Should You Take a Gap Year Before Law School?
Many people go straight through from college to law school. Many lawyers are unhappy. It’s easy to wonder had some of those people taken some time before law school to contemplate whether law was a good career for them. The answer from a lawyer: maybe. Here’s why you should consider (or not) taking a gap year before law school.
My Story of a Gap Before Law School
Before I just go spouting out advice, you should know what my experience is to know how that colors my perspective. I graduated college in 2005 and spent a year abroad. I then spent three years working as a paralegal and a financial analyst. When I entered law school, it was 2009, at the bottom of the legal recession. When I graduated in 2012, the legal industry was recovering and I got a good job with a law firm.
I had an inkling that I was going to go to law school. I took the LSAT in February of 2008, so I had enough time to apply to be the class of 2011. I also could have gone straight through to law school I had a few friends who went straight through.
What If I Hadn’t Taken a Gap Year?
So I took a gap year of four years. How did this impact me? If I went straight through to law school or enrolled in law school during any one of my gap years, I would have graduated right before or at the bottom of a legal recession. The classes before me struggled. But then again, I don’t know that I would have been one of them. Further, depending on what year I applied, law school admission might have be slightly more or less competitive, allowing me to get into a worse or better school, thus affecting my opportunities in the future.
If I had gone to law school straight through, I certainly would know less about how to save money during law school and live on my own, but tuition would have been slightly lower.
Of course, I can only connect the dots looking backwards. I can’t even tell what would have happened to me knowing how I turned out. There’s no way I can tell you how it’ll turn out and there’s no way to know what your future holds with different options. You can make an educated guess, and I hope some of these considerations will help you in that endeavor.
Why Not to Take A Gap Year: You Won’t Learn What It’s Like to Be an Attorney
A lot of people think you should work for a few years off before law school to find out what it’s like. But all lawyers will tell you that being a paralegal is very different than being a lawyer. And also being a lawyer is only part of the life choice.
Your job is so much more than what you do during your work hours. You still have three years of law school and six figures of debt. You have how you feel about yourself, how people treat you, the pressures you face. It’s about the choices you have and the choices you feel you have. Being a lawyer is about your network and the people you meet along the way. It’s about changing the way you think about the world, the law, and the government.
As an analogy, you can shadow a famous athlete, but you won’t know what it’s like to have the pressure of the championship on the line until you’re actually there. That’s what it’s like to be an attorney.
Reason to Take a Gap Year: Increased Enjoyment as an Attorney
I think this is a big IF but I’ve found that people who take gap years are a little happier as attorneys. It’s not because people actually know what they’re getting into, but their expectations are a little lower. If you work for a few years, you’re more likely to be used to office work. You’re more likely to realize how far money can go in a city. Further, you may be more aware of what types of jobs are available. I know so many law school graduates who expect to be the next Amal Clooney and won’t be satisfied with anything else.
Of course, if your enjoyment is based on lowered expectations, it’s a question whether the increased enjoyment is really worth it. But it might be worth it to increase your chances for happiness.
Reason Not to Take a Gap Year: Timing the Market
It’s a huge liability to graduate into a recession. Tuitions don’t go down, but average salaries do. You may find yourself doing odd jobs to make ends meet. Further, it’s much more difficult to switch to more lucrative careers after years of toiling at odd jobs. When I entered law school in 2009, I was “lucky” that we already knew there was a recession. Of course, we didn’t know how long the recession would last. And years later, graduates had far more job opportunities than our year.
Of course don’t attempt to time law school to graduate into a good market. If you’re ready to go to law school, enroll. Don’t wait for the perfect time, because you have no idea what the future holds. Also, most law firms don’t care if you have work experience, so that’s not a good reason to take a gap. Take a gap if you want to do some other line of work, not in order to get ahead in your legal career.
Reason to Take a Gap Year: Finding Other Interests
Once you start working, you won’t have as much time to jet set somewhere else. You may have marital or child responsibilities and you’re likely to have serious loans. If you’re ever going to take a year to see the world, learn a new language, or start your own venture, it’s before law school, and not after it.
Conclusion – Should You Take a Gap Year Before Law School?
I don’t have a crystal ball and neither do you. Just remember that law school is a risk, and the best you can do is make an educated guess. If you’re dedicated to the law, and willing to put in the work and the time, a legal career can be very fulfilling.
Other benefits to taking working gap years:
1. You will appreciate the relative freedom of law school so much more than when you were working full time.
2. You go into law school with the experience of having supported yourself and knowing how to budget and deal with money. You’re less likely to make silly financial mistakes like your classmates. (Ex: Don’t count on getting paid jobs each summer, budget so that your loan money can get you though your summers and treat any extra income as a welcome surprise)
3. It looks better on your resume and will make you a better interviewee.
4. Gaining real world working experience and maturity that gives you a leg up at your first legal job. You may not know how to practice law, but probably know how to quickly respond to clients and supervisors, document your file, take notes when people give you instructions, provide good customer service, etc.
All good benefits!