By Vanessa Stephens • March 26, 2019•Law School, Pre-Law
One of the most challenging and rewarding decisions I made in my career was enrolling in law school after working for several years. At the time, I reached a point in my career where I started to build credibility and expertise in my field, but I found myself increasingly interested in the laws impacting the healthcare industry. I also knew getting back into “school-mode” would be an adjustment. But because I didn’t have family or close friends that were attorneys, I had to learn what attorneys did and what I would learn in law school.
To those of you reading this article and considering a career switch to the law, I encourage you to rise to the challenge like a lawyer would—by conducting research and building your argument. The following are some tips for you to start this process:
1. Speak to the Admissions Office: In my experience, the admissions office staff is full of knowledge about the application process. Early on in my decision process, I scheduled a time to visit the law schools in my area, speak to the admissions staff, and understand what each school was looking for in prospective students. Similarly, for prospective students of diverse backgrounds, most law schools now have diversity and inclusion coordinators who can provide insights and resources to a broad array of experiences at the school.
2. Sit in on a Class with a Professor: Having sat in on a 1L (first-year law student) class prior to law school, I learned about the Socratic method early on. I also saw how students responded to class discussion and interacted with professors at different universities. Towards the end of my deliberation process, I started to get excited because I could see myself as a student in the classes I was observing.
3. Meet the Professor in Office Hours: After I visited each class, I followed up with the professor. I not only thanked professors for allowing me to visit their classes, but I also asked the professors for advice about my decision-making process. Professors are a wealth of knowledge, and they are experts in their fields. Many times, the professors I met would offer to connect me to their current or past students to learn more about the student experience in law school.
4. Ask for additional connections: This is a general rule of thumb for any networking interaction, but my go-to line after meeting new contacts in the legal industry is: “Thanks so much for all your advice. Is there anyone else that you’d recommend I connect with?” By expanding my network, I was able to get a lot of different perspectives on entering the legal industry. I met people practicing in government, the private sector, and in public interest. I met students who encouraged me to apply because they were enjoying their experience, and students who told me how challenging their legal education had been. All of these perspectives are important as you are evaluating your next step.
5. Try a Pro Bono/ Internship Experience: Through my networking, I was able to connect with several judges on the federal district court prior to enrolling in law school. One of the judges I met offered me an opportunity to intern prior to law school. The semester I applied to law school, I was able to continue working full-time while I completed my internship. This experience allowed me to get a sense of courthouse operations, lawyerly writing, and oral advocacy. In addition to my judge, I met law students and clerks, who had recently graduated from law school. All of these individuals answered my questions about the application process and gave me advice as I evaluated my options.
6. Join an Association Aligned with your Legal Interest: Because of my healthcare background, I was initially interested in practicing health law. I joined the American Health Lawyers’ Association. I took a vacation day from work to volunteer at a conference and network with attorneys in the space. If you don’t know what legal industry you’re interested in, most major cities have bar associations. If your local bar association hosts a conference or networking events, you can meet attorneys across many different industries and start to hone your interests.
7. 1L Primer Programs: There are several non-profit organizations and companies that offer 1L primer courses that operate as a “sneak peek” to the standard courses required during the first year of law school. I took a month off of work and enrolled in the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, Inc. (CLEO) Pre-Law Summer Institute in Des Moines, Iowa. The work was very challenging; however, the coursework exposed me to Torts law, Property, and Legal Writing. (Note: I would enroll in a program like this after you decide to go to law school.)
This isn’t an exhaustive list. I am the first person in my family to go to law school, so if you have attorneys in your network, you should begin by speaking with them. Law school turned out to be the right decision for me! It has been demanding, but I have learned a great deal from my experience and found new industries and career options that I didn't know existed.
If you’re considering law school as a career switch, let’s connect on LinkedIn! I’d love to chat about my experience.