If you’re thinking about pursuing a legal career in the near future, there are many benefits to waiting a year or two to apply to law school. As noted last week, waiting may give you time to raise your LSAT score, thus putting you in a position to go to a better school or get a better scholarship. In addition to these benefits, waiting to go to law school offers advantages down the line; in other words, benefits that future students will reap once they get to law school.
If you’re wondering whether law school is right for you, taking time off before law school will buy you more time to undertake the process of figuring out whether law school personally makes sense. In conjunction with this, it gives potential students exposure to people, industries, and places that can help shape that decision. Not only that, these factors may broadly inform their career decisions.
Such exposure may help future students understand better what type of legal practice they would prefer. For example, one of the first questions that law students will need to address about their professional careers? Simply, whether they would prefer to practice corporate law or litigation. Law students with real-world work experience under their belts can use their previous interactions and work environments; this will help them make a better-informed decision regarding their future career path, and what resonates most—with their respective personalities, interests, and skillsets.
Moreover, real-world exposure will add context to in-class lectures and discussions, case readings, on-campus speakers. In fact, this perspective enriches almost every other academic activity you may pursue. Such context will put you in a better position to add your voice and understand others’, as well as deepen your personal and intellectual experience as a whole.
In addition, taking some time to work before law school will offer an advantage when it comes to recruiting. The vast majority of law students have gone straight to law school after graduating from undergrad. We often call these students K-JDs, meaning non-stop school from kindergarten through law school. Students who have worked before law school, therefore, are the exception; and that differentiating factor can offer a sizable boost when it comes to recruiting.
Before I went to law school, I worked at Adobe for about three years on their strategy and operations team. I specifically spent much of my time on M&A strategy and merger integration operations. In every single one of my on-campus interviews, we spent much of the time talking about my previous work experience. Without fail, the interviewing attorney said how helpful it is to have a summer associate and future attorney who worked in business! This ideal candidate would thus understand M&A, financial reporting, and the high-level ins and outs of a multinational corporation.
These types of conversations and applicability will depend on what you actually did before law school. However, during my time at Stanford Law School, my classmates who came from consulting, the military, Teach for America, or some other sort of professional background tended to outperform what their grades might suggest. This is certainly true in terms of call-back interviews and offers. Law firms aren’t shy about the reason why: they value professional experience; and, they know it will help young attorneys navigate the waters of complex business matters and sensitive client relations. It is extremely value to show that you can function at a high level in a professional setting where responsibilities, and more notably personalities, can often push people into uncharted and difficult waters.
Lastly, working before law school should allow you to save some money. How much money will obviously depend on what you do, where you live, and how long you work before going back to school. However, most options will allow you to begin building up your savings. This means a greater reserve from which to draw for law school expenses. As we mentioned here, students who borrow for law school end up graduating with $140k in average debt. Working before law school and saving money will help future students hopefully reduce their average debt load when they graduate.
It’s worth noting that Yale Law School, Stanford Law School, and Harvard Law School do not offer merit-based scholarships; instead, they offer need-based fellowships that have the same financial benefits but rely on different considerations for granting awards. Therefore, some students have questioned whether saving money before attending one of these schools makes sense in light of the fact that an increase in assets is likely to result in a decrease in need-based fellowship amounts. This principle is true but only somewhat; it is not a one-for-one tradeoff. In other words, not every single dollar from your savings will go straight to reducing your need-based aid, should you have qualified in the first place. For example, Stanford Law School’s financial aid considers one-third of students’ reported assets in determining students’ needs.
In the end…
Regardless of which law school you choose to attend, having more savings heading into law school is a good thing, as it will help reduce your overall debt load. How much it will help depends on a number of factors, including where you choose to go to school, but in the end, the principle holds true.
Choosing to attend law school is a big decision. There is no reason to rush it. If you’re still not sure whether law school is right for you, or if you’re planning on applying with test scores and essays that fall below your best efforts, you should be especially mindful of the benefits that come from waiting to apply to law school. You’ll be a better applicant and a better student, and you’ll set yourself up for a better career if the law is ultimately the path you choose in the end.
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