Dating in law school: The dos and don’ts


By Alexandra Sumner

When discussing the idea of dating in law school, the question is not: “Should you date someone while in law school?” It's: “Should you even date someone who’s in law school?” No, probably not.

Law students (myself included) have the tendency to believe the entire world revolves around their three-year degree and that everyone — including significant others — should bend themselves around our tight schedule because, “We have it harder than you.”

I’ve seen more than a few law school relationship articles which encourage the non-law student to “just be sensitive” and “don’t expect a lot from him [or her] because they’re under a lot of pressure.” Articles that admonish displeased partners for wanting more than a high-five and a Hot Pocket on date night. Blurbs that decry the selfishness and greed of these non-legal lovers; how can they not understand time and energy it takes to read for torts? Why can’t they just understand that he didn’t have the time to text you all week because he was in class?

Look at me: Because it is a lie.

As much as I am drawn to hyperbole, even I can admit that we aren’t kept prisoner in the classroom. Our cellphones aren’t taken away and our brains aren’t removed and steeped in elitism. We have the time to text you back; the truth is we choose not to.

You should never let your significant other get away with inconsiderate or offensive behavior just because he or she is in law school. You have every right to hold them accountable for their actions, and you shouldn’t look over numerous excuses and missed plans. We’re not dead, just busy.

Think of it this way: if you’re dating someone who is treating you poorly now, how will your relationship suffer after that person becomes an attorney? How can you foresee a future with someone who doesn’t consider you a priority, and whose life is only going to advance in responsibility and stress levels? If he doesn’t have time for you now, when will he?

I’m going to say the thing all law students fear being said: Law school is not an all-encompassing infection. It does not immutably change you, make you special or give you a free pass to being a jerk. It’s school, not the Olympics. If you do decide to date while in law school, take it from me: Don’t turn your relationship into a competition. Nobody wins, which is annoying.

I’m dating a guy in graduate school and the biggest schism in our relationship is our constant questioning of “Who has it worse?” We compare assignments, schedules, jobs, internships, driving distance, everything. Of course it’s pointless and only leads to resentment, but my know-it-all self tries to be the best at everything, including dating.

When choosing a partner, in both the legal and relationship sense, you have to find someone who complements you. I’m the type-A. The one who carries a color-coded planner and has my life charted out until next July. (Not even joking.)  The one who asks my grandma to send me follow up emails so I don’t forget what we talked about on the phone, and so I don’t miss any important dates/times. I meal prep all my food and constantly feel guilty during the 24 minutes I watch TV and eat my dinner; I don’t like non-productive hobbies.  

My boyfriend is more a “fly by the seat of his pants” kind of guy. He’s organized — but doesn’t have an entire PDF titled “Wardrobe Inventory.” He’s level-headed but fun. He cooks what he wants when he wants it, and he doesn’t feel as guilty taking a break every now and then. His whole life motto is, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” Our law school-grad school relationship works because, even with our differences, we’re both focused on two things: (1) our studies, and (2) the future. We make each stronger, not weaker. And when we’re both mired in stress and deadlines, it’s comforting to know that I am not in the trenches alone — he is fighting alongside me.

Dating while in law school can keep you grounded — it can give you something to think about besides how much you hate Bluebook formatting. It can get you out of the house, expose you to different people and keep you from getting too wrapped up in legal elitism. It’s nice to come down from the ivory tower and just be for a while. You may not find your life partner or your soulmate during your three years — there may be breakups, drama, and tears — but all of these heartaches bring you closer to the person you’re meant to be.

Dating in law school is not impossible — somewhere between classes and homework, there is time for romance. Time for brunch with friends. Time for family. Time for "Parks and Recreation." But — like a lost iPhone — you just have to find it.

Alexandra Sumner is a 3L at Indiana University — Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.