Should I Work Before Law School?

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File:Carnegie library in Danville, Indiana, interior.jpgIf you’re thinking of going to law school after completing your undergraduate degree, there is no “one size fits all” formula for deciding when to start. Some students begin their Juris Doctor right after completing their Bachelor’s degree, while others wait one or more years.

You have to choose the path that works best for you, but if you’re not 100% sure you want to devote three years to law school, it might be beneficial to wait and experience the world outside academia.

“Law schools look favorably upon mature candidates who have ventured into the ‘real world,’ overcome hardships, endured challenges, and generally acquired some perspective on life,” states Indiana University Bloomington’s Health Professions and Prelaw Center. “This includes work experience before, during, and/or after undergraduate studies, internships, study abroad, advanced degrees, parenting, travel, military service, etc.”

Yale Daily News staff reporter, Nikita Lalwani reported (in her April 2011 article “Gap years strengthen law school plans”) that 80% of the students starting their first year at Yale Law School took time off from school after completing their undergrads. Some of the benefits she described for taking time off included gaining experience that made an applicant’s personal statement (required for law school applications) more compelling, and that entering law school at a more mature age might help students take the program more seriously.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Pre-Law Advising Office describes the advantages of working in between undergrad and law school: “For an applicant who has a weak academic record, working for a few years in a job that demonstrates your competence and ability will make you a much stronger candidate…work and life experience will make you a stronger candidate when you graduate from law school and are seeking your first job.”

The UMassAmherst Office adds that working in a law-related position can help you figure out if a three-year Juris Doctor program is actually compatible with your personal and professional goals; but that any vocational experience can be beneficial, as law school admissions departments “are more interested in what you got out of your work experience”.

If you would you like to gain some legal working experience before law school, you might work as a paralegal or legal assistant (some law firms and organizations will hire those with a Bachelor’s degree whereas others may require specialized training). You can also search for paid or volunteer internships to complete at law-related organizations, non-profits, government agencies and private firms. (Your campus’ pre-law advising or career services centers can help you find these and you can do some detective work on your own).

If you do decide to take one or more gap years, make sure to request reference letters soon after you finish your undergrad so that your performance is fresh in the minds of your professors. (Some law schools also offer the option of deferring your acceptance for one or two years.)

And if you decide you want to go straight to law school without taking a break, that’s okay too. “Stephanie Turner LAW ’12 said she decided to apply straight out of college because she was excited about law school and did not feel burned out,” wrote Lalwani (Yale Daily News). “‘It’s not the case that students who come straight through don’t write good personal statements or have good reasons for coming to law school. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here,’ [Stephanie Turner] said.” Turner added that she would not recommend her path to those who have doubts about law school.

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