairly regular “bar review” pub crawls, formal dances, ice cream socials, and, of course, more professional networking events. Law school had lockers, parties, and even an in-crowd. It was basically a John Hughes movie, but with the Socratic method instead of Saturday detention. Being married meant that, for the most part, I didn’t feel the need to participate in much of that. I went to the professional events, and to other events as they appealed to me, but I didn’t really feel “left out” when I missed something.
The flip side? Well, I probably did miss out on some genuine networking opportunities because it was more important to me to spend time with my husband. I tend to be pretty introverted, so this was OK, and even essential, for me. But for someone who is very social, it would probably be much more difficult to balance academic needs, social needs, AND marital needs.
OK, But How Are We Going to Pay for This?
Being married can make the financial angle of law school more complicated. On the one hand, there are more people to consider. More mouths to feed (especially if you have kids and/or pets). On-campus housing is often limited to single-gender (my school did have “married” housing, but it was pretty far off campus, and hard to get into), which means that you don’t have the cheaper dorm options. On the other hand, you have more people to share the load. If you and your spouse have both worked after undergrad, you can maybe build a bit of a financial cushion before law school to minimize your loans. If only one of you is going back to school, the working spouse can hopefully at least cover the cost of living so that, again, those student loans don’t have to be as big. Even if you’re both in school (my husband went to grad school while I went to law school), two post-graduation paychecks can help pay off any student loans more quickly.
Location, Location, Location
A single person who wants to go to law school can send in applications, choose a school that’s the best fit (academically and financially), and just…go. A married person who wants to go to law school can send in applications and then sit down with their spouse to discuss options. Can the other person get a job and/or get into school here? Are WE willing to move to this city for three whole years? Or…are we willing to live apart for some period of time? And what about summer jobs? I opted to work for professors and take summer classes instead of finding a job elsewhere, because, as two students, we just couldn’t afford for me to take an out-of-town internship. And even then, we ended up having to deal with a long-distance marriage for a portion of my program. My husband’s graduate program was two years. Law school was three. When he graduated, his job was three hours from my law school. So, we had to maintain separate households for nearly a year. It wasn’t fun, but we managed it. If you’re in a similar situation, but absolutely can’t deal with separate households for some reason or another, your pool of law schools will then be limited to where your spouse can find work.
Does My Biological Clock Have a Snooze Button?
The decision about when/if to have kids is difficult for most couples. Sometimes, one (or both) partners have an unpredictable internal timer telling them that it’s time…and that doesn’t always line up with practicality. Having kids while in law school (as in, going through the newborn phase) would be tough. Not impossible. I’ve seen both men and women handle it successfully (if sleeplessly), but it takes a lot of planning. So, if you’re a married person heading to law school, you might be smart to talk logistics before one of you gets into that “want a baby” mode.
And, of Course, My Spouse Will Totally Understand What I’m Dealing With
So, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, law school is very different from other forms of upper-level education. Unless your spouse is headed to law school with you, they very well might not understand what you’re going through. And the time and pressure of it all could very easily put a strain on your marriage. My recommendation? Communicate. Before, during, and after. Make sure you’re supporting each other as well as possible. I had a professor who encouraged spouses to audit a class session so they could get a feel for the dynamic, and being able to do that make a big difference to my husband. Since he was in graduate school, we were able to sit and do homework together, but we also carved out time to have dinner together and watch movies (mostly borrowed from the law library) on the weekends. That time together made a difference, both to our marriage and to my ability to focus on law school when I needed to.
In the end, this is obviously a personal choice. But if you’re already married, don’t talk yourself into thinking that it will automatically be a negative in law school. My husband really anchored me to sanity while I was dealing with the pressures of law school. For you, law school might be realistic precisely because you are married.
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