Am I A Non-Traditional Law Student? - JD Advising
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Am I A Non-Traditional Law Student?

Many students do not go to law school directly after completing college.  Some work in jobs related to the law, others may pursue graduate study, and still others may have entire careers in fields totally unrelated to the law.  Law school affords all students the opportunity to work in a variety of fields, and unlike a Ph.D., law school can be completed in three years in many instances.   Given the versatility and flexibility of the law degree—not to mention the potential earning power that can come with the degree—a law school class can be incredibly diverse and may include students who are not attending law school immediately after finishing their undergraduate studies.  This brings us to the question of the post: am I a non-traditional law student? Below we provide four questions to help you think through your own law school experience.

Am I A Non-Traditional Law Student?

1. How old are you?

Many students identify as non-traditional law students based only on their age.  We understand that this can be a touchy issue, but this is a good place to start when considering whether you are a non-traditional law student.  According to the Law School Admission Council, approximately half of all law students from 2011 to 2015 were between 22 and 24 years old.   So, while fifty percent of law school students attend law school either directly after college or after having taken one or two years off before attending law school, that leaves fifty percent of students who did not.  Within that fifty percent, twenty percent are over the age of 30.  (Some schools affectionally refer to those students as “OWLS”:  Older Wiser Law Students.)  Based on the age you are at the time of enrollment in law school, you may consider yourself a non-traditional law student.

2. Have you held a full-time job?

While age is one way to identify whether you are a non-traditional law student, your work experience is another way to determine your status.  This is where the question starts to get a bit more nuanced.  For example, you may fall into that fifty percent that went to law school between the ages of 22 and 24.  However, if you had a full-time job during that time, your experience in law school might be significantly different from a similarly aged peer who took a year off and traveled the world.

Similarly, students who graduated college, went on to complete a Master’s degree, and then immediately enrolled in law school, will also likely have a different law school experience.  If you did hold a job, it may be helpful to think about how that job shaped you.  Did you supervise other people?  Did you have a lot of responsibility?  Perhaps you were fortunate (and cool enough) to start your own company or non-profit.  Having held a full-time job also exposes you to a multitude of experiences that those who have not held a full-time job have not encountered. Whatever the case may be, if you worked between college and law school, this experience may make you feel like a non-traditional law student.

3. Do you have family responsibilities?

Some students, regardless of their age, come to law school with family responsibilities.  Perhaps you are between the ages of 22 and 24 but you have a spouse and children.  Maybe you are between those ages, but you are taking care of an aging parent or grandparent.  Family responsibilities can impact how you engage with law school.  Have family responsibilities can dictate how you study, sleep, and ultimately, live.

However, family responsibilities can extend well beyond living arrangements.  Some law students have to travel to their family members, taking precious time away from studying.  Coordinating elder care, visiting children who are at college, or stepping in as a responsible adult for any family member, are all ways in which family responsibilities may impact your course of study.  If you find yourself attending to the needs of family members in a way that your classmates are not, you may identify as a non-traditional law school student.

4. Why did you go to law school?

While most of the discourse around whether a student qualifies as a non-traditional law student focuses on age, the concept of “non-traditional” can go well beyond a birthdate.  To start, generally, students go to law school to become lawyers. However, there are a few students who go to law school with no intention of ever becoming lawyers.  Perhaps you are interested in an academic career in law.  Maybe you would like to learn to think like a lawyer but have no interest in practicing as a lawyer.  Maybe your company paid for you to attend law school, or maybe you always had a life-long goal to complete law school.  Perhaps you are planning on embarking on a “JD Preferred” career. Whatever the case may be, you may consider yourself a non-traditional student because you aren’t following a traditional legal path.

In closing, whether you are a non-traditional law student hinges on a variety of factors.  Life experience, family responsibilities, and your “why” for attending law school can all shape your law school experience.  Having a better understanding of your position as a non-traditional student can also help you to identify key resources and support to utilize throughout your law school career.  As always, JD Advising is always here to help.

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