The ABA Guidelines limit a law student’s ability to work more than 20 hours a week as a full time student.
With tuition on the rise and many low-income applicants already suffering as a result, an additional limitation on the ability for students to earn money while studying would only add insult to injury. Without the sprinkling down of ubiquitous scholarships, most students face crippling debt.
Take the example of a working single mom who fits all the admissions criteria but does not get a scholarship and cannot risk the welfare of her children to spend three years accumulating debt. She considers that many scholarships get taken away after the first year of law school, and the decision not to go seems wise. However, she wants the opportunity to practice law. She enrolls but eventually finds that she cannot keep up with her bills or even consider hiring adequate supervision for her kids despite the loans and despite her scholarship unless she can work more than 20 hours a week. Now, consider a student from a low-income background, already looking to pay off debt from undergraduate loans, who decides to enter law school anyway. Imagine that this student decides to attend Boston University, and as he looks at the estimated cost of attendance, $60,332, he cringes but considers his options and decides that this is the school for him and the cost is comparable to other schools. Both of these individuals, and many others, want to be able to work more than 20 hours a week to get through three years of accumulating debt, but the ABA will take this opportunity away from them with the reason most often cited as protective. The ABA does not want their grades to suffer. Seriously?
Daniel Thies, Liaison to the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, authored a submission to repeal the section of the ABA limiting work hours in 2009, citing the following reasons:
“Standard 304(f) currently requires a law school to prevent full-time students from working more than 20 hours a week while enrolled in law school. Recent research suggests, however, that student employment does not uniformly limit the effectiveness of a student’s education. As an article on two recent studies put it, “it’s a vast oversimplification to assume that work is necessarily bad for students’ academic performance and engagement.” The studies, conducted by the University of Iowa’s Center for Research on Undergraduate Education and the National Survey of Student Engagement, found that, although working more than 20 hours a week can sometimes hurt academic achievement, it often had a positive impact on student engagement, psychological well-being, and leadership skills. Moreover, even the negative effect on academic performance was weakest among students who are already high academic achievers, a group likely to include most law students. These results suggest that, although working more than 20 hours a week may not have a uniformly positive effect on student achievement, neither is the effect uniformly negative. Consequently, decisions about the extent to which a student should work should be made on a school by school or student by student basis. A requirement that all schools prohibit all students from working this amount unnecessarily denies students an important source of income.”
Does the ABA’s rule serve merely a “limited pedagogical purpose“? Does limiting work hours further limit the ability for individuals from low income backgrounds to participate in law school? Should the ABA allow students to work more than 20 hours a week? Further, are there alternative policies that the ABA could create which would encourage those who cannot afford law school to attend?