Why Law Students Should Not Attend Summer School

Law students can find plenty of ways to stay busy after their first year of law school—working as a law clerk, volunteering, even working at an old job to pay some bills.

Summer school may look like a tempting option, but law students should consider it a last resort.

Summer school costs money

Shocking news eh? Seriously though, take a step back before thinking another $3-4k in debt is not that big a deal. For most schools, you pay a flat tuition rate per semester for a full-time class load. Whether you are taking 10 credits or 16, you pay the same amount.

If you take a summer school class, all that means is you might be less busy one semester, but you are paying the same amount in tuition for that semester. On top of that, you are paying for your summer school class. Plus, you may also decide to take out additional loans to cover living expenses for the summer.

The bottom line is that you are paying more for the same education. Those “little” 3-4k debts add up fast—and law school is not cheap to begin with.

Summer school internship = paying for experience

Some students take summer school because they can get a sweet extern/internship. Practical experience is a great thing, but you might be able to get it for free. There are a couple things to consider before paying thousands of dollars to work for free. One, most internships are also offered during the school year (and covered by your flat tuition payment). In that case, I would suggest taking it as part of your regular coursework.

Two, you can sometimes get the same experience without paying for it. Granted, some internships are not something you can find on your own, like judicial clerkships. But if you sign up for a “make-your-own internship” and end up clerking at a law firm, you are paying for that experience. Again, some of those opportunities are only available through the school.

In some cases, you can find a firm that is looking for law clerks for the summer. Of course, make sure you are not being exploited as free labor.

If you do take summer classes, make the most of it

If you still elect to take a class or two, take steps to make the most of the opportunity. If you are only taking a summer school class (or classes), you should get straight A’s. You should also get to know your professor—which could set you up for a research assistant position or job referrals down the road.

Last but not least, network with your classmates. Once you graduate, your network of classmates becomes invaluable. If you only show up for class and refuse to socialize, your network is that much smaller.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brunogirin/73014721)


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  • Guest

    “Granted, some internships are not something you can find on your own, like judicial clerkships.”

    As a 1L, I was able to get a federal judicial externship over the summer on my own. The reason was simply because I was very proactive. I started school knowing that is what I wanted to do the following summer. I researched which judges were alumni, submitted my applications on the first day the NALP allowed it, and one of my professors put in a good word for me. I was able to find and get this externship without going through the school or the externship department.

  • “If you take a summer school class, all that means is you might be less busy one semester, but you are paying the same amount in tuition for that semester.”

    Not always so! I, along with several other classmates, planned our curricula around which required classes were offered during the summer and thus set ourselves up to graduation a full semester early (saving the cost of a full regular semester, plus living expenses for that semester); take the Bar Exam a full six months before everyone else we started law school with; and hit the ground running when results came out. I will never regret going to law school year-round for 2.5 years in order to be opening the doors of my practice as most of my friends were just getting acquainted with their Barbri books.

    • That is an excellent point! If the finances come out cheaper, that is a solid plan.

  • I think the biggest reason students should avoid summer school is that they should take a break. It’s difficult to reflect on something when you’re still in the middle of it. Summer should be a time to get a way from school, think about whether a law degree is something you really want or need, and try to find some paid or volunteer legal work.

  • Clay

    I never took any summer school classes (I was working full-time), but a lot of my friends did because:
    1) tuition was/is by the credit hour – not a flat rate per semester
    2) the professors were generally pretty laid back in the summer
    3) there’s a stereotype that the grades were higher for the summer classes
    4) it’s easier to study for one or two finals (not a semester’s worth of classes)
    5) students with more credit hours get to enroll earlier

  • I agree with many of your points, Randall, but I took 10 credits the summer after my first year of law school. Expensive, yes. But I was able to focus on those classes completely over the summer, found the professors more engaged, and actually did much better on those courses than my 1L courses, which lifted my not-so-perfect first year GPA. After that, my GPA steadily increased because I was able to lighten my credit load each semester so I could focus better on the classes I did have. Financially it was challenging, but it really helped my GPA overall and lessened the stress of 2L and 3L year significantly because I wasn’t so loaded with classes. I was also able to work more my 2L/3L years because of fewer classes, so that probably offset the summer school investment. But your points are definitely worth considering …

    • Just curious, how did the finances work out with that arrangement—did you end up spending more?

      Regardless, it sounds like you made the most of the extra time and ended up getting the grades and experience you wanted.

      • I took out loans to cover the summer classes, so those all got consolidated in with the rest of my loans. It was a hefty chunk, but I would say that over the course of the next two years (2L and 3L), I was less stressed about my classes and felt comfortable working more hours. That income was cash was in-hand (as opposed to loans that I did not immediately out-of-pocket — just will continue paying for until I’m 70!), so it came in handy during law school. I think it probably came out close to even in the long run (between what I took out in loans vs. what I made in extra income), plus I really appreciated feeling less stressed over the rest of law school AND experienced a very nice bump in my GPA starting that summer. Those summer classes helped me overcome my lackluster 1L GPA and really start understanding how to study for and get better marks in my law school classes. That had huge value, too, though more intangible. To each their own …

        • Well if you ended up paying the same amount, but got better grades, and generally felt more positive about law school, I’d call that a smart decision!

  • As one of Jenny’s classmates, I considered finishing early, but used our school’s part-time program (and part-time tuition rate) to my advantage instead. I took summer classes during both summers, and then a reduced course load for all of my 3L year (12 hours in the fall and 9 hours in the spring). Doing so allowed me to be more involved in extracurriculars and work more as a law clerk for a local firm. Since I was paying part-time tuition for 3L year, it didn’t cost more.

    • That is certainly one way to do it—it sounds like that approach ultimately worked to your benefit. I’m assuming the practical experience working as a law clerk helped you land a job after school?

      • Overall, having that extra time to work allowed me to be the lead contact for a few cases and in charge of hearing prep on several occasions. It did result in a job offer, but we weren’t able to come to mutually agreeable terms so I ended up opening my own firm.

        • Sounds like a win—I’m willing to bet that the experience you acquired made you comfortable enough to start your own firm.