At some point in life, you may consider making a shift in your career, whether that means switching industries, gaining a certification or taking on educational opportunities. If you're a current professional over 30 looking to make a shift toward the legal field, you may wonder whether you're too far along in your career to attend law school. While it can be challenging to compete with younger students and work entry-level roles, you're never too old to forge a fresh path to achieve your dreams. In this article, we outline 15 tips for going to law school in your 30s.
Related: FAQ: Is Law School Worth It?
15 tips for going to law school in your 30s
Going to law school in your 30s can be a highly rewarding experience. While pursuing an advanced degree later in your career may cause you to face unique challenges—like those related to your age, family commitments and finances—being older in law school may give you a distinct perspective that can help you succeed. With this, though, there are many factors you should consider before applying to prepare yourself to navigate this endeavor. Here are 15 helpful tips for attending law school in your 30s, considering each stage of the experience, from the application cycle to the post-graduation job search:
Before you decide to apply, consider the commitment seriously
When deciding to apply to law school, you should thoroughly consider the commitment of doing so. Law school requires a significant time commitment and a certain level of mental energy that may be challenging to achieve for older candidates used to their career and family routines. Taking on a new advanced educational venture may require you to leave your current job, spend time away from your family, move to a different state, study for long hours, complete time-consuming internships and more, depending on your particular situation. Therefore, before you decide to apply, make sure you're prepared to handle this commitment.
Think about the financial obligations of law school
Attending law school, like many other higher education endeavors, can be a major financial commitment. When deciding to make this shift in your career, you need to think about the monetary expense of doing so. If you don't have a robust savings account, you may need to borrow loans or use retirement funds to pay for your law education. While obtaining your law degree may be an investment in your future, you will have less time to pay back loans or replenish savings accounts compared to your younger counterparts. Therefore, when applying, carefully consider how you will cover this cost.
Be realistic about potential age bias
Like many other industries, age bias can exist in the legal profession. It can be challenging for older candidates to gain admission to law schools, secure internships while enrolled and find employment after graduation. This is because some law firms prefer to hire younger, less experienced graduates who can commit to working lower-paying entry-level roles. Therefore, when applying to law school, you should try to be as realistic as possible about your chances for admission and job prospects—you will likely have to work harder and more strategically to achieve the same goals as the younger students in your class.
Study thoroughly for the LSAT
Prior to starting the application process for law school, you'll have to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Your score on this test will serve as an influential factor in the decision-making process regarding your application. Therefore, like all law school candidates, you should study thoroughly for the LSAT. With your age in mind, though, you may need extra support and study time to achieve a high score on the test.
After spending nearly a decade away from school, you may not be as equipped as younger students to take the test and demonstrate your logical reasoning and reading comprehension skills. This is because you likely haven't taken a test or had to develop general, unspecialized knowledge since you started your career. Therefore, you may consider hiring a tutor, taking an LSAT preparation course and spending a few extra months studying for the test prior to exam day.
Apply to schools in areas you want to practice law
When applying to law school, you should carefully consider the location of the schools you apply to. Most law schools prepare students to practice law in the state in which they're located. As an older student, you may own a home, have family obligations or be an active member in your community. These obligations can sometimes dictate the flexibility levels you have in moving.
Therefore, determine whether you'd like to stay in your current city or move to a new locale post-graduation. This can help you narrow your choice of schools during the application process and ensure that you'll be able to develop lasting connections in a place you're hoping to stay.
Start your applications early
As an older candidate who has spent nearly a decade away from school, you may find it challenging to get in contact with old professors and track down your college transcripts. Therefore, you should try to start your applications as early as possible—this can help you ensure that you'll have the time to locate all materials necessary for submission. In this time, you should be able to reconnect with old professors, update them on your professional life and request recommendation letters. It's important to remember that you also need to give recommenders ample notice when requesting letters.
Focus on your professional experiences
The most significant advantage you have over younger students during the application cycle is your professional experience. As a law school candidate in your 30s, you likely have years of career experience that will inform how you approach your new educational endeavor. Even more, law school admissions offices tend to place less emphasis on the grades of older students, as they've typically spent years developing outside of school. Therefore, in your application materials, try to underscore recent examples of how you've demonstrated professional skills, like research and analysis competencies. This can show that you're prepared to excel in such areas.
