Some of my favorite clients to work with are those who are applying to law school in their 30s, 40s, and – yes, even 50s. The reasons I enjoy working with these individuals are the same reasons why law schools like to have these individuals:
1. They are pretty darn aware of what they are doing. To give up a career, a family routine, a significant income, time away from the important people in their lives in order to go to law school is a huge sacrifice. Anyone willing to do this is dedicated to the idea of obtaining a legal education; this is not something being undertaken on a whim.
2. Non-traditional law school applicants understand the financial commitment of a legal education. They make wise choices about where to attend and where to apply because they have – through experience in the working world – gained an appreciation for financial realities. They care less about rankings and more about cost, less about prestige and more about scholarships, less about big firm jobs and more about working their way in to a career from the ground up. This requires humility and practicality, and having your priorities straight.
Whether you’ve been in real estate or teaching or medicine or private industry, the move to attend law school is almost always a well-considered decision and not a way to duck out of the work force during bad economic times. So, what do you need to be aware of as you apply to law schools?
1. Transcripts – don’t go to the same lengths to explain a bad semester as a recent graduate would. No one will expect that grades more than 10 years old are much of an indication of your academic abilities anymore. If you have more recent coursework to show for yourself, and you excelled, that can be helpful but is certainly not something you should go out and get just for this purpose unless your grades were really awful. If so, a few extension courses in sophisticated topics might not be the end of the world. (But perhaps not paralegal certificate programs just for the hell of it, ugh..It’s pretty transparent unless you are actually working as a paralegal.)
2. Letters of Rec – this is where most non-traditional law school applicants get frustrated and paranoid. They may look up professors they had 20 years ago (please don’t!) or ask their best friends – all lawyers – to write them letters of rec, or their pastors to write character references. Schools understand you may not want your current employer aware of your plans to attend law school, so think outside of the box. Volunteer work? Do you sit on the board of an organization or business? A former employer/supervisor? A professor from one of the aforementioned extension courses? Here are more tips about LORs for non traditional applicants.
I know most non-traditional applicants are really wondering not about these things, but about the following – “How will a law school see me as an applicant?” and “How will a law school treat me as a non-traditional student?” Look, there’s no way around the fact that you’re going to find yourself feeling a little bit alone in the classroom. However, I remember my law school section’s favorite (and nicest) member was Jim, a retired military guy in his 50s or 60s who drove 75 miles each way just to attend law school. And another of the cool people I remember was a mom in her 50s who ended up being on Moot Court Board and the Honor Council. Law schools know you have contributions to make to the classroom environment and to the school in general.
How will you be treated? Go visit the school and see. Sit in on a class. Talk to the older students that you see. Is there a part time option? You may be more likely to find other non traditional law students there. Ask the admission office to introduce you to something they think you would be able to relate to.
One of the qualities I enjoy in my “older” clients is that they are not ashamed to take initiative, they know how to advocate for themselves appropriately, and they understand they are consumers faced with options and choices. Use this to your advantage and ask questions like a consumer should.
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