Going to law school after working for some years

Over in this thread, Ceen wanted to know about heading into law school straight from university. Not wanting to hijack that thread, but somewhat similarly, I want to know about going to law school after being out of university for some years.

I well remember being near the end of my university days, and wondering “where do I go from here?” While I admit I did seriously consider law school (among other graduate school options), I chose instead to try to make my way in the world. As things turned out, I went through a variety of jobs; everything from operating a forklift and driving a truck to technical writing/training and lecturing part-time at a local community college.

While I don’t regret a single experience I had, I’ve been wondering for a while if I should have gone to law school. Somehow, the study of law still appeals to me, just as it did all those years ago. I’ve been considering returning to school and taking law, actually; and so I was particularly glad to see this from Q.N. Jones in the other thread:

I’ve wondered about being the class “old fart” (comparatively speaking, of course; I’m hardly a senior citizen) in among a group of recent graduates, so maybe I can ask a few questions of Q.N. Jones and any others who can help, along those lines:

– How, generally, did your older classmates find things? Did they have a better grasp of some of the material, due to the work and life experience they brought with them? Did they perhaps have to work a little harder, because their study skills were rusty?

– Did they seem to be able to balance school and home life? I’m married (no kids) and my wife and I own a home. For that reason, I wouldn’t be going away to school; I’d apply only to the law school in our city. But while my wife is enthusiastic about my interest in going back to school (as she says, “I’m glad your middle-age crisis doesn’t involve flashy sports cars and swimsuit models”), and capable of supporting us both while I’m in school, I’m hoping that my studies won’t strain our relationship. How did your older classmates fare in this way?

– How well did the older students fit in? Did the younger students tend to include them in study groups and such? I realize that this may have more to do with an individual’s personality than anything else; but in general, were the older students seen as a part of the class whose contributions were welcomed, or were they somehow always on the periphery?

Thanks for any help with these questions, as well as for any other advice you folks may have!

Although I didn’t go to law school, I was a “non-traditional” student–I was in my mid twenties when I began college, and over 30 when I finished. I began at a community college, then graduated from a major university. Suprisingly, the older non-traditional students were plentiful in both the community college and the major univerisity setting.

I held down a part time job throughout school, and as a single parent, raised three kids. Yes, it was difficult at times, but we managed. Since I dropped out of school in the 11th grade, getting into the hang of studying and writing papers and doing research was difficult at first, but I found that I took it more seriously than many of the other “college kids”. One, it was MY money that was paying for classes, and two, I was there because I wanted to learn, not because Mommy and Daddy told me to go to college or get a job (wanna guess how many times I heard that line from fellow students?).

I’d love to go back and get my Master’s degree, but honestly, at this point, I’m somewhat burned out on college. Going part time (except for the last two years) it took me awhile to get my Bachelor’s degree, but I’d do it again.

Well, I went to law school after being out of school for ten years and having been a bum, an office rat and a teacher, so I guess I’m qualified to answer.

In short–it was the best decision I ever made. I loved law school, felt I got more out of it than some of my younger fellow students, and was better able to handle the pressures as well. And now I’m in my dream job, and loving it.

I did go to a law school that had a strong interest in the older student–the college had started as a night school and remained true to that vision. I never had any problem fitting in–I had study groups with both older and younger students. It was more difficult for me to pull an all-nighter (whether in studying or partying) but nobody held that against me. Becaus a lot of law school is reading, I didn’t feel my study skills had slipped, although my note-taking skills certainly improved as the years went on.

Two advantages of being older were being close in age to many of my professors, and that I didn’t care very much about my class standing. Knowing your professors is a very good thing–not only will it make getting help before finals easier, it makes getting recommendations much easier. Go out to coffee or get a beer with them. As for class standing–my ego wasn’t tied up in my grades, and because I knew I didn’t want to work for a big firm anyway, I didn’t feel the need to compete. I worked to get good grades, but I measured my success against my own expectations, not against my classmates.