If you've experienced a personal challenge, write about it
Some older applicants may have experienced personal challenges which held them back from applying to law school at a younger age. If you've ever overcome a personal challenge such as addiction, incarceration, poverty, disability or a domestically abusive situation, you should consider writing about it in your personal statement or diversity statement. This can help provide admissions committees with context about your reason for applying late in life. In addition, schools typically value students who undergo personal challenges as they may approach their studies with more dedication and direct life experience compared to traditional, younger candidates.
Once enrolled, join a group for non-traditional students
After you're admitted into law school and enroll as a student, you should purposefully seek support mechanisms that will help guide you toward success. It can be useful to join a group for non-traditional students or those students who fall outside the young, recent college graduate demographic. In this group, you can meet others like you—older students, those who have children, students who previously studied a different discipline and more. Connecting with a non-traditional student community can help you more successfully find a social balance, share resources and maintain support as you navigate the many demands of law school.
Remember that you're not alone
As a non-traditional or older student, it can sometimes feel that you're going through the experience of law school alone. Socially and academically, it's likely that you will differ greatly from your peers. Despite this, you should try to remind yourself that you're not alone—in fact, there are many other older students going through the same experience as you at your institution and others. While your experience may be non-traditional in terms of statistics, there are many support groups you can reach out to throughout law school that can help you connect with others encountering similar challenges.
Related: Guide To Working While in Law School
Embrace every learning opportunity
While enrolled in law school, it's important to embrace every learning opportunity presented to you. While you may be tempted to skip out on certain seminars, workshops and trainings, these events can help you carefully hone your skills, collect helpful resources and stay engaged in the legal field. As an older student, you'll have less time post-graduation to focus on such learning opportunities and may have to devote the bulk of your energy to securing a job. Therefore, invest the time and energy you have now into developing your competencies and maximize the opportunities you're afforded as a student.
Network frequently and purposefully
As an older student, it's likely you have experience networking with other professionals and are comfortable speaking with mature, more experienced lawyers. This can give you a significant edge over younger law school candidates who may experience discomfort or anxiety approaching established professionals. Therefore, you should network as frequently as possible so that you can form key working relationships with industry leaders. Try to take advantage of networking opportunities offered by your school and local firms. These connections could help you secure a role in the future or find a collaborator to work alongside as you advance in your career.
Prepare to market yourself to prospective employers
While all law students should carefully prepare to market themselves to prospective employers as they near graduation, this process is especially important for older, non-traditional students. As mentioned above, an age bias is sometimes perpetuated in the legal field and you should anticipate this in your job search. You may have to exert more effort throughout your search to secure a role. Try to identify your qualifications and unique skills that have been informed by your professional career prior to law school. Acknowledging your particular strengths as an older candidate can help you navigate the job market.
Take steps to set boundaries with your time
As an entry-level legal professional, you will likely experience a demanding, time-consuming start to your career. Some new lawyers work anywhere from 50 to 60 hours per week, depending on their particular role. Therefore, as an older student, it's particularly important to set boundaries to protect your time.
With existing family commitments or other external obligations to consider, you may not be able to work over the standard 40 hours per week, which is considered full time. Therefore, when searching for a role, try to be clear about your expectations for a time commitment and work alongside potential employers to find a solution which works for both parties.
Remain open to development and training
It's important to recognize that, as a newly graduated lawyer with little experience, you will likely have to take on an entry-level role in the legal field and work your way up to more advanced positions. This can be a challenge for older, experienced professionals who have enjoyed career advancement in unrelated industries. Therefore, prepare yourself for this reality and remain open to development and training opportunities presented to you.
While it's natural to feel frustrated as you start your professional life over, you should understand that you are, in fact, a novice legal professional and must legitimize yourself before you can become an associate or partner. Therefore, try to remain flexible as you embark on the beginning of your career and be purposeful about developing skills that can help you fast-track your advancement.