Experience Before Law School: Should You Take Time Off?

What to do with a gap year before law school

Learn about the different options for future law students

There are advantages and disadvantages to going directly from college to law school. This article looks at both options.

There are many reasons why you might not go directly from undergraduate college to law school. Perhaps you need time to get your finances in order, or maybe you want to devote a year to studying for the LSAT or bolstering your resume.

If so, you’re not alone.

In fact, an estimated 3 out of every 10 law students choose not to go directly from college to law school.

This article examines the pros and cons of taking time off — and also what you can do during your “gap” year period to ensure you’re better prepared for law school down the road.

Should you go directly from college to law school?

It’s a common misconception that almost all law students go directly from college to law school. In fact, it’s quite the opposite at many of the top law schools.

Facing factsOnly 14% of Yale Law School’s 2021 class came straight from college. At Harvard Law School, 82% of the 2021 class is at least 1 year out of college and 64% of students are at least 2 years out of college.

Whether you should go directly from college to law school or take time off depends on your individual circumstances. There are advantages to both options:

Pros of taking time off before law school Pros of going directly from college
to law school
✓ Time to save money for law school

✓ Time to decide whether law school is right for you

✓ An opportunity to experience the law by working in a law-related field

✓ An opportunity to gain a unique perspective by working in a non-law field

✓ Time to recharge before the intense experience of law school

✓ Time to focus solely on studying for the LSAT or otherwise bolstering your law school application
✓ It will likely be an easy transition (whereas it may be difficult to find the motivation to go back to school after receiving a salary and “settling down”)

✓ You won’t delay your law career

✓ You might avoid “age bias”

✓ You won’t have to stress out about LSAT’s and applications for such a long period of time

What should you do between college and law school?

Let’s say you decide to take time off between college and law school. What’s the best way to make use of your time? The answer depends on your circumstances and your goals.

Here are some of the possibilities:

Work in a non-law field

Though many law students take time off between college and law school, the majority of law students don’t. Working between college and law school will not only help prepare you for the rigors of law school, but it will provide you with a perspective that many of your fellow students won’t have. This perspective may be particularly valuable if you work in a field outside the law but also related to the law (such as construction or health care).

If you’re looking for a non-legal job that will help you develop some of the skills that will be valuable in law school, consider the following types of jobs:

  • Research or policy analyst
  • Journalist
  • Editor
  • Management consultant
  • Title examiner
  • Commercial real estate agent
  • Social worker
  • Investment banker

Work in the legal field

One of the common complaints from recent law graduates is that the field of law is different from what they expected. Working a legal job before law school can prepare you for the realities of a career as a lawyer. In some cases, it may help you avoid starting down a path you don’t want to go down. 

If you’re certain you want to be a lawyer, working in the legal field before law school can also help you narrow down the specific legal path you want to pursue. It may be beneficial to work as a paralegal or legal assistant in a law firm that has several different practice areas. If you’re able to land such a position, be sure to take advantage of it. Ask a number of different attorneys out for lunch and quiz them about their field of law. 

There are 2 additional advantages to getting a law-related job before law school that relate to your law school applications:

  • You’ll likely be able to get a letter of recommendation from one of the attorneys
  • You’ll be able to show law schools that you’re serious about being a lawyer and that you know what you’re getting into
Enjuris tip: Even in large cities, legal “communities” tend to be small. Developing a good (or bad) reputation starts well before you walk into your first law school classroom.

Volunteer

Many people choose to pursue service opportunities in well-respected national and international programs. Though these programs aren’t always law-related, they offer opportunities to develop useful skills.

In addition, most law schools value volunteer backgrounds and these experiences often provide great material for personal statements.

Enjuris tip: Service Year Alliance helps people find paid opportunities to develop real-world skills through public service.

Examples of popular volunteer opportunities include:

Volunteering locally is also a valuable use of your time and may lead to useful connections or job opportunities down the road — not to mention it gives you a chance to help others!

Travel

The average age of retirement in the United States is 61. For students starting law school at 24, this means you’ll be working for the next 37 years (give or take). When confronted with this sobering fact, many students choose to take time off between college and law school to travel.

Travelling teaches you things that the average education can’t. For many, there will never be an easier time to hike the Appalachian Trail or backpack through South America.

Remember, every path to becoming a lawyer is different. Take the time to figure out the right path for you. In the meantime, explore some of our other articles providing must-know information for future law students.

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