What to Think About When Considering Law School (As A Non-Traditional Student)

What to Think About When Thinking About Law School (As A Non-Traditional Student)This week we welcome back guest writer and 1L Stephanie Gregoire to talk about making the decision to transition from the working world to law school.  

Deciding to attend law school meant leaving the career I had since finishing undergrad five years ago. It was not a decision I made lightly – it needed forethought, introspection, and figuring out personal and professional priorities. If you find yourself in similar shoes, here are five things I weighed to figure out if this was right for me, especially as a “non-traditional law student” or someone who didn’t graduate undergrad and go straight to law school.

1. The Biggest Question: Why?

For some, they feel stuck in their current job and see no advancement opportunities. Others may have advancement opportunities, but a law degree would set them apart. Maybe they experienced something that lit a fire in them to pursue the law. Or maybe it’s entirely different.

Whatever the reason is, knowing “why” will help you frame your goal in this pursuit. And if your “why” doesn’t line up with any of those examples, that’s okay, mine doesn’t either! Whatever it is, all that matters is it helps you understand yourself and figure out whether you should go to law school.

2. Career Effects

In some careers, a law degree shows the person’s tenacity but doesn’t really directly apply to the career itself; there are others where a law degree is very relevant and will advance a career a great deal. Knowing where you stand will help you understand what your career path might end up looking like. If you’re in a field that resembles the first example, you’re likely starting a brand new career. That’s simply not an option for some; knowing if you’re okay with that will help you understand if going to law school and starting a legal career is actually an option. Of course, just because you have a J.D. doesn’t mean you absolutely must have a legal career, and if you’re comfortable with having the degree but not working in the field, this becomes less of a consideration. But if that doesn’t work for you, it’s something you really want to think about before going for it.

3. Cost

Law school is expensive, there’s no getting around that. Here are some posts and podcast episodes specifically talking about the cost:

Now that you’ve read or listened through those, you’re probably wondering why anyone does this at all – and that would be fair! There are several ways students pay for their legal education, including scholarships and loans. You’ll want to consider the cost and how you’re going to cover it. If you’re a non-traditional student, you may have a family so this would be a conversation you need to involve at least one other person in. Is this something your family can afford? What sacrifices will come from you leaving your career – assuming that’s what you end up doing? Something else to consider would be, if available, employer education programs where an employer covers some or all of your education expenses. There are pros and cons to such programs:

  • Pros: not having to pay for law school (or at least not all of it), possibly having a guaranteed job post-graduation if one of the stipulations is you continue working for them, and some programs even offer a living stipend on top of education costs being covered.
  • Cons: GPA requirements that the law school curve can make incredibly difficult, being locked into a certain job after graduation (if you don’t work for them you’ll likely have to repay them), and possibly being restricted to certain schools that may not be as aligned with your goals as others.
4. Part-Time Options

Some schools are moving towards part-time or even fully accredited online programs, allowing working professionals to continue their careers and pursue their degrees at the same time. In circumstances where you may not want to leave your job – or maybe can’t – a part-time program might be for you. It might also work well for non-traditional students who have considerations such as family obligations. There are of course drawbacks to being in part-time law school, such as it often requires taking classes year-round, it takes longer to complete, and you may not be able to be as involved in campus life, not to mention the overall workload between school and work. If those are important factors to you, it might be worth reaching out to schools you’re considering and asking to speak to part-time students, past and present, for their perspectives to help shape your decision.

5. Location, Location, Location

For “traditional” law students, there usually aren’t as many things tying them to a particular location for school options. That may not be the case for “non-traditional” law students. Things like a partner’s career, children’s education, other family responsibilities, and similar considerations might be important things to think about. You may be restricted to schools in a specific metro area, or even just one school in your local area, because you can’t or won’t move due to those considerations. Is that something you’re okay with limiting yourself to? This was probably the second biggest question for me, and ultimately it has worked out just fine, but that isn’t always the case for everyone.

There are of course other things to think about, but these big questions are the ones I focused my energy on in the beginning, and they were the ones that helped me understand that leaving my old career to pursue a law degree and, ultimately, a career as an attorney, was what I wanted to do. Hopefully these help you frame your options in a way that let you clearly see the choice ahead of you. If you have more questions or want to learn more, this podcast episode might also be of use.


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About Stephanie Gregoire

Stephanie is a 2L at the University of Houston Law Center in Houston, Texas. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2017, where she majored in History. In the years since completing her B.A., she has worked in Human Resources across the country, working in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Washington before moving to Texas. Outside of school, her hobbies include baking, working out, and travelling.

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