Attending law school is a serious commitment. Every student considering law school must be ready to invest time and money into this endeavor, and have realistic expectations about post-graduation returns. While some people attend law school immediately after graduating from college, many people wait a few years and gain valuable work and life experiences.
The average age of full-time students at Stetson University College of Law, for example, is 24, which is the same at the national level. For part-time students, the average age is a little older, usually in the low- to mid-30s. The range for the most recent entering class is 19-52. There is definitely something to be said for gaining work and life experience before going to law school to help make sure it is really what you want to do with your career.
So how do you know if you are ready to go to law school? What questions should you be asking?
Start with considering law school itself
If you don’t know that much about law school itself, then start there. You may want to look at the American Bar Association website to review the Core Skills, Values, Knowledge, and Experiences you should have before entering law school. This list includes, critical reading, writing, research and listening skills, among others.
Look at the courses you will be required to take and what types of electives, concentrations and specializations are available to match your areas of interest. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) provides a lot of information about the law school curriculum, how to apply to law school, and even has great video stories from actual students.
The LSAC also explains the case method approach that law schools typically use to teach the law and offers a summary of each first-year course. Law schools tend to have a similar first-year curriculum, so take a look at Stetson Law’s required curriculum to get an idea of what your schedule might look like as a full- or part-time student.
If you can, visit law schools in your area and meet with staff, faculty and students. Most schools allow you to attend a first-year class to get a sense of how class is structured. That is a great way to meet current students and ask them questions. If you are considering a part-time program, talk with current part-time students and ask about the work-family-school balance.
Explore the practice of law
Not everyone knows an attorney. If you are a recent or soon-to-be college graduate and do not know an attorney, call up your career service office or your school’s prelaw advisor and see if they can introduce you to alumni who have become attorneys. Many colleges have prelaw clubs like Phi Alpha Delta, and you may not have been aware of them at the time you were a student. They often bring guest speakers to events, so reach out to them and see what they have to offer. If all else fails, reach out to your local bar association to see if you can attend a young lawyers’ event.
If you are a bit more non-traditional, or do not live near your alma mater, seek out community resources from local government to legal aid. Maybe there are lawyers among your church congregation or maybe your company has in-house counsel you can meet with. Be creative and make some connections.
The practice of law is not always what one expects, so do your homework to make sure that the day-to-day reality matches the dream. Ask about routine tasks, hours worked per week, office staffing structure, and billable hours. Don’t be scared off if they tell you about challenging law school or job-seeking stories. Times change, law school pedagogy changes, and the employment market changes. What they experienced may not be what you will experience.
Get prepared for the LSAT
Working professionals often say that they didn’t have time to study for the LSAT or cannot make the time to study. If you are considering a part-time legal education while maintaining a full-time job and cannot find time to study for the LSAT, then perhaps now is not the right time for you to embark on a legal education.
If you are a prospective full-time student and still come up with excuses when faced with studying for or taking the LSAT, you may also not be at the right place in life for law school.
The idea of taking the LSAT is very stressful for some people, especially if they have test anxiety. They will put off LSAT preparation courses, delay buying prep books, procrastinate registering for the test, or complain that it is all too expensive. The LSAC has partnered with the Khan Academy to offer LSAT prep for free. How often do you get something for free in life?
Remove barriers to achieving your dreams. If law school is it, then get your personal and financial house in order and go for it. You will know you are ready for law school when you have the internal motivation or fire to overcome any obstacles in your path.
Do your research and learn about legal education and how to be successful in law school. Speak with admission counselors and take a tour of Stetson’s beautiful campus. Connect with lawyers and learn about the reality of being a lawyer. Finally, take the time to prepare for the LSAT. No obstacles…no excuses!
Law school has the potential to change your life, and it is well worth the effort, but it requires forethought and considerations that we’ve shared with you. We hope it will help you with this important decision in your life.