If you need to work while you are in law school, you should know that full-time students are only supposed to work 20 hours per week (not that this is enforced in any way, but it does make sense), part-time students can work full time. This is where the fully operation night classes come in handy. Much easier to manage a work schedule if you can get most of your classes at night.

I didn’t have a family or significant other but several of my friends (both younger and older) did. Time management seemed to be the key. Figure out ways to include your wife (we had spouses get pizza with us before study sessions for example) and find time everyweek (except maybe at finals) to spend with just her. She can also help you study–flash cards are a staple study aid. this actually seemed easier for couples that had been married for several years–I remember the younger students having more problems with neglected spouses. when you get together with law students and their assorted others, just try not to talk law all the time–those extracurricular discussions got a lot of eyerolls from the non-law student members of the group.

Good luck, feel free to e-mail me if you think I may have more words of widdom for you.

that would be “words of wisdom”. My words of widdom are reserved for very, very close friends.

Went back for a Masters nine years after undergrad. I didn’t find my study skills had depreciated all that much, seeing as how I’d had to use them daily for my work in the interim. Also, having spent those nine years in my industry I found that I was much more aware of any presented material’s practical application than many of my younger co-students. I blew through the course work in record time, arriving after and graduating before about three quarters of the department.

As for the “life balance”, I was single at the time so no help there, although a couple of others in grad school were married and seemed to fare okay. Just don’t fall into the lull of easy stipends and loans and becoming a professional student. Couple of the Doctorates just seemed to have become professional students. It was a fairly easy life but they never had crap to show for it. Three or four spent almost a decade finishing up.

I just started law school, technically after working a few years. I always worked full time throughout my undergrad (one of the reasons it took me 7 years to get my B.A.).

I attend a school that caters to people that are working. It’s a part-time evening program, with small classes (21 students in my section) and a wonderful environment. I’ve never had a greater sense of comradere amongst my fellow students. Many of the students are married, some have kids, we’ve got some that are fresh out of university and others who have been in the workforce a LONG time.

I couldn’t have possibly chosen a better school, it fits perfectly with my needs. I continue to work full-time (I couldn’t support myself otherwise, the one downfall of this school is no financial aide because they don’t have any full-time professors. All of our professors are practicing attorneys) and while it’s a butt-load of work, it’s exciting and well worth it.

I suggest looking for something similar in your area.

When I enrolled in law school (UC Hastings in San Fransisco), I had just turned 23. In my section of aprox. 125 students of an entering class of about 500, the age range was 22 up to late 40’s. Slightly over half of the students came directly after their BA degree. Because this school did NOT have a night program, I’m sure law schools that did would have an older student population.

If anything, older students seemed more grounded and experienced. If there was any differences in the success rates, I would have guessed they tilted in favor of older students. I don’t recall ever sensing that the older students personally knew as feeling out of place in any way.

How were they treated? Well, just like college students have matured from their high school years, in law school one is surrounded by those who are determined, focused and capable of almost non-stop studying for the next three years. You’re not likely to find any who would consider another student as an “old-fart”. Did older students study for longer periods? There wouldn’t be enough hours in the week! Few students held part time jobs (and the few that did were second or third year students), so this was an atmosphere of studying all the time for everyone (less competitive schools and those that did not have a strict grading curve like Hastings might not be as bad).

You will fit in and your age, if anything, should be a plus, IMHO.

Just work on those back-stabbing skills! :stuck_out_tongue:

First of all, I want to thank everybody who posted. I read your posts to my wife (we were on the phone; she’s away on business right now), and you’ve made us both a little more enthusiastic about my decision.

If accepted, the earliest I could attend would be September of 2005. That’s fine; it gives me time to save some money, prepare for and write the LSAT, and take care of a few other things that would need attending to. And as it turns out, this school does not have a night program, and tacitly discourages part-time students, but that’s okay–after speaking with my wife about it, we’re prepared to deal with it.

