Are you a veteran considering law school? Maybe you are currently active duty military, but thinking about taking the leap to law? This post is for you! Law school as a veteran or active duty service member has its own unique challenges, but your service and experience can be an amazing asset in launching a legal career.
Getting in and Paying for School
If you’re just getting started on the application process, there is help out there for veterans and service members. The organization Service to School offers free application counseling to military veterans, and has resources specifically for law school. Their “ambassadors will guide you from combat to campus to earn your JD – they’ve done it.”
You should also contact schools you are considering and ask them about their programs and resources for students with military experience. They may be able to put you in contact with current or past students who have been in your shoes, or recommend resources that you might not otherwise know about. Some schools have military-specific student organizations, scholarships, and other assistance. You never know unless you ask!
As you consider your application essays, don’t discount your military experience! Drawing on your life prior to law school, and how it impacts your goals for a legal career can be a winning strategy. Make sure to “translate” your experience into something a civilian can read, however. Although lawyers love acronyms almost as much as the military, it is important not to use military shorthand in your application materials. Have a trusted civilian friend, or better yet, a professor or mentor from the civilian world, read your essay to make sure it will make sense to academics who haven’t recently laced up their combat boots.
In addition to admissions, one of the biggest hurdles to law school for many people is paying for it. A huge benefit of your service may be that the government will help you pay for school! Be sure to start researching this process early, to make sure you meet key deadlines to qualify for the various scholarships and financial benefits available to you. After you are accepted, your school’s financial aid office will also be a good resource for figuring out how to maximize your benefits.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Once you’re in (congratulations!), it’s on to the task of preparing for law school. Luckily, you can use your skills and strengths gained in the military to help you meet the challenge of law school. Preparation is the key to your success as a law student. Like any other student, you’ll want to set yourself up for success from day one. Unlike every other student, you have the benefit of real life and work experience to prepare you. (Because you’re making such a big transition from the military world to the academic world, consider checking out our Start Law School Right Course – it’s completely mobile, so you can prepare yourself for law school while you finish out your last tour, or during your transfer leave.)
It’s unlikely you will be the only non-traditional student in your law school class! While your military background may set you apart from many of your colleagues, you will face some of the same challenges as other non-traditional students. Seek out others in your class who are also returning to school after a break from the academic environment. Not only can you support each other, but you’ll have someone to laugh with about the things that just don’t phase you like they might someone coming straight from undergrad!
Be sure not to isolate yourself, though. Get involved with extracurriculars, sports, and other activities to meet all of your classmates. Not only will it make law school more enjoyable, but you will make important connections. Law is different from the military; it’s not just what you know how to do on paper, but also who you know that can determine the trajectory of your career.
Taking Care of Yourself in Law School
Unlike your life in the military, you are in charge now! This may be the biggest adjustment of all, and one of which you need to be mindful. Your schedule is your own, but that means you need to take control of it! You’ll need to manage your time wisely, and balance all of your obligations, including family time, reservist duties, deployments, or maybe all three! You will also need to figure out what the heck to wear when you don’t have a uniform to put on every day! (We’ve got your back!)
A lot of the advice we give law students will be familiar to you: nail down the logistics, have a daily (and weekly) schedule, manage your time, and be ready on day one. Some of the advice may be slightly less familiar to you, but equally important: take care of yourself, get enough sleep, and make sure you still have some fun! This is going to be a big adjustment, and you are likely to experience some “culture shock” as you acclimate to the law school environment; in many ways, it could not be more different from life in the military. Pay attention to your physical and mental health, and seek help if you find that you’re having difficulty adjusting.
Let’s face it, as a veteran or an active duty service member, you’re not going to be the typical 1L, and that’s more than fine – it’s probably an advantage! Not only do you have useful skills and experiences that your greener classmates probably do not, you also have a key ingredient for surviving law school: perspective. Life experiences like military service give you what no book can teach – the ability to know what’s truly important. Stay true to yourself; let your experience be a guide for you as you navigate this new experience and find your place in the legal world.
(This is the first in a two-part series; if you’re a military spouse heading into law school, stay tuned for our next post.)
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.