In today’s economy, people switch jobs all the time. The days of previous generations—when most people worked in the same industry or even the same company for their entire career—are long gone. Similarly, the days of going straight from college to law school are gone. While some people still follow both of these paths, many more do not. For example, many schools (including Harvard Law School, Washington and Lee School of Law, and Duke Law) have reported that the vast majority of their 1L class had at least one year of work experience.
However, if you are more than a few years out of college, you might be concerned that you are too old for law school. After all, there are many career changes that do not force you to spend thousands of dollars and go three years without a salary. In addition, there is a big difference between attending law school two years post-college versus, say, ten years.
Despite these concerns, the reality is that no matter how many years have elapsed since you graduated from college, you are not too old for law school. However, attending law school at any age requires a balance of many factors. In this blog post, we at Stratus walk you through the considerations for people who are more than a few years out of college.
A frequent concern potential applicants have about attending law school at a later age is their personal life. Some people are married, already have kids, or are planning to have a family in the next five years. Outside of children and spouses, some people must take care of other family members such as their parents. Such responsibilities can make the goal of attending law school and starting a legal career more difficult to achieve, but none of this is insurmountable.
You have decades of your life ahead of you, and starting a legal career will only consume about five of those years. So, if you are a 28-year-old who would like to have a family by age 30, would starting one at age 33 make that much of a difference? Depending on your personal situation, those years might make all the difference—and if they do, there is nothing wrong with choosing a career path other than law school. But whichever you decide, it is important to weigh these decisions within the proper context.
Now, already having a family can make things more difficult. If you and your spouse are relying on two paychecks, remember that you are going from making a salary to making nothing and possibly accumulating debt during your law school years. Similarly, if your children need you around the clock, it can be difficult to imagine taking on the long hours law school requires. Being a single parent can make this all even more challenging.
In situations like these, it is a good idea to consider how much you want to go law school—and if you truly do, look for ways to overcome these obstacles. If money is a concern, you could research merit scholarships and financial aid. To address childcare concerns, you could sit down with any loved ones who help you take care of your children and see if you can make something work. Additionally, if there are family or couples clubs at the law schools of interest to you, you could reach out to them to connect with students in your position to see how they manage. You could also see if part-time programs are an option for you. Part-time programs typically allow you to continue working and could provide more time for your family since they have fewer credit requirements per semester than full-time ones.
If you have been out of college for a few years, you may be concerned that you are too old to hang out with other law students, as the average student has about two years of work experience. It is important to note that while that is the average—and there are students with even less experience—there are many students with more experience. So, it is unlikely that you will be the only student your age.
Additionally, the older you get, the more friends you have across age groups—whether they are neighbors, coworkers, or people with similar hobbies. So, despite law school skewing younger, it is not much different from real life in that regard.
Also, remember that you can always have a social life outside law school. No matter where you go to law school, there will be people from similar communities and with shared hobbies. You can always socialize with these groups if you do not like the social scene in law school.
Regardless of which law school you attend, it will likely be a big financial undertaking. One advantage of becoming a law student later in life is that you might have other loans paid off or you might qualify for more financial aid because you are a certain number of years beyond being your parents’ dependent.
As discussed earlier, the downside is that the older you are, the more likely you are to have someone reliant on you. Additionally, you will be starting over in terms of pay scale. If you work in big law, this might not make a huge difference, as most starting attorneys in big law make more than about 90% of workers in the United States. But for other areas of law, the starting salary might be much lower than you are making now. Therefore, you should research salary and employment numbers for both the fields and the law schools that interest you.
However, money is not everything, and you might find the financial sacrifices worth it because of the fulfillment that you will receive from having a legal career. But it is still good to make this decision after considering all relevant information.
As with your salary, you will be starting over in terms of your workplace hierarchy. This could result in you working alongside—and reporting to—people much younger than you. You could have a younger coworker who earned a position at your level because they are extremely talented in the field, or you could be reporting to someone younger than you who got in on the ground floor of the company. In the grand scheme of things, this should not be a big deal because the longer you work, the wider the range of ages you will see in the workplace.
But if you are going to law school more than five years after college, be aware that you will be working alongside people who are a few years younger than you, and there is a good chance you will have to report to someone who is your age or possibly even a bit younger. If this bothers you, it is something to consider.
You should think about your ability to function as a student again. When college is over, some people are ready to have a job and to not have to worry about schoolwork. For these folks, taking a few years off can be helpful in terms of recharging and preparing to put in the long hours law school requires. However, other people sometimes find it difficult to get in the swing of being a student again after being out of school for several years.
You might not necessarily know which camp you fall into until you are back in school. But if you think you will have issues being in school again, you should create a study plan to help you readjust.
One crucial thing to note is that you will NOT be at a disadvantage by applying to law school at a later age. Some applicants are concerned that law schools will dismiss them because they are so many years out of college. Many law schools want work experience, and they welcome people who bring different perspectives. Your age and what you did during the years between college and law school will likely bring a wealth of new perspectives, and law schools appreciate that.
Despite more people changing fields than ever, it can be scary to take that leap—especially with something like law school. The challenges might feel too daunting, but you can always overcome them; the question is whether the actions necessary to overcome them are worth the sacrifice. Only you can determine that by carefully weighing your interests and needs.
Of course, if you would like our help with your law school applications, you can sign up for a free consultation here.