How to Transition From A Career to Law School – It Doesn’t Have to Be a Painful Experience!

How to Transition From A Career to Law School – It Doesn’t Have to Be a Painful Experience!We’re welcoming back guest writer and 3L Mark Livingston to talk about the transition from a professional career to law school.

Most people agree, change is hard. Kakuzo Okakaura said, “the art of life is constant readjustment to our surroundings.” Gone are the days of working at the same factory, day in and day out, for your entire adult life, only to be rewarded for your life-long commitment with a cheap gold watch. There are moments in life when we must choose to change course and start anew. Transitioning from a career, benefits, steady paycheck, and relative stability to run the gauntlet of law school is a tricky proposition, but one that is manageable and rewarding. Here are a few tips from a fellow life-course changer.

Why Make the Change?

I was in a place I didn’t want to be anymore. I had lost my passion. As I reviewed the landscape, I realized that the law provided an abundance of opportunities to find my passion. The first question to ask yourself is: What is my motivation for embarking on this challenging endeavor? What motivated me was a desire to make a difference, continue to serve, and to become an authority in something. Before you make the transition, be honest about your motivations for making the change, through the lens of the trials and tribulations of law school, and embrace them. Be honest with yourself. You will either confirm that law school is the right choice, or you won’t, but at least you have been honest with yourself.

What Are You Getting Into?

Is your notion of what law school will be like derived from your viewing of Legally Blonde or The Paper Chase? If so, you might be in for a surprise. Of course, these films give you some idea of the challenges you will face in law school, but they fail to provide a comprehensive picture. Do your homework and really figure out what “being in law school” will be like. You may not like what you find. It’s awful in many ways, rewarding in others, and always challenging. Are you up for that after working in a place of relative familiarity and calm for several years? Sit in on a class or two at the local law school, read a few books about the law school experience, and talk to law students and attorneys. Do all that you can to ensure that you’re clear about what you are getting into.

How Much Do You Like Pie?

I was working at the executive level of the state agency for which I had worked for years. Going to law school required me to eat a lot of humble pie. Of course, in class I have a unique perspective gained through life experience, but I am new to the study of law, just like everyone else in the classroom. Professors will interact with you just like your younger colleagues. They don’t care about your career, because your career was not in the law. Starting law school is all about starting at the beginning, and that will become even more pronounced in your first post-graduation legal position. If you approach class, internships, bar prep, and your first job with the recognition that your former life gives you a minor edge at times but means little in terms of the study of law, law school becomes a rewarding experience that is enhanced by your past experience. Be humble and open your mind.

Are You All In?

I chose to leave my career and devote myself to law school full time. Others that have made the transition do so part time. Either way, law school is not something you can “sort of” commit to. When you are there, you have to be there. When you are not in class, you have to have the strength to devote the time needed to learn the material. Be realistic about your commitment. More than that, be realistic about your ability to commit. Chances are, if you’re transitioning later in life, you may have a family and other commitments vying for your attention. They need to commit to your transition as much (if not more than) you do. Law school is a huge commitment and requires 100% focus and attention. Are you ready to give that? If so, you can handle the transition from a career.

Isn’t There Value From My Past?

Absolutely! You are heading to law school with a network of professionals already in your rolodex (I’ll pause while younger readers Google that word). Leverage and cultivate those professional relationships during law school. These are people that already know you as a commodity and can help you make the connections to find a job during or after law school. Law school is all about building a robust network. You already have a good start (now network within the legal community) in this regard – exploit it! Having and using your existing network won’t make the classes or law school itself easier, per se, but it can be invaluable in securing internships, externships, clerkships, and jobs during and after law school. That will make life easier, if not the transition to law school.

You’ve Got This!

I’m almost done with my law school journey. The transition from my former life was difficult initially, because I did not do most of the things I mention above. It got easier with each semester, and now I am close to graduation with the bags under my eyes to prove it. You can make the transition from a career to law school, you just have to know what you want, why you want it, and be sure of what you are getting yourself into. You can do this!


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About Mark Livingston

Mark earned a B.Sc. in Criminology and Sociology from Ball State University, a M.Sc. in Criminology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a Master of Philosophy in Russia, Central, and Eastern European Studies from the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He is earning his JD at the University of Valparaiso School of Law. Mark worked for more than 10 years in state and local government in the areas of emergency management, law enforcement, and probation. Mark is a veteran of the United States Army Reserve.

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