Should I take time off before law school?

By Hillary Mantis

Spencer, a senior, sat in my office during a group pre-law advising session last week at a crossroads deciding whether to go to law school next year. He’s busy filling out applications just in case.

“My parents say if I don’t go now, they are afraid I will never go,” he said. “Plus, it is still a really bad job market out there. Maybe I should go to law school just to hedge my bets.” 

Marisa, sitting next to him, chimed in.

“I wonder if it will disadvantage me if I don’t apply now,” she asked. “Do you think the law schools will hold it against me?”

I took a deep breath before I answered their questions, attempting to reassure them.

“No, you don’t really have to worry too much about that,” I answered. “Did you know that according to some statistics at some colleges now up to two thirds of seniors take at least one year off before law school?”

“Law schools are okay with your taking time off,” I continued. “In fact it can sometimes help make your applications stronger.”

At colleges all around the country right now, seniors are getting closer to graduation, and understandably more worried about the job market in this still uncertain economy. Many are in the midst of deciding, “Should I go to law school now, or take time off before law school?”  You may be one of them.

In my opinion, there are many good reasons to take time off before law school if you are not sure, or not ready. It is very unlikely to disadvantage you. For example, if your grades are not where you would like them to be, you can use the end of your senior year to bring up your GPA. Same thing with your LSAT score — retake it at the end of your senior year, or even the fall of the following year and try to increase your score.

Work experience can similarly make your application stronger. A job can increase your skills, your maturity, your knowledge and sometimes provide a nice topic for your personal statement, among other things. It can also provide an additional recommendation for you, especially if you did not get to know your professors that well in college.

You don’t have to work in a legal setting, but if you do, it will give you much greater insight into the legal profession before you start law school, and show you what lawyers really do on a day to day basis. In my work as a career counselor, I have found that it is pretty common for a law student to enter law school without really having a clear idea of what lawyers do.

Plus, it gives you a chance to have a study break between college and law school.

Anecdotally speaking, with the law school students I have worked with, those who worked for a year or two in between college and law school were sometimes more ready for the work that law school entails, and also more certain of their decision to go to law school. As a result, some of them really enjoyed law school because they were refreshed and ready to go. Sometimes they were also able to eliminate an alternate career choice, having tried another profession for a year or two, and disliked it. They were really confident in their decision to go to law school.

Law school is obviously a significant financial investment these days.  Working between college and law school may also give you a chance to save up some money before you become a full-time student again.

On the other hand, I definitely do not want you to conclude that you have to take time off no matter what. If you are a senior who is satisfied with your GPA and LSAT score, is not “burnt out” and is ready to study and has preferably interned or worked in a legal setting, you are in a great situation. 

If you are sure you want to be a lawyer, excited to go to law school and ready to apply, by all means go for it. This will no doubt be an exciting year for you. And if you are not, don’t worry. Law school will be there when you are ready for it.

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Hillary Mantis works with pre-law students, law students and lawyers. She is Director of the Pre-Law Program at Fordham University and author of career books, including Alternative Careers for Lawyers. You can reach her at altcareer@aol.com.