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To JD Or Not To JD: Examining the Benefits of Working in a Law Firm Between College and Law School Education

August 27, 2020 | Posted at 10:44 am

Written by Brittany Prager

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Have you always envisioned yourself practicing law? Maybe you excel at debating or got a high score on your LSAT. Or maybe you are not sure what career you want to pursue but your GPA was high, and you are interested in legal, criminal justice, or social issues.  Whatever your reason for considering law school, it can be beneficial to take some time, or a few gap years, to work in a law firm and determine if the legal field is right for you. This will provide you with direct experience working with attorneys that you otherwise would not get if you went straight into law school. Working in a law firm for a few years prior to pursuing law school is a great path to consider as it gives you hands-on experience, enables you to save money prior to attending, and overall demonstrates to law schools that you are industrious and serious about the commitment of obtaining your J.D.

It is important to determine why you are interested in becoming an attorney and what motivates you to pursue this career path. Part of that involves knowing what being an attorney truly entails and knowing if your motivations are consistent with the realities of working in the legal field. Unless you have a family member who practices law or have worked in a law office yourself, it can be difficult to envision what the lifestyle is like. Lawyers regularly face inconsistent hours, thousands of documents to review and analyze, tight deadlines, and a lot of pressure. It is a lot more paperwork and a lot less excitement than one might think. Working as a paralegal, you can work alongside the attorneys and assist with document review projects, explore complex case law and conduct legal research, and assist with drafting legal documents. You will face some of the pressure that attorneys regularly encounter. You could be right on the front lines getting a brief prepared in time and filed with the court, or working with faulty technology while gathering exhibits and facing a pressing deadline, or working 18-hour days while preparing for a trial. You will gain insight into an attorney’s schedule, which can be very irregular. Handling these projects for yourself and working long hours will confront you with the fact that this profession can be grueling and, at times, frustrating, but also very fulfilling. When you have that experience and context, you are better situated to make the decision of whether being an attorney is right for you and your lifestyle.

Finances can be a major motivating factor when deciding if you should take a few gap years. By working full-time in a firm for a few years, you will save money at a much faster rate than if you go straight through and work part-time while in law school. The average entry-level paralegal salary in the United States is $47,397[1] — though this figure is contingent upon factors such as location, education, certifications, and prior experience.  According to U.S. News & World Report, in 2019–2020 the average cost of annual tuition and fees at private law schools was $49,548[2].  Working for a few years would enable you to save money and lessen the financial burden of law school tuition. Gap years also give you more time to apply for scholarships[3]. Scholarships may not fully finance your tuition, but they can make a dent. Many schools offer their own merit- or need-based scholarships. Taking gap years would provide you with extra time to research these scholarships and apply for as many as you qualify for. It also provides you with more time to study for the LSAT and get the best score possible, increasing your chances of earning more scholarship money.

Many factors will determine how a law school views your application, including GPA, LSAT score, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and your resume. Taking some time in between undergraduate studies and law school is common: Yale Law School reports that only 17% of their 2022 class came to law school directly from college, while 45% are one to two years out, and 38% are three-plus years out[4]. 78% of Harvard Law School’s J.D. class of 2022 is at least one year out of college[5]. If you do choose to take some time between your undergraduate education and law school, law schools will want to know how you spent that time to ensure that you are constantly pursuing rigorous, challenging opportunities and experiences. Working in a law office may not give you an inherent leg up while applying, but it does reflect positively upon your work ethic and commitment to the field. It demonstrates diligence, maturity, and industriousness. It can also help you stand apart from other applicants who are similarly situated in terms of LSAT scores and GPA, but who do not have the same level of experience.

The decision to take time in between college and law school is personal and dependent upon a lot of different factors. Ultimately, if you are pursuing law school for substantive, informed reasons versus for a perceived lifestyle or assumed salary, you are more likely to set yourself up on a better path. Legal Placements, Inc. regularly has temporary, temporary-to-permanent, and permanent entry-level paralegal jobs that are excellent opportunities for recent college graduates looking to get their foot in the door. While you are determining if the legal field is right for you, reach out to one of our recruiters who can discuss your career goals and some of our open positions more in depth.

[1] https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-entry-level-paralegal-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,24.htm

[2] https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/articles/law-school-cost-starting-salary#:~:text=The%20average%20annual%20tuition%20and,fees%20at%20public%20law%20schools.

[3] https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/law-admissions-lowdown/articles/2018-04-16/how-to-offset-law-school-costs-with-outside-scholarships

[4] https://law.yale.edu/admissions/profiles-statistics

[5] https://hls.harvard.edu/dept/jdadmissions/apply-to-harvard-law-school/hls-profile-and-facts/