Should you go back to school?

Oh no! More school! More books! More lectures! More tests! And — oh no big time — more debt!!!

Going back to law school to get an LL.M. degree is not a decision to be taken lightly, given, well, all of the above. How do you psyche yourself up? How do you muster up the energy for another year of intensive study?

If you have a significant other — who endured your law school career and bar exam angst and job search efforts — how do you break the news that you're about to go back in.

(Make sure no sharp objects are nearby …)

Take Bryan Barnhart, for instance. He had not set foot in a law classroom in 10 years when he decided to get an LL.M in Water Resources Law at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.

He had fallen in love with that kind of law when working — as a general practitioner attorney — on a case regarding a leaking underground storage tank. Very bad things were going into the groundwater. “I was struck by it,” he said. “This was a problem that had to be solved.”

So what did he do? He quit his job and set out for his LL.M. He had a wife and two children. He commuted from their home in Berkeley, Calif., to the school, which is Sacramento. He used savings to pay for the education.

“I went all-in,” he said. (With the support of his wife, he noted …) He felt the extra schooling was vital if he were going to commit to this kind of law, and that the knowledge could not be gained elsewhere easily. “I prefer to know what I'm doing,” he said.

Barnhart was not intimated by going back to the classroom after such a long break. “I like school,” he said. “I'm good at school.” However, the other stressors did indeed have impact. “It could have been real bad,” he said, of his decision.

But that wasn't the case. The University of the Pacific is a leader in producing attorneys specializing in water issues, he said. It has top professors in the field, he noted. Even before he finished his LL.M., he landed a job at Miller, Axline & Sawyer, a Sacramento firm that specializes in helping pubic agencies get relief from companies that contaminate groundwater.

The education and networking opportunities were priceless, Barnhart said. This type of work is relatively new and difficult to break into. “I don't think I could have made the jump without it (the LL.M.), he said.

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