Approaching Law School After A Career Change
When it comes to applying to and preparing for law school, many available resources are geared toward recent college graduates. In this post, however, we focus on those who plan to attend law school after a career change. If you find yourself in that category, read on for tips on how you can approach law school!
Approaching Law School After A Career Change
Researching Law Schools—Considerations for Non-Traditional Students
Students who apply to law school after already having had an established career may be seeking a different environment than those who recently graduated from college. For example, some law schools provide evening classes and even weekend classes. This allows those who are still working or who have other obligations to attend classes outside of traditional work hours to attend class at a more convenient time.
There are also schools that have condensed programs. Some of these programs are only two years long! Admittedly, this can be a lot—six semesters of law school over two years—but this may be your best bet if you are eager to start your next career. Some law schools are now offering hybrid programs with a mix of online and in-person courses. In these programs, students typically come to campus for shorter periods of time. For example, you might only go to campus on weekends or for week-long intensives.
For those students who come to law school with families, items such as school districts, day care options, and housing costs might be top priority. Other considerations include how the law school engages with its non-traditional or part-time law students. Several law schools pride themselves on their resources for non-traditional or part-time students. Some schools have student organizations specifically for students who have previously had a career, and many law schools have law school employees dedicated to helping those students to acclimate to law school.
In addition to the above, students approaching law school after a career change also need to ask more general questions to evaluate whether a law school might be a good fit. Questions surrounding the law school’s reputation, bar exam pass rate, etc. are all still important when evaluating law schools. Additionally, your undergraduate experience is also relevant when considering law school. Why did you choose the college that you attended? What was good about it? What was less than ideal?
Getting a sense of what worked (and didn’t work) for you in your undergraduate days can help you determine whether there are things that you still may want access to in law school. Would you like to participate in intramural sports? Would you take advantage of therapy sessions if the school offered that service? Do you want to volunteer your time in your law school community? While these questions may seem juvenile, especially if you have already had a career, the truth is that ultimately your law school experience is your law school experience.
Applying to Law Schools—Start Early.
First, applying to law school might be a little bit different if you’ve spent some time in the workforce. There is the issue of taking the LSAT, digging out transcripts from your undergraduate and/or graduate days, and of course, figuring out whom to ask for those letters of recommendation. Here’s your first tip: start early! Identifying what the process is to get your transcript can be quite a hassle. Some schools provide immediate electronic transfer, whereas others still require that you mail your request. Similarly, writing a personal statement is not always easy. If you are applying to multiple schools, you should probably prepare to write several essays as you prepare applications.
With respect to letters of recommendation, this too may be a bit tricky. Your undergraduate professors may have left the school that you atteneded to accept a position elsehwere. This might make them difficult to track down for that letter of recommendation. Even if you are able to track down that professor you knew during undergrad, given the lapse of time between college and law school, it may not make sense to even submit such a letter. Depending on when you began your career, a letter coming from a superviros or a colleague might carry more weight. While those individuals may not be able to speak to your academic background, they can speak to your work performance, the ways in which you interact with others, and the ways in which you approach your work.
Orientation – Welcome to Law School!
Congratulations! You made it through the application process and are on campus working your way through orientation! Welcome to being surrounded by those who are younger than you! While this is said in jest, the truth is that orientation can be a bit intimidating for anyeon. Walking through campus resource fairs that feature everything from Law Review to the Law School Hockey League can be overwhelming.
Similarly, learning the ins and outs of law school culture can be equally overwhelming. What is important to keep in mind, however, is that if you have come from a previous career, you are likely all too familiar with new beginnings. The truth is that the first few days of law school require the same skills utilized on the first day of any new job in which you work with people. Just like in an office, throughout the start of law school, you will be requried to introduce yourself, learn names, and get a sense of who is who and what is what. In other words, it’s much simpler than it might appear.
It’s also important to keep in mind that law school is as much for you as it is for younger students. Join clubs that interest you. Don’t be afraid to be a student representative for the local bar association. Try out for the intramural team and volunteer to do pro bono work. Although you might be an older student, you are still a student. It is also easy to forget that you are adding value to the clubs that you join and the volunteering that you do. You have experience that other students do not have. You can provide perspective when perspective is lacking, and you can also provide much-needed mentorship and guidance to those who have not had professional experiences. In turn, you too are learning and growing your new professional network.
½ L – Studying, Outlines, and Taking Exams – Fall Semester
Separate from all of the ice breakers and introductions, there is the small issue of your first law school classes. While you will likely get quite a bit of advice regarding how to prepare for classes during orientation, here are some tried and true practices that will help you to manage your first semester of law school.
First, do the reading. This may sound simple but it’s a very important key to law school success. In order to get the most that you can from class, it’s important to keep up with the reading. Some professors may not cover the reading in class, but you will still be responsible for it on final exams. Other professors may cover all the reading during class (including footnotes).
Additionally completing the reading before class can help you if you are called on to answer a question. You’ve likely heard that law school professors often “cold-call” students. First things first. Your professor will likely call on you without warning at some point during your law school career. This is a facet of law school that gives many students, traditional and non-traditional alike, much anxiety. You can help combat some of that anxiety by preparing for class (including completing the reading!).
Ok. So, you’ve done the reading. You’ve been cold-called. Now what? Successful law school students, regardless of age, take detailed notes that cover not only the reading but also the examples your professor discusses during class. Taking good notes will help you to build strong, consistent, and reliable outlines. A word of caution—simply reciting what is covered in readings and classes will not make a very helpful outline. Rather, distilling the information down to the rule, the exception to the rule, and when necessary, the exception to the exception of the rule, will serve you well when final exams arrive. Another note on this process, it’s recursive, meaning that each time you write and review, you are building upon that which you have already learn, so start outlining early!
In addition to outlines, many students find that creating flashcards throughout the semester is quite useful. Like creating and continually reviewing an outline, working through flashcards can be helpful for memorization. Likewise, creating acronyms, working in manageable chunks, and engaging in any other process that will force you to review and memorize are equally helpful. The key here is to actively engage in the process over and over again. This can be difficult when many law schools still only offer one exam at the end of the semester.
For those who tend to procrastinate, setting weekly reminders to add to and review your outlines help accountability. Similarly, if you learn best with a group of people, you may consider reaching out to your classmates to set up a study group. While you may be nervous to reach out to your younger peers, your younger peers may be quite happy that you took the initiative to do so!
It’s also important to remember that many law schools have teaching assistants and other resources available to assist students with academic difficulties. Moreover, most law school faculty are more than willing to offer guidance during office hours. In addition, some law schools assign faculty advisors whose purpose is to help students acclimate to law school, address academic issues, and think through various learning strategies. As an older student, accepting these resources may initially feel awkward, but the reality is law schools make these resources avilable to all students, including you.
So, you’ve gotten your outlines and flashcards, you’ve talked to your teaching assistant and faculty member, and you’re a few weeks away from final exams. Now what? The short answer is to keep at it! If you’ve been studying and reviewing throughout the semester, you continue to do just that.
Additionally, many faculty make previous law school exams available to students. If your professor offers this resource, be sure to take advantage of it! Not only will you have the ability to practice taking an exam, but you will also be able to get a sense of how your professor approaches exams. And another piece of advice—take the exam under exam-like conditions. That is, in a classroom or area with minimal disruption, timed, without looking at notes (if your exam is closed-book). This will give you the experience taking a final exam prior to exam day. Completing practice exams can help give you a confidence boost on exam day.