The typical law student is a recent college graduate in his or her twenties. I was one of these. One of my friends, however, did not fit this mold. At 45, Jim had already earned an MBA and run his own business for years. He was also an armed forces veteran (and a Texan in Philadelphia). All of this gave him a different perspective than his younger classmates. A bad day at school never got him down: it was better than a good day at war. Returning to school was a choice, not a self (or parent) imposed expectation.
You may be like Jim, going to law school after pursuing other interests. You may be preparing for a new career or enhancing your current one. You may plan to practice law or to use your legal knowledge to complement your business interests. You may be in your 30s, 40s, or even 60s; married or divorced; a parent. While you have some things in common with your classmates (soon you’ll be united in trying to comprehend Civ Pro), you bring unique strengths and challenges to law school. Here is some advice for making the best of it.
Experience. Your experience – professional and personal – helps you put the law in context in a way that younger students cannot. Share this experience in class discussions. When I was in law school, a classmate who had been an IVF nurse provided medical context when our Family Law class discussed custody of frozen embryos. When I taught Labor Law, students who had been in labor unions brought a real-world perspective to discussions of collective bargaining. Over the years I taught CPAs, police officers, teachers, sales representatives, airline pilots, stay-at-home parents. Their presence enhanced the classroom experience for everyone.
Maturity. You’ve almost certainly experienced something much worse than a disappointing grade. If a law school exam doesn’t go well, you know you’ll bounce back, and you’re capable of assessing what went wrong and identifying ways to improve your performance. You are resilient.
Non-Law-School Network. Some of your classmates who are directly out of college will build their social lives around law school. That’s great, but it can be a bit stifling. Socially, law school is a lot like high school. You have the advantage of a pre-existing network of non-law-school contacts. Your spouse, children, colleagues, neighbors can keep you from being consumed by law school. You just need to find time to enjoy these relationships.
Motivation. You’ve made a big, expensive, life-altering decision by returning to school. You must really want to be there. You know you can do something other than be a lawyer: you’ve already done it! You haven’t drifted to law school, or followed a predetermined path set out by your parents. All of this translates into a high level of motivation and even excitement. Channel this and you’ll actually enjoy law school.
Time management. This is the big one. How will you get everything done? If you quit your job to attend law school full time, you likely still have obligations, such as family and homeownership, which your younger classmates may not. If you continue to work full time and attend law school at night, I salute you. I was frequently awestruck by my evening students’ abilities to meet the demands of their careers and law school. I’ll be posting time management tips for non-traditional law students soon.
Getting Involved. It may be difficult for you to find time to get involved with law school activities, such as clubs and journals, but with relentless time management, you can make it happen. These activities will enhance your education and your resume, and help you get to know your classmates.
Putting aside old ways. This is the negative flipside to your experience. You may have heard that law school teaches you to “think like a lawyer.” This is true. And it’s essential to your success as a student and a lawyer. You will have to put aside your old ways of thinking and communicating. For example, legal writing has its own organizational structure and citation system. This is the professionally accepted and expected way that lawyers write. Don’t fight it — adapt.
Rusty study skills. If you’ve been out of school for a while, you may be worried about studying. Many law schools offer academic support workshops open to all students, not just those at academic risk. Take advantage of these, as well as online resources, to familiarize yourself with case reading, briefing, note-taking and outlining skills. Law school studying is different from undergrad; no one comes to law school knowing how to brief or outline, so you’re not at as much of a disadvantage as you may think.
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Other helpful surviving law school posts:
- How to Take Care of Your Mental Health in Law School
- How to Get The Most out of Law School with Extracurricular Activities
- How To Struggle Through Law School The Right Way
- Want to Get Good Law School Grades? Become a Self-Starter
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