Pre-Law: Time off before law school

Most people decide to take some “time off” before applying to law school—roughly two-thirds of applicants each year are already out of college, and about half of those have been out for more than three years. People have different reasons for waiting before attending law school: they may crave a break from school, they may not be sure they really want to be a lawyer, they may want some work experience, or they want to save money.

Taking some time between college and law school will not disadvantage you when you eventually apply. For many applicants, it will help you. A strong work record in a position of responsibility will demonstrate your maturity and readiness to commit to law school. Working full time will give you experience that will help you better understand the legal controversies you will study in law school and ultimately face as a lawyer

When you get to law school and look around at your fellow law students, you will find that many of them already have impressive work experience.

For an applicant who has a weak academic record, working for a few years in a job that demonstrates your competence and ability will make you a much stronger candidate than you were when you graduated from UMass. (Applicants with strong academic records, however, should not worry that taking time off will somehow diminish your achievements in the classroom.)

If you’re not sure whether you want to be a lawyer, working in a law-related job may help you decide. Because law school is a significant financial investment, you will want to be certain it’s the right step for you.

Finally, work and life experience will make you a stronger candidate when you graduate from law school and are seeking your first job.

There are several advantages to taking some time between UMass and law school and few, if any, disadvantages. If you have any doubts about whether law school is the right choice for you, don’t rush into it because “there’s nothing else to do” or because you think you’ll be “too old”—the average first year law student is in their mid-20s.

Many college seniors who decide to take time off before law school begin to worry about what they “should” do in the interim, and in particular, whether they should seek law-related employment. It is true that a paralegal, legal secretary, or legal assistant position in a law firm or legal organization can provide you with an excellent first-hand experience of what lawyers actually do (or at least the lawyers in the practice area that you have worked in and observed). This can be very beneficial to you in making a final determination about whether law school is the right choice for you. However, law schools are not looking for applicants to have any kind of legal experience in particular. They are more interested in what you got out of your work experience than in the kind of work you did.

A senior who feels that they have performed below their potential during college can sometimes improve a lackluster application profile by pursuing challenging post-collegiate professional or other opportunities. Post-collegiate experience can therefore help compensate for sub-par grades in college. What is most important for law schools is the evidence that your post-collegiate job, internship, or other activity (such as a master’s degree) has given you additional preparation for the rigors of law school, whether by increasing your general level of maturity and experience or by helping you master specific skills, such as analytical writing.

In short, it will certainly not hurt you to take time some time between college and law school to pursue work or other experience, and in some circumstances, it may help you. Whether this is the right decision for you depends on a variety of factors, such as the strength of your collegiate record, your certainty that law school is right for you, and other personal life priorities.

Note also that one other option may be relevant for you. Some law schools permit admitted students to defer their matriculation to law school for one or two years (usually not more). If you are admitted to law school in your senior year but have particular priorities for the first year or two after college, this might be an option to consider. But note that deferrals are granted automatically, and some schools will not guarantee that any scholarships you’ve been offered will still be available to you if you defer. It’s important to discuss with each law school what their policies are.

If you are still in school and contemplating taking some time before applying to law school, you should speak to your professors about potential letters of recommendation now, while their memory of your academic performance is still fresh. Make a plan in consultation with your recommenders for how they’ll preserve their information — they may decide to write the letter now, or they may want to just take some notes (or ask you to preserve some notes) and defer writing the letter until you’re ready to apply. If they’re writing now, you can sign up for the Credential Assembly Service through LSAC (your account is good for 5 years) and have the letters sent directly to LSAC, where they’ll hang out on the CAS servers until you’re ready to apply. If one or more of your recommenders want to defer writing the letters, keep in touch! Don’t wait until you need the letter to contact them again — touch base every few months to catch up and to keep those neural pathways open to their memories of you.

More “How to prepare for law school” resources.