UMass Law Features: As part-time law students manage multiple priorities, they are buoyed by the support of the UMass Law community

Part-time UMass Law student Erynn Gifford, JD candidate ’22 with her son, Carter, at her 2018 UMass Dartmouth graduation.

UMass Law’s part-time students represent a range of careers and backgrounds. Many are full-time professionals and parents, some with very young children.

They hope to either change or advance their careers, while others have long aspired to attend law school but were not previously able to enroll. No matter their path, part-time day and evening/weekend students were drawn to UMass Law for its flexible programs, affordable tuition, and a welcoming, supportive community.

UMass Law offers a part-time day program and is the only law school in New England offering a part-time evening/weekend program for students who are managing work and family responsibilities. Both programs can be completed in approximately 4 years and can be accelerated with summer classes. Part-time students comprise 24% of UMass Law’s enrollment and are involved in the full array of student activities and organizations.

Erynn Gifford, JD candidate ’22, has mastered multitasking. In addition to working full-time in the legal field, she is a single parent to a five-year-old son, operates an online clothing resale business, and attends UMass Law in the evening/weekend program. She is president of the Parents Attending Law School (PALS) student group and is a 3L Night Division Representative to the Student Bar Association, UMass Law’s student government organization.  

“I have always been fascinated with the history of the law and the progression of legislation,” said Gifford, a UMass Dartmouth Crime & Justice Studies major who graduated in 2018.

When Assistant Dean Dan Fitzpatrick encouraged Gifford to visit UMass Law, he assured her she would receive an excellent legal education and become part of a vibrant and supportive learning community.

Gifford agrees. “The entire administration was helpful and welcoming. The close-knit family environment and small and diverse student body at UMass Law made it an easy choice! The affordable education and the impressive bar passage rate made it that much easier. I committed to UMass Law at the end of my tour that day, and I’m so glad I did.”

Gifford’s partner, babysitter, and even her classmates have pitched in to help. “Managing motherhood, work, law school, and my organizations at school is incredibly challenging. It requires scheduling, time management, devotion, and self-discipline. I organize my schedule down to the minute.”

Elizabeth Cabral-Townson, JD candidate ’22, works full-time as a school district administrator, is a mother to three young children between the ages of one and eight years old, and is considering practicing education law. “My decision to attend law school was based on my realization that the law can be a powerful tool to improve outcomes for all students,” she said.

UMass Law was a good fit due to its location near her home and workplace. The law school is affordable and, due to her full-time job, the evening/weekend program provided the flexibility and schedule she needed.

Cabral-Townson is fortunate to have a lot of support at home. “Three children under the age of eight can be exhausting, and I would not be able to juggle my class schedule without the support of my husband and close family members,” she said. “I must remind myself to put one foot in front of the other and take a step-by-step approach.

“It is important to keep a very detailed schedule, where each day is mapped out,” she added. “This allows you to be intentional about ensuring that you have the time to devote to studying, work, and family,” said Cabral-Townson. “Identify your support system early on, because you will need at least a handful of people to assist you, particularly during midterms and finals.”

Timothy Robinson, JD ‘21 graduated last fall and spent this semester studying for the bar exam. He worked full-time while in law school and, due to the pandemic and the absence of daycare, his parental responsibilities for a four- and 1½-year-old increased significantly. His wife worked from home and took care of the children at night so he could study and attend class.

Robinson enrolled in law school to advance his career. “I liked the idea that, with a law degree, I would always have options. Also, as an attorney, you can help people more directly. You can be the difference in a very important issue that someone faces. You are literally changing people’s lives—not many jobs offer this sort of benefit,” he continued.

Like Cabral-Townson, he chose UMass Law for its location and the part-time program that appeals to parents and full-time professionals. “Many programs do not offer weekend classes. The chance to supplement an evening class with a Saturday morning made it much easier to take care of my parenting responsibilities while furthering my education.”

The affordability of UMass Law was also a deciding factor for Robinson. “There was no comparison. As a parent with a mortgage and other bills, this was extremely high on my list of reasons for choosing UMass Law.

