ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Law School and Work

I am very interested to see what the Law School Deans have to say on their new blog on legal education.  This is a subject that interests us over at the ContractsProfs Blog as well.  The Deans have already posted in praise of the ABA recommendation that the 20-hour/week limit on employment for full-time students be eliminated.   I agree with the logic of the argument -- the ABA does not prohibit students from doing anything else (moot court competition, law review, student government, video games) more than twenty hours a week, so why should it prohibit employment?  

WaiterStill, I think there is an answer.  There may be students who can work more than 20 hours a week and still excel in law school, but I think they would be exceptional.  For most students, law school is hard in ways that college is not.  And they do not realize that coming in.  They worked through college, so they think they can work their way through law school.  But by the time they learn that law school presents new challenges, they have already done permanent damage to their transcripts.  The 20-hour rule is profilactic, so it is bound to be overinclusive, but this is probably a situation where a bright-line rule makes sense.  

It is true that students can spend time in non-remunerative activities to their heart's content but I think there is a difference.  Students can tell both themselves and their professors, "I'm sorry; I don't have time to prepare for your class because I have a job."  That excuse will not work as well with any other activity.  And to the extent that students are putting in extra hours in activities like moot court competitions, law review, clinical work or pro-bono legal activities, those are all part of their legal educations.  

The argument that students need to work to support themselves doesn't necessarily fly, since many of them are working in jobs that pay very little compared  to the debt they are incurring.  They are far better off getting the most out of their investment in legal education than they are earning pocket money.  These sentiments open me up to the accusation of paternalism, and I cannot deny that the accusations score a palpable hit.  But in an educational context in which much of the curriculum is required, and a good deal more of it is very strongly recommended, I think we crossed that line long ago in far more substantial ways.  

One of the main things that I try to get across, especially to first-year students, is that this, meaning law school, is their job now.  There may be personal crises and family emergencies that call out for our students' attention, but students have to negotiate those demands and the demands of law school just as they would those demands and the demands of the working world.  The law school curriclum is not going to wait for them.  If students are distracted when we go over the statute of frauds and the parol evidence rule, they should not expect to be able to catch up when we are covering remedies.  There just won't be time. 

It is fine with me if the ABA gets rid of the 20-hour rule, but if it did so, I would recommend that my own law school adopt its own 20-hour rule for our students, with the possibility of exemptions (perhaps issued by the Dean of Students) in special cases when we know the student can handle the demands of both work and school.  If we are going to have paternalist rules, they should come from within the house rather than from our ABA Big Brother's house.


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