But thank you all again, and one or two of you may indeed get an e-mail at some point in the future with more questions. I have no way of knowing at this point if I’ll even be accepted, but I’m certainly going to try!

Sorry, it took me awhile to notice this thread.

Keep in mind that I’m speaking only to my experiences.

I attended Harvard Law School. My class was about 550 people. The class’s median age was ~27, which tells you that plenty of people waited at least a few years after college to go. Many of the people I was friends with had other graduate degrees. Some had even had whole careers before starting law school.

On the whole, they were more engaged in classes, seemed to “get” the point of the lessons faster, and were less intimidated by the experience. Those of us who came straight from college had a much steeper learning curve and were not as confident.

Also, the people who came to law school after some time off usually really wanted to be in law school and had given serious thought and consideration to whether or not law school was right for them. Those of us who came straight from undergrad tended to have terrible reasons for being in law school. Common among them were “I didn’t know what else to do” and “my parents really wanted me to be a lawyer.”

I work with someone now who became a lawyer after having a long career as a journalist, and I would definitely say she gets more respect than the average associate. She’s also better at her job than the average associate.

As for balancing school and home: I was jealous of married students, because they had lives that did not include law school. Most straight out of college students and unmarried students tended to let law school dominate their whole lives, often to their detriment. I think having a family helps you balance things.

As for fitting in–even the much older students hung out with us younger folks. We were more than pleased that they wanted to be friends with us, and for the most part, they seemed happy to hang with us. I never once heard of anyone having problems fitting in, and I knew people who were in their 40s who were students.

Like you said, it was based on personality. If older students made the effort to make friends, they were accepted as “one of the guys.” If they were standoffish, they didn’t get invited to do much. But that was true of “traditional students” as well.

You want to be a slimy, sleazy lawyer, eh? Welcome aboard!

Older students generally fared no better or worse than the younger kids. Just out of curiosity, how old is “older classmate” to you? I was 29 going into law school and 31 coming out, and I was about average.

Law school can be very, very taxing on a relationship. The time demands and stressors can be hard for the SO to take, or even understand. I didn’t have a relationship all the way through law school, and don’t know if I could have.

That said, I’m not trying to scare you, but just point out how important it is to have the missus truly on board on the deal. The upside is if she does understand and is patient, you have a source of emotional support us freewheelers lacked. I was born while my dad was in law school, and although a lot of his classmates’ relationships didn’t make it, my mom stuck by dad the whole way.

Demonstrate a good grasp of the material and the kifds won’t care if you went to undergrad with Grover Cleveland. If you’re generally on the ball in the brains department and are more or less pleasnt to be around, your age won’t even be a factor.

My pleasure. Where do I send the bill?

And more thanks go to Q.N. Jones and pravnik for their responses. And I’m especially glad to see this:

That’s the situation I hope to find: that by bringing some life and work experience in, I’ll “get” the point faster. And as for intimidation–well, I’ve had to deal with all kinds of people in the working world. Some have been masters of intimidation, and if I can stand up to them and their demands, I can stand up to anything, I think.

But it’s also taking the time to think about the decision, and making sure that it’s the right one for me. I won’t have any parents pushing me in the direction they want, and while I do have a good career currently as a technical writer, I still find that I want to go back to school to study law. I’ve dealt with enough contracts in my career (I negotiate them every time I take a new technical writing client), bought real estate (made formal offers and dealt with land registration, title deeds and other legal property matters), and watched as a couple of friends’ civil cases (and at least once, a criminal case) wound their way through the courts. Every time I have some interaction with the law, it makes me more curious, and I find that I regret not becoming a lawyer.

To address a couple of questions from pravnik: I’d be mid-40s by the time I start school. My wife is indeed on board with this plan–she herself has a graduate degree (she’s an audiologist), and while she would like to see me get one too, she knows that I wouldn’t be doing this for her. When I first suggested the idea of law school to her though, she was quite enthusiastic about it, so maybe I’d be doing it just a little for her too.

