Law school w/young kids?

Hi all,

The BPN answers to this question are 5-10+ years old, so here I am. I'm considering a career shift and am really interested in public interest law / working with nonprofits and community groups. I have two kids who would be 7 and 4 by the time I started law school. My questions: is it feasible to complete a full-time law program while parenting young kids? How is the Bay Area job market for this type of work? And, for anyone who's been through it recently, is the UC Berkeley social justice / public interest program as great as it looks? Any insights appreciated!

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RE: Law school w/young kids? ()

It is absolutely possible to finish law school with kids, but it is not easy. You will need a lot of support. You can expect class schedule similar to kids' school schedule. Not back to back from 8:30 - 3 but most classes are scheduled during that window and you may have a break here and there. Think more like college class schedule.  And then you will have a mountain of homework. My law school classmate who had a young child and was pregnant with her second child had a lot of support from her boyfriend and mom with whom she lived. Other lawyer moms I know who finished law school with kids did it on a part-time basis. They did day or evening part-time law school at Golden Gate and Santa Clara. I started law school path with social justice work in mind but eventually ended up in private practice because it was impossible to make a living on one nonprofit income. There are many nonprofit organizations, but the job market is extremely competitive and many jobs depend on grants. Unless the organization is well funded or regionally/nationally recognized, the position may be available for the duration of the grant. Organizations look for truly passionate and committed individuals and will seek to hire people who have dedicated their law school career and summer breaks in the social justice field. I volunteered at nonprofits in the evenings and weekends and worked at a nonprofit part-time during my law school to build up my resume and ended up continuing to work as a volunteer after law school until a job opportunity arose. I also worked part-time in private practice to pay the bills during this time.  Of course, I have friends who were hired by nonprofits right after law school but I did not have stellar grades and didn't go to UC Berkeley or the like, so it took a bit of time for me to get a job in nonprofit. I am in private practice now, because I have to pay mortgage, support my family, and save for our future.  I don't mean to discourage you. I have many friends who are staff attorneys at nonprofit organizations and are happy. Most of them with kids do have spouses or partners who have a higher paying jobs (private practice, tech, finance, medicine, etc.) or a decent paying jobs with great benefits (government, university). 

RE: Law school w/young kids? ()

Hi - I went to UC Berkeley and am a public interest lawyer in the East Bay. I went to law school 10 years before having kids, so I can't speak to going through law school as a parent (at least not from personal experience), but if you want to chat about law school generally, UC Berkeley specifically, and public interest law careers feel free to reach out! 

RE: Law school w/young kids? ()

I did law school with two kids (younger than yours) and it was hard but do-able. I also let myself be ok with getting Bs and I didn’t join law review. If you’re interested in working in legal aid or a nonprofit they don’t care about that stuff anyway. I’ve worked in direct service legal aid orgs for over a decade now and it’s a great career to have as a parent because it’s flexible and often the hours are pretty decent. 35-40 hours as opposed to the crazy hours you would have to put in at a firm or even as a public defender. The pay is not great but I truly love my job and feel so lucky to have found this career, even though often I get depressed about the oppressive systems that my clients have to navigate. Berkeley Law has a good public interest program - most students intern at East Bay Community Law Center. That being said, there are nonprofit attorneys who are disgruntled and can provide you with an alternate perspective so I recommend talking to a few different people. If you want to talk more, email the mods for my contact info. 

RE: Law school w/young kids? ()

Those jobs are hard to get and pay very little money. In my experience it's mostly trustfunders who can do that type of work because regular people have loans to pay and living expenses. Lots of people start law school with the intention of saving the world but end up taking jobs that pay the bills. For example,  tons of people study environmental law with the dream of saving the environment but end up working for Chevron because they need the money.

I loved law school but didn't like working for law firms. But I had no choice until my loans were paid off. If you want an intellectual challenge, go for it. But if you're responsible for paying for it, consider what kind of job you'll have to get when you're done (and how long you'll have to stay at that job).

I can't comment on doing it with small kids since I was single at the time. My sense is that if you're motivated to do it, it can be done. But you'll probably need someone to watch your kids while you study. The people I know in this position would extend their childcare for a couple hours after classes were done and efficiently did all of their reading and prep during that time. They seemed very focused and were successful. But their experience was very different than the party the single people were having. 

I get asked all the time if people should go to law school or not and I never know what to say. The intellectual part was so much fun (I had been working at a ski resort and I was thrilled to be arguing intellectual concepts with smart people instead of talking about powder turns and the Grateful Dead) but I was seriously miserable for 8 years after I finished. Lawyers kind of suck and law firms are weird and filled with lawyers. It's all a balancing act. Now that I don't work at a lawfirm I'm happy with my career choice. But getting to this point was brutal.

I wish you all the best. 

RE: Law school w/young kids? ()

I attended law school with the goal of working in public interest law. I was lured to a top school by promises of public interest fellowships and loan repayment assistance, but those where not what they seemed to be, and I ended up having to dig my way out of six-figure debt. Public interest salaries in the Bay Area are so low that many of us can only survive with these jobs because we are married to people with more lucrative positions. Public interest jobs are also highly competitive, so you can’t count on working in your desired field at all. I’d think long and hard if it’s worth the financial sacrifices for you.

RE: Law school w/young kids? ()

It's definitely possible, but law school is time consuming, so it'll be hard. The public interest market is tough. Even coming out of a top school, there's a lot of competition for low-paying jobs. Will you have loans to pay off? A partner with a better-paying job to support two kids in the bay area? You also need to like being a lawyer for it to be worth it. I went to law school (pre-kids) with an interest in environmental law, and ended up at a plaintiff side firm. I liked the end-result of the work I was doing, but the day to day had nothing to do with the environment - it was all administrative law and I found it boring. So just make sure you actually want to do the legal work that the organizations you're interested in need. At least for me, being on board with the mission wasn't enough.