Q: I am in my mid-30s and have been a law firm paralegal for more than 10 years now. I have a bachelor's degree and a paralegal certificate, and I am thinking about going to law school. I am my sole supporter, so I am terrified about the prospect of student loans on top of the financial responsibility of paying my mortgage. I would need to get over that hurdle while maintaining my current full-time job. Is it too late to take the LSAT and apply to law school?
A: Age is one small factor in considering law school at this point in your life. Since you are your sole supporter, you would have to obtain a loan for law school while working full time and paying your mortgage. This means you could only consider applying to law schools offering part-time programs.
According to an article by Sally Kane for The Balance Careers, although students in part-time law programs take fewer classes and fewer credits, "part-timers should still expect to spend 30 to 40 hours per week pursuing their law degree in addition to their employment and other responsibilities." To accomplish this, your time commitment to work and school would be equal to holding two full-time jobs. As a person in your mid-30s, you will want to consider whether you have and will continue to have the energy and fortitude to handle this schedule for the next four years, which is generally the length of part-time law programs. This may be difficult to determine, since it would be a sudden change in your work and personal schedule. You might have to eliminate your social life to attain your goals, but that is a decision only you can make.
In addition to the extra year in law school, part-time programs are often thought not to carry the same level of prestige as full-time programs. To help you decide, seek the percentage of part-time law school students who graduate, pass the state bar exam and practice law. Some law students do not plan on practicing law but want the legal knowledge as support for other careers, such as politics or legal journalism.
Your LSAT score is another consideration in applying to law school. The highest score a person can achieve is 180; 160 to 170 is still considered to be excellent, while the majority of students score 140 to 160. According to Keith Syska, an LSAT curriculum designer, "In general, it's unwise to attend law school with a score below 160." Part-time programs may lower their LSAT score requirements, but you are then faced with whether you have what it takes not only to get admitted, but to graduate, pass the state bar exam and obtain a worthwhile legal position. You wouldn't want to go to law school and take the bar just to stay in your paralegal position or accept a new associate's position earning close to what you currently earn as a paralegal (new attorneys are sometimes referred to as junior associates). Remember, paralegals receive overtime pay; lawyers do not.
After passing the bar exam, the next consideration will be whether your 10 years of paralegal experience will help you secure an associate's position in your current firm. Staying in the same type of practice group could place you ahead of new junior associates with no law firm experience.
You can find professional legal recruiters throughout the U.S. But generally, these recruiters seek to represent students who graduated at the top of their classes from top schools and served on their law review, which shows firms they are better writer than a typical law student.
So, don't focus on your age in whatever you do. The more information you have about yourself, your abilities, your innate talent and your desires, the more you can ease the journey ahead.
Email career and life coach: [email protected] with your workplace problems and issues. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit www.lindseynovak.com, and for past columns, see https://www.creators.com/features/at-work-lindsey-novak.
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