Technically, you’re never too old to go to law school.
But the experience of earning a J.D. is much different for someone fresh out of college than it is for, say, a 35-year-old father of two.
Above all, however, age and experience are assets to be embraced—though there are certain considerations an older student has to make before deciding whether to head back to school for a law degree. Estimates suggest about a third of law students don’t head directly to law school from college. Here’s what those older students need to know.
Your Financial Concerns are Different
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Law school is expensive. This is the case no matter your age, of course, but the six-figure cost of a law degree is bound to affect you differently based on where you are in life. For instance, older students often have to balance tuition with a mortgage or supporting a family (or both). It’s important to weigh the benefits of attending law school against the financial burden it requires, and to make a plan to ensure you’re able to balance all your financial responsibilities.
Law School is a Big Time Commitment
Whether you complete your J.D. in a full-time or part-time program, it’s going to eat up a lot of your time. And of course, that’s the case whether you’re in your 20s or your 40s. However, older students frequently have demands on their time that their younger counterparts don’t. For example, far more 30-somethings have young children than 20-somethings who entered law school mere months after completing their undergraduate degrees. Older students are also more likely to be responsible for caring for aging parents, something that can cut short the amount of time that can be dedicated to studies.
It’s Tough to Readjust to the Rigors of School
Depending on how old you are, it could have been a decade or more since you studied, took a test, or wrote a paper—and you’re going to be doing a lot of studying, test-taking, and writing in law school. There will be an adjustment period as you work to create an effective study strategy and rediscover the discipline necessary for academic success. This is the case even if you were a straight-A student in college. It’s almost like a muscle you’ll need to work to rebuild.
It May Make You a More Valuable Candidate …
As mentioned above, experience is an asset to be leveraged during law school and after, once you’ve returned to the workforce. But older law school graduates may be more valuable than their less experienced counterparts, specifically because of whatever they were doing before earning their J.D.s. Perhaps you were working in a field related to law, or a field related to a particular niche in which you plan to practice law. The experience you racked up between your bachelor’s degree and your law degree can provide you with a big boost.
… Or a Less Valuable One?
Law schools are benefited by accepting classes diverse in age, race, and experience, but some law firms might not be so eager to hire older candidates. Some firms expect aspiring partner-track attorneys to sacrifice their lives to their work in a way they aren’t certain older law students would be willing to embrace. Depending on the firm or organization in question, there may be a stigma surrounding the hiring of older law school grads you’ll want to keep in mind.
Your Maturity is an Asset
Older students are generally more focused and disciplined, and not as easily distracted by extracurriculars. If you’re entering law school later in life, you’re also less likely to be overwhelmed by the experience, something that’s unfortunately not rare for many of your younger counterparts. Age and experience also help older students put everything into perspective, which can help when it comes to tackling the three (or more) years of intense studies required to succeed in law school.