A number of my classmates that had taken time off from school and worked before returning to law school had a hard time readjusting to the life of a student. They had become used to the life where when they got home they could relax, watch tv, cook a nice meal and get some sleep. But as a student, work starts when you get home. They say you should be putting in 3 hours of work at home for each hour of class. Having gone straight from college to law school all I knew was the life of a student, so going home and studying was just part of my normal routine.
Many of my peers that returned to law school later in life were driven by experiences in the real world that they could not stomach. That can be a great strength for them, which I will discuss below, but it can also be a great weakness. The first year of law school is almost entirely theory based. You read cases and you analyze the law through the eyes of these cases, this process is often very abstract and intellectually grueling. When one is driven by real life experiences it is harder to grasp the theory. Real life scenarios become touching because of the intricate details that make that story unique, but if you get bogged down by the details in law school you lose sight of what is really trying to be taught – the greater theoretical picture.
You graduate from law school at a young age, and you are thus quite marketable to firms because with youth often comes less jaded personalities, cheaper labor and malleable minds.
It is easy to feel burnt out entering, arguably, your most important three years of academia off of a 18 year lead up of constant school.
Across the board I found that students who took time off had more drive then those who didn’t. They had more purpose in their studies, they knew what it was like to work in the real world, and not enjoy their work, or work incredibly long hours to barely make rent. Having experienced this they chose to work towards a higher degree in order to free themselves from their former worries, and that gave them that extra push when a lot of students who did not live that experience simply called it a night.
Those who took time off before law school I believe valued law school more. They recognized the privilege that had been bestowed upon them, and again it stimulated them to study harder, pay more attention in class and also to participate in all that the school had to offer. It is easier to take the law school experience for granted when school is all you have experienced.
When it comes to looking for a job, you don’t have any experience to bolster you academics. This can hurt you because your passion for a certain type of law doesn’t carry much weight. For example if you are passionate about employment law and you are sitting in front of a partner an employment firm who is interviewing you. The strongest thing you could say, as someone who never took time off, is that you worked for employment firms for 2 months for 2 summers during law school… that doesn’t scream passion. However, if you can say, for example, “I worked for X company for X amount of time, there I watched the company exploit and mistreat its workers, but I couldn’t do anything about it because of my title and limited academic credentials. I decided to go to law in order to put my JD to work in a firm just like this one so that I could be proactive in making right the wrongs I had experienced and I know others continue to experience.” That tells an employer that you aren’t shooting in the dark and giving employment law a whirl, but rather that you are someone that is safe to invest in because that type of law really is a deeply rooted passion of yours.
This summary is one of many law school admission helpful tips in the new book Law School Lowdown: Secrets of Success from the Application Process to Landing the First Job – (Barron’s Publishing) – Author Ian E. Scott. You can order Law School Lowdown on Amazon.