The Ballad of a 4L: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You More Efficient

It was a muggy August evening in 2013 when I hustled into the lobby of UMass Law School for my first day of orientation. I was sweating, running late due to traffic coming up Route 195 from my office. After hurrying up the stairs two at a time, I slid into a seat in the large lecture hall, surrounded by 80 other 1Ls.  While waiting anxiously for the session to start, I fidgeted with the brief I had prepared. When Dean Bilek stood up to address our newest class of UMass Law students, she looked around at all of us and smiled. “You’re all getting just a small taste of what your classmates going to school at night will go through…”

Working full time and going to law school part-time at night and on the weekends is nothing short of grueling. It requires us to wear many different hats simultaneously. Not only are we employees, bosses, and co-workers, but we are also parents, partners, and friends. Somewhere in all of that, we are also students.  Night student life requires us to work an eight hour day, drive to school, and sit in class until 9:30 at night before returning to whatever far flung corners of the state from which we come. In order to fulfill scholarship requirements and pro bono obligations, we use up vacation time, or give up our one day off a week, because Saturdays have been sacrificed to early morning classes and afternoons studying in the library. When asked what our plans are for the summer, we either “take a break” by only working our day jobs, or we punish ourselves even further by taking summer classes in an effort to complete our degrees in a shorter period of time. I cannot count the number of times I’ve arrived home at 10:00PM after class, dropped my heavy backpack on the floor and burst into tears, because the thought of having to pack a lunch and get ready for work the next day was almost too much to bear amid the overwhelming exhaustion of the daily night student grind. More often than not, I’ve felt like a ship passing in the night to both roommates and classmates, tenuously connected to campus when the reality of life beyond school reemerges well after sunset. A professor once asked a group of us if we’d attended the ABA accreditation open meeting, an opportunity for students to interact with the site team and exemplify the diversity of the UMass Law student body. We all looked around at each other. “It started at 4:30? I don’t get out of work until 5:00.”

And yet, we night students contribute a wealth of professional experiences to this law school community, carefully developed before we even had the opportunity to step on campus. We are taskmasters and we are efficient-mostly because we don’t have a choice.  And yet, we excel. We are Public Interest Law Fellows and Law Review Editors. We are TAs and interns and 3:03 student attorneys. For four or five years, we wear many different hats. But when we walk across that stage to accept our degree, we are all wearing the same hat: graduate. Attending law school at night while working full-time may have almost killed us, but when we come out of it alive, it is with the confidence that we really can do anything.

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