NEWS

Law school may help boost your career

Andrew J. Manuse

Peter Sanborn was an English and history major as an undergraduate and used an internship in Tufts University's public relations office to propel him into his career.

Now, married 5-1/2 years and expecting his first child, the Arlington resident and director of Web communications at Tufts University is also in his fourth year at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

[Click here for a list of law schools in Massachusetts]

"My ultimate goal is to be university president, so I started thinking of ways to do that," Sanborn said. "I thought, if I become an attorney - looking at places where law intersects with university needs - then create a career in that direction and combine it with my communications background, that could form my career."

To make room for his career and family, Sanborn is taking advantage of Suffolk's evening program, a four-year degree program that costs $26,960 a year in tuition. Suffolk's three-year day program costs $35,948. He is taking out loans to cover what an academic scholarship doesn't.

"The balance is challenging because of the sheer volume of the work," he said.

He works a normal day job and goes to school at night. He said he spends time with his wife on the weekends and during the summer.

"She is a very patient person," Sanborn said.

According to Laura Ferrari, dean of students at Suffolk, 98 percent of evening students at the law school have day jobs. Their average age is 27.

"Many are here to enhance their career or switch their career," Ferrari said. "Paralegals come here and want to become lawyers, or (students) have worked in research and want to turn that into a patent law career."

It's a lot of work, though, she said. The typical law student takes required courses in their first year, such as criminal law, tort law, constitutional law, property law, contracts, civil procedure and how to write and research legal cases. Evening students spread out the first year into two. Later on, students take electives that follows their particular interest and courses that will prepare them for the Bar Exam, she said.

To deal with the stress that may come with the workload, the cost of tuition or balancing life, work and family, students may be interested in the nonprofit Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Inc., which began as a group to help attorneys with drug or alcohol problems, according to its executive director, Gina Walcott-Torres. The group has expanded now to provide free assistance to any problem and students are welcome, Walcott-Torres said.

"There is a lot of time required in law school, and falling behind is not an option," Walcott-Torres said. "Your professor won't want to know why you didn't do your homework - whether it's you have kids, you're married, your baby kept you up all night - they just want to know that you did it."

Walcott-Torres said professors will call on each student in class randomly to go over the past night's assignment. This could be difficult for someone who's been away from school for some time, she said.

Still, professionals returning to law school will be looked at favorably, she said, because they probably didn't make the decision to go into law school lightly.

Students form study groups at school, and usually choose to work with people in their similar situation, Walcott-Torres said.

"Until you find other people like you, there's a small sense of isolation," she said. "Once you set up alliances, you form support groups to deal with that."

Picking the right law school should also be a consideration, according to Marilyn Wellington, executive director of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

"As you look at law schools, you have to look at what you're trying to accomplish," she said. "Clearly, a Harvard degree is an invaluable degree. ... But it depends on your goals."

A Harvard, Boston College or similar law school may propel students into one of Boston's larger law firms, Wellington said. But those schools don't have evening programs, so it might be more worthwhile to consider Suffolk or the New England School of Law, which make it easier for students to work while they're going to school.

Once graduated, the sky is the limit, Wellington said.

Law school graduates can become law librarians, teachers, open their own firm, join an existing firm, become a judge, or go into other public service, she said. Many corporations and nonprofit groups recruit attorneys into management and administrative positions. Their law degree gives them a basic knowledge of contracts and negotiations, she said.

Wellington herself started with a degree in music education, she said. She taught kindergarten through eighth grade music for a while then decided to go to law school.

"I enjoyed music and teaching, but it wasn't something I felt I wanted to do the rest of my life," she said. "As I thought about it, with a law degree you can do a variety of different things.

"People think of court and trial lawyers when they think of lawyers, but if you're someone who likes to learn and somewhat of an academic, it's an interesting thing to go through," she added.

Wellington practiced law for 10 years before she took her current job, she said.

Andrew J. Manuse can be reached at amanuse@cnc.com or 508-626-3964.

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