Thinking About Work Experience Before Law School? There are more payoffs than the paycheck!
For over a decade, I have been giving advice about taking time off before going to law school: If there is nothing else on the planet that you’d rather do than go to law school, then you can just go straight through from college. But it is important that this is an informed and conscious decision to go to law school straight out of college, and not a result of tunnel vision. Many students are so focused on the end goal (law school) that they become blind to the many wonderful opportunities that surround them as they go through their college years. Indeed, even if there is nothing on the planet that you’d rather do, I would urge you to keep an open mind throughout your college career.
There is nothing wrong with being a “K-JD” (as our friends online have dubbed it, meaning that you are going straight from kindergarten through your Juris Doctor without taking a break from school) but this time after college is a pretty unique period in your life where you have the ability to experiment or take a chance on something different. Your professional career begins the day you start law school, and even though it doesn’t mean that you will have to practice law for the next 40 plus years, you are on a course that isn’t as easily altered.
What should you do? Well, that is entirely up to you. You should not do something just because you think it will look good on an application, but rather you should do it because it is interesting to you. Some may think they need to get legal experience, and this is not really necessary, but if you are interested in learning more about what it is like to work in a law firm, then it might be a good choice for you. Working for a politician or lawmaker, campaign work, working as an analyst or consultant, Teach for America, Peace Corps, are all good choices for the right person, but the list really is limitless: working for a family business, building houses, teaching English in a foreign country, learning a new language, and working on a goal in the performing arts are also examples of how some successful applicants have spent their time prior to law school. What are some of the crazier ones we have heard? Professional Poker Player. Adult Stage Performer. CIA Agent. As long as you are being productive with your time, it will add some perspective to your outlook – and that will come across in your application.
Here are a few more advantages of taking some time off before going to law school:
- There will be more options for your personal statement topic, and likely it will come across as more focused and substantive.
- With some work experience, you will likely have some clarification on why you want to go to law school (you still don’t need to know exactly what you want to do, but you should have a good reason)
- You might be able to save a little money
- Having work experience is an opportunity to provide you with an additional recommender
- Your first job out of law school will not be your first job ever (this might help with employment)
- It is highly likely that you will get more out of your legal education; your experience will give you a foundation for seeing the practical application of the theories you are discussing in class; your contribution to the class may also be more enriching
- Depending on your gap experience, it may allow you more LSAT prep time or the ability for multiple takes.
- Law schools will see all of your grades – most people do well in their final year and their overall academic record looks better as a whole
In the end, you should do what works for you. There are wonderful and value added reasons for exploring experiences before law school, perhaps the only good reasons not to though, is to do it for the sake of a law school application. It is a great time to be an applicant to law school now given the application numbers, so it may just be the right time for you to go.
If you take a year off or more you aren’t putting off your dreams, you are simply expanding them. Law schools have been around for many, many years, and they will still be there in a few years when you are ready to apply (well, most of them will be; look for Mike’s article on The Faculty Lounge in late May on why no law schools have shut down yet and what to expect going forward).