Maybe another question is in order. I can get my undergrad transcripts, I can get the necessary written recommendations, I can write the LSAT, and I generally interview pretty well. But these are the “meat and potatoes” of applying. Is there anything else I can do, or that you can suggest, to improve my chances of being accepted at the school?

I was a technical writer and uni prof who went to law school in my late 30s. It was fun, interesting, challenging, and overall less difficult than my career prior to law school. The time it freed up was terrific for my relationship.

Being older made it easier to put the subject matter into perspective. I found that the younger students tended to rely more on memorization, whereas I don’t even know my own phone number. As far as study skills went, I just put in a good day’s work each day, whereas I often saw younger students wasting time between classes, and then complaining of having to study far into the night on a regular basis. A lot of them competed for bragging rights over who lost the most sleep to studying. Seemed sort of dumb to me.

Balancing home and school life was easy, for despite having part-time jobs, there was still a fair bit of free time. A lot of the younger students tended to focus exclusively on school, but I don’t think it gave them any significant advantage. Diminishing returns, if you ask me. Study groups? No thanks. Too time consuming. I’m only good for about four to six hours of hard thought per day, after which the old noggin wanders off to points unknown, so study groups, cram sessions, all-nighters and the like were not part of my game. “Are you joining us in the library tonight to prepare for the exam?” “No thanks, I’m off dancing with my honey.”

Fitting in wasn’t a problem, and I very much enjoyed interacting with the younger students outside of my professorial role, but I tended not to socialize with the law students simply because I had interests outside of law. For example, while at law school I became involved in the university’s wild water club and the national ski team, but I rarely rarely attended law school activities and never hung with law students in the evenings or weekends. Think of it this way – every day I enjoy working with people of all ages, but at the end of the day I head home rather than socialize with my co-workers. Law school was no different.

A word about shifting from technical writing to law: I found technical writing slightly frustrating because often the contracts were tacked on to the end of projects, whereas litigation tends to stand on its own. More opportunity for self direction. The reading comprehension, logic and rhetoric skills used in technical writing were tremendously valuable in getting through the huge reading load in law school without impinging on life outside of school. The project managment, juggling and client relationship skills from contract technical writing have paid off in spades since law school.

All in all, I’'d have to say that it was a good move for me. I enjoyed my time in law school immensely, I’m having a blast suing bastards, and hey, nobody died.

Fall 2004 law student coming in for a Hijack.

What is the right reason? I know why I want to be in law school, but it’s not easily articulable. Pretty much any reason that seems right gets the legal professionals snickering and saying I watched too much Ally McBeal.

Well, there’s no one right reason. Obviously, that varies by individual.

But, in my opinion, it’s a good idea to have some idea of what you want to do with your law degree, and to have investigated what that job is like at least a little bit, and to have some solid reasons of why you think you’d be happy doing it. You should know enough to have an idea of what the pros and cons are for you.

High LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs will decide what schools will consider accepting you. Law schools generally have three categories of applicants, based solely on these numbers. “Definitely accept,” “maybe, depends on the rest of the application,” and “no way Jose.” You can roughly figure out where you’ll fall in any given law school’s applicant pool.

If you’re applying to schools where you’re going to be in the middle category, the rest of the application becomes important. Make yourself look as “well-rounded” as possible. That shouldn’t be too hard for someone with lots of life experience under his belt. Also consider what experiences you’ve had that set you apart from the “typical” applicant, and play those up.

Recommendations and your essay don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, but having an interesting essay can be part of the strategy of setting yourself apart.

Don’t worry about being interviewed. The schools I applied to did not interview applicants. In fact, they wouldn’t interview you even if you wanted an interview. And I got in to all 10 schools I applied to.

No, wait, I take that back. I had a telephone interview with an admissions person from Cornell, and I really blew it. The cordless phone wasn’t charged when he called and it cut out on him like 5 times. Still, I got in.

Focus your energy on preparing for the LSAT. That’s the single most important part of your application.

Good luck!