Michelle Margaret Hatfield, JD candidate ’24, describes her education as a Smith College grad, an Army wife, and mother of two children, as rich with life experience. She originally applied to law school in 2007 while her husband was deployed to Iraq. When his assignment was extended, she put it off. After the Army, Michelle brought her family home to Massachusetts. While caring for her mother in the final stages of breast cancer, she decided to pursue the law degree she had considered more than a decade ago.

Hatfield has connected with the law school community as treasurer of the Veterans Law Students Association, and she is publishing an essay with the UCLA Criminal Justice Law Review this spring.

A school district administrator and mother of three young children, Elizabeth Cabral-Townson, JD candidate ’22, appreciates UMass Law’s part-time evening/weekend schedule, its location close to her home, and the affordable tuition.

Support from the UMass Law community

In addition to support from their families and friends at home, these part-time students appreciate the assistance they receive from UMass Law faculty, administrators, and part-time program classmates. Gifford credits Assistant Dean of Students Julie Cahill for providing ongoing opportunities, support, and encouragement. “Dean Cahill has always been available to discuss scheduling, time management, and organization. There are ample resources offered to law students to assist with everything, including course work, tutoring, and health and wellness,” Gifford said.

“I have made close friendships and a study group, which helps with the tough subjects and makes the experience more enjoyable,” Gifford added. “My participation in student organizations has also helped to make the experience more rewarding and enjoyable, increasing my accountability and commitment.

“The camaraderie at UMass Law is unparalleled at any other law school. My small cohort of classmates is incredibly supportive, as well as the faculty,” said Gifford.

“I have an amazing cohort of colleagues,” said Cabral-Townson. “We come from several different fields but have bonded over our strong work ethic and passion for the law. The faculty is amazing. Thanks to my incredible professors, after delivering a baby at the beginning of a semester, I was able to continue my studies without taking a semester off!”

“With smaller class sizes and students in similar situations with families and professional careers, it is easy to become friends and assist each other through the tough times,” Robinson said. “Everyone within our night program wanted everyone else to succeed.”

“Managing work, parenting, and school will always be difficult,” he said. “The law school was a great resource for all of this. Career Services was always willing to lend support on managing class work and professional work. They assisted with my resume, helped me focus on my search, and even reached out with opportunities that they knew would interest me.

 “Also, the professors are amazing,” Robinson continued. “They come in early, leave late, and make themselves available whenever we need them just to ensure that our needs are met and that we are in a position to succeed.”

Hatfield credits Deans Cahill and Associate Dean Shaun Spencer for their support and appreciates the flexibility of the part-time program. “I respect UMass Law for thinking outside the box and for giving adult students the base to do everything we need to do while earning our degree.”

A law review essay written by Michelle Margaret Hatfield, JD candidate ’24, a part-time day student at UMass Law, will be published this spring.

Goals are as diverse as their backgrounds

While Cabral-Townson plans to remain in the field of education, Gifford is excited to work at a general practice. “I aspire to do public defense, both in criminal law and in the family law equivalent–my goal is to serve others and make a difference.”

Robinson is interested in transactional or corporate law. Whether he advances at his current company or opens his own practice, he said, “UMass Law has given me the confidence I need.”

Hatfield feels a call to public service and plans to run for office someday to create policies that support families. “Career and family shouldn’t have to be a choice. Government can create structures that support families in different ways.”

Timothy Robinson, JD ’21, found many advantages to UMass Law’s part-time evening/weekend program as he continued to work full-time and parent two young children.

Part-time program enables students to “do it all”

Robinson said, “I had been out of school for more than eight years when I started at UMass Law, but I am so glad I did. The program was great, the professors are amazing, and the support structure of the staff and administration are terrific!”

“This is a fabulous way to get a legal education,” said Hatfield of the part-time program. “I can concentrate on the classes I’m taking. If you have it in you, it’s here for the taking.”

Gifford believes that if you want to go to law school, you can do it all. “You can be a parent, work full-time, and be a part-time student. While it is challenging and requires discipline and devotion, it is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding.”

Departments Law School, School of Law