Back to (Law) School
The weather cools, back-to-school draws near, and you find yourself shopping for your child’s last-minute classroom essentials. As you debate the virtues of the Roblox backpack versus a sturdier, water-resistant Superman backpack with your soon-to-be-back-to-school angel, your mind wanders. You wonder whether you might not put your “super” powers of persuasion to better use against a more logical and emotionally competent foe — an adversary who does not spontaneously combust into waterfalls of tears upon defeat. You wonder if law school is the right next step for your career. No matter your age, this question begins somewhere — often just as random — for every older would-be law student.
Why Do People Choose Law School for a Career Change
People choose law school mid-career for many reasons. Your reason for a career change into law school could be as simple as hating your current job. Of course, your reasons could be multi-faceted, like hating your job and wanting to defend human rights while living abroad and experiencing different cultures. Regardless of your reasons, it is vital that you are passionate about your decision. A lukewarm wish for a more lucrative career is not likely to pull anyone through the trials and tribulations of law school, let alone the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
Good Reasons To Pursue a J.D.
Here are some common solid reasons for pursuing a legal career:
- Social justice
- Intellectual stimulation
- Financial security
- Job security
You should feel passionate about your reasons for returning to school. Perhaps you want a career that will allow you to buy a home in a particular school district and save for your children’s college education. If this reason is strong enough to drive your success, then it’s a winner.
Weak Reasons for Law School
Here are potentially weak reasons for attending law school:
- You have lawyers in your family.
- You hate your current job.
- You want a career change, but you aren’t sure what you want to do. However, you’ve heard law degrees are transferrable to many roles.
- You always wanted to be a lawyer.
These reasons are only weak if they stand alone — often, they bolster a heartfelt motivation. For example, if you “always wanted to be a lawyer” because social injustice enrages you, it may be time to go to law school. However, “always wanting to be a lawyer” may not be the sole motivation you need to get you through six grueling and sleepless sets of final examinations.
Who Goes to Law School for a Career Change?
Most law students are under 25, and only 20% are 30 or older. Since most undergraduates receive a bachelor’s degree at the age of 22, this means that most people attend law school within three years of finishing their undergraduate work As for the typical older law student, there is no reliable archetype.
- Age: Older law students are often defined as over 30. As for an upper age limit, there isn’t one. An 83-year-old law school graduate proved you’re never too old for law school.
- Gender: These students may be male, female, or nonbinary.
- Previous career: They may have held a successful, impressive career, or they may have been working in a diner while auditioning and hoping for a big break that never came.
- Previous degree: Older law students can come from various backgrounds. There is no “best” degree; many degrees become profoundly interesting when paired with a J.D. For example, coupling a J.D. with Art History could set you up to work in-house for a museum.
The truth is, anyone can go to law school. Whether you should go to law school is entirely different and very personal.
Things To Consider as an Older Law Student
Before you make a final decision surrounding your law school daydream, carefully consider the pros and cons of being an older law student. There will be certain aspects of your situation that can help you excel. Likewise, there may be drawbacks due to your age. But knowing is half the battle.
As a mature law student, you may be in your 30s or older. Your life experience can bring a wealth of benefits; it may even grant you a marked advantage over your younger cohorts. So, while you may feel intimidated to join a class of primarily 20-somethings, don’t be too trepidatious. Be aware of and embrace these benefits as your personal law school superpowers.
Work and Life Experience
Going to law school after five or more years in the real world with a history of success and failure behind you allows you to understand legal cases much deeper. Compare your experiences to someone who never worked, bought a home, married, had children, or divorced. All of these come with potential legal insights you can apply to your classes to understand the law better.
Ability To Engage Better with Faculty and Interviewers
Some of your classmates may have never held a full-time job; their only skills honed in mock interviews. Additionally, you regularly engage with colleagues and superiors of all ages and can transition this skill to your professors and employers.
Ability To Embrace a Healthier Work-Life Balance
As a mature law student, you are more likely to set realistic boundaries within the school and treat it more like a job. Your weekdays may look like this:
- 7 a.m. – 9 a.m: Study during breakfast, travel to class
- 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.: Classes with a working lunch
- 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Gym, shower, return home
- 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Study
- 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.: Dinner and family time
- 9 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Study
- 10 p.m. – 11 p.m.: Unwind
- 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. Sleep
On a Friday, you may grab a few drinks with your colleagues. Over the weekend, you’ll split your time between school and your personal life. If this sounds exhausting, add a few more nights of drinking followed by all-night study sessions, as younger students may do.
You’ve spent the years out of undergrad meeting and networking with professionals. Even more important, you have learned how to build stronger connections and use networking to your advantage. Utilize this benefit to your advantage throughout law school, especially when you begin your job search.
Several issues can work against you due to your age. You should be aware of these obstacles and find creative ways to overcome them or render them obsolete.
- Potential Age Discrimination by Employers. Although illegal, some law firms have mastered the art of discriminating against older applicants without opening themselves up to liability.
- Stamina. You may be fit and healthy, but come exam time, you may find your stamina lacking compared to the average 22-year-old student.
- Family Commitments. You may have a spouse or children that will require significant time commitments throughout the next three years.
- Rusty Classroom Skills. It may take some time to get back into studying, taking notes, and writing exams.
- Return on Investment (ROI). Assuming a 25-year-old and a 35-year-old go to law school and work until 65, the 25-year-old will use their degree for ten more years.
Should You Go (Back) to Law School Later in Life?
As your beloved opposing counsel’s face grows red, she stamps her feet and repeatedly demands the less practical Roblox backpack. You glance at the Superman option and wonder if your age will grant you more superpowers than kryptonite in the law school classroom. To upend one’s life for law school is a grave decision, but knowledge is power, and — as another superhero was once told — with great power comes great responsibility.
Choose wisely — and remember, sometimes there’s more to life than the practicalities.