Matt's Grand Ideas

Studying for Law School with a Full-Time Job

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When deciding on if I should go to grad school, I spent serious effort deciding if I could invest the time needed to do the studies properly. I had recently gone back to school to finish my bachelors, so I had already reduced my commitments. But it goes without saying, grad school is harder than undergrad. So how much time should I invest?

The ABA Journal had a “Question of the Week” in 2009 asking grads how much time they spent studying for school. The article is still there but the comments are hidden. However, one comment by jj on Oct 23, 2009, was so meaningful I copied it and saved it.

I went to law school at night while filling a senior management role in a major corporation. In addition, we had three children ages 6 mo to 3 years (seasonally adjusted of course). I calculated very carefully what amount of time I would have UNDISTURBED during a week and came up with 6 hours per week. Sometimes I was able to read on planes but then I had to worry about the Dean and the ABA’s attendance police. Law school is conceptual and I tried to get the concepts down. I came out with a 3.1, not honors, but good enough. I passed the bar in another state than I attended law school in on the first try. I wonder how much of the study time that the others put down is truly UNDISTURBED. Like REM sleep, its difficult to call study something including TV, beer and pizza.
Comments jj Oct 23, 2009 02:27 pm CDT

Now that I’m past the one-year mark, I can attest that undisturbed, and ideally, contiguous blocks of time are needed. I take three classes at a time fall, spring, and summer in hopes of finishing in three years.

What Works for Me

One of the best things I did is to work out a plan with my family on how I would deliberately use my time. There are many things important to me and worthy of my time. I allocate time intentionally to the things I value and try to shield myself from low-priority time wasters.

I believe it’s my duty to give my work my best—I have adjusted my schedule so that when I am at work I’m alert and able to focus. However, I don’t spend more time there than I need. There is always more work to do than there is time to do it in. I do all that I can when I am there and, with rare exceptions, I leave when it’s time and put it out of my mind until I return.

I have sit-down dinners with the family most nights because this is something we value. When I come home from work I attend to the needs of the family and spend a little time with each. Depending on the semester, we have one or two nights a week reserved for family time. We also go to church together on Sundays.

My Weekly Schedule

  • Sunday: Church and family in the morning, after lunch, school for the rest of the day. This is my big time block where I am most productive. I try to get drafts of papers and assignments done these days.
  • Weeknights: After dinner, time for school. However, I’ve found that after a long day of work, my mind is tired and this is not when I will be most productive. My classes meet in the evenings so I participate in classroom time and then polish up my notes and assignments. If I get tired and can’t concentrate, I stop and go to bed—reading the same paragraph over and over is useless, but a good night’s sleep pays dividends.
  • Saturdays: No school, except I can have a little time in the mornings before the family wakes up if I need. Large assignments are usually due on Saturday nights, so sometimes I need to do minor revising and editing. If I’m still at my desk at 10:00 am I can count on scornful gazes, so I try earnestly to not do school on Saturdays at all.

In total, I spend 22-25 hours per week in school. Sometimes, on my lunch break, I go for a walk and listen to lectures. This is not a highly productive time for me, but it does allow me to review or catch up a little. I don’t count this as part of that time.

I’ll be honest, jj, from the comment above, was content with a 3.1 GPA, but I am not. I could probably put less work in and still pass my classes.

Undisturbed Time is Critical to Success.

I have a blocker on my home network that prevents me from using social media too much. If I find myself wasting time reading the news or other non-essential tasks, I rearrange the icons on my phone’s screen to break the habits. When I struggle to be motivated I set micro-goals, such as “create a blank document, give it a title, and save it in the proper folder,” then upon success, “write a couple of terrible sentences relevant to the topic.” I’ve found that minor victories help motivate me. I also use the Pomodoro Technique when my attention is waning.

I also believe in budgeting my time. Dave Ramsey says that each dollar will go somewhere, so be deliberate about it. The same is true with time.

My First Year Mistakes

I made a couple of mistakes during my first year that are worth mentioning. The first is that I stopped exercising, and yeah, that made a difference. I’m one week into my second year and I have a plan for correcting that. The trick is, how can I get the most exercise benefit from the least amount of time? I love to ride my bike outdoors, especially long rides. My goal before school was 70-100 miles per week. I just don’t have time for that now.

Instead, I have an indoor bike and a TV. I watch YouTube videos and do high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is probably the most efficient exercise technique. I ride twenty minutes in the morning, before my shower. The main benefit of HIIT is that it keeps your heart and metabolic rate up for hours after you’re done. When I wear my heart-rate monitor I can see my heart is still beating well above average an hour later. You can do HIIT on a bike, elliptical, treadmill… just about anything. Here are some great workout videos to watch.

I also needed to improve my note-taking efficiency. Pen-and-paper notes were my style, but organizing them is time-intensive. I had to retrain myself to use digital note-taking methods, so now I use OneNote. It lets me organize my notes by class, I use the browser plug-in to bring documents right into One Note and then I can read them on any device. I have a tablet with a pen, so I can mark-up my notes very easily. OneNote even reads my handwriting and makes it searchable—even when I write at an angle and misspell words!


This article is about time management. Going to grad school while working is possible. You simply must be intentional about how you use your time. I aim for twenty-five hours per week to study, but you can do less—jj allocated six!

Web guy, big thinker, loves to talk, teach and write. I make technology easier to use @ John Deere ISG.

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