May 14, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
“We are both 28, have been married three years, and the recession left us out of a job in the financial services field. Now, we are considering law school, but have heard from friends that the law school experience can ruin a marriage. We would really like to have your thoughts on this subject. Thanks. Ricky and Sharon, from Eureka.”
“Your readers have asked an important question,” commented Ann Levine and Derek Roberti, both California-based, nationally recognized law school admissions advisors.
“Yes, it absolutely is a risk to marriage,” Levine stated, and repeated a law school dean’s warning to a group of married law students on the first day of class:
“Look to the left. Look to the right. By the end of your first year in school, one marriage will be in trouble. In the second year, it will be in worse shape. And by the end of the third year, they will have been separated or divorced for months.”
Law school consumes your entire life
As it is becoming more common for both spouses to study law, Roberti outlined three situations where law school can ruin a marriage:
1) The husband is admitted to a local law school, and the wife to a school which is far away;
2) They attend different law schools in the same city;
3) They are admitted to differently ranked schools, where one spouse gets into a “better” school.
“The spouse who gets into the better school must make a choice: Does she attend her husband’s law school together with him, and give up the potential of what that ‘better’ school could mean for her, later on? Should she do this for the sake and stability of their marriage?
“Of course, usually, just one spouse attends law school, “and this in itself often leads to another, serious challenge to the marriage,” Roberti points out.
“It is fear, the unmistakable feeling that they are slipping away from each other. One is going to law school, the other is not, two lives a shadow of what they were, just weeks before.”
Levine believes it is critical to understand “just how much law school tends to consume your entire life.”
“Studying to become a lawyer is like no other academic subject. You are learning a thinking process, and spending enormous amounts of time in and outside of class doing so. If your relationship is one where a lot of attention to each other and time has been the norm, that time is not going to be there,” she cautions.
“Law school separates you both from that prior life of togetherness,” Roberti observes.
“Law students acquire separate friends, likely spending recreational time with them, working on school research projects and are occupied much of the time. For a marriage to succeed under these conditions requires each member of the couple to be comfortable being very independent, and a long-term view of the relationship.
“As school is so consuming, and such an unbelievably insecure experience, especially in the first year, a great deal of hand-holding and reassurance that all is well with the world is essential for some spouses. It can work, and the chances increase if the couple actually become good buddies, which is so important in the long term,” he maintains.
Is there a law student personality?
“Successful law students often have a Type A personality: driven, organized, planners, focused and academically oriented. Spending time with your spouse isn’t included in that definition,” Roberti is quick to highlight.
“Successful students might not like the study of law, but know how to approach it. So, if you are good at being a student – especially if you enjoy learning and really like school – then you will excel in law school. But if not, and especially if your writing skills are marginal, you may have problems, and that’s not going to help a marriage.
“Law school requires a certain amount of surrender: your personality, your time, your focus on learning the law and test taking. You’ve got to go to class, study and read more than you ever have in your life, often several hours per class. If you have three hours of class a day, you will have six hours of study after that. When you add to that participation in things such as law review, and other student activities, a legal education takes control of your life for those three years of full-time study,” he concludes.
And then? After graduation, and the bar exam, swearing in, becoming a lawyer, beginning that first job, working over 70 hours a week, then we might remember what we also heard from a law professor our first day in class:
“The law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.