First, it’s really brazen for me to decide to tell you it’s worth considering a gap year before you go to law school when I didn’t take one. But that best part of time and experience is that you can look back at your missteps and think of ways things could have gone better. I want to talk about taking a gap year (or two) between undergrad and law school because I think gifting yourself this time can be super valuable to your career.
If you’ve read Becoming then you know Michelle went straight through from Princeton to Harvard without much assessment as to whether law school was right for her or if it was the right time. Obviously she’s crazy successful regardless, but her dissatisfaction in her early career is palpable and for many who feel the same way, but don’t end up with Presidents as spouses, the end game can be a little more dreary. Of course not always, and I’m not saying that if you don’t take a gap year you won’t have a satisfying career, obvi. What I’m saying is that by taking a gap year, you can strengthen and complement the career you’re trying to create as a law student.
First, by taking a break you can step back and really strategize how you’re going to approach your law school experience. Instead of studying for the LSAT along with finals, you can focus solely on the exam. Instead of trying to pay for law school applications along with graduation fees and senior year events, you can save more money when you’re out of school and working. Taking a break will also allow you to go into this with eyes open. It will give you time to research whether the law is for you; what kind of school you want to attend; whether you’re ready to commit another three years to academics; and whether the timing is right for you and your family. Being able to commit a year to prepping for law school is a luxury that we all can afford because there is little lost by not starting right after undergrad.
Second, you can save so much more money! This is a big one. Law school is expensive, duh. There are many hidden fees associated with applications and it’s a hard, hard thing to pay for in the middle of senior year. Long time readers know I almost didn’t enroll because of that gd deposit lol. Taking time off lets you figure out what exactly are the costs, and then start saving for them. It is a gift to yourself to handle the finances of this endeavor as stress-free as possible. Look for work in your field or apply for a paralegal position in a firm. If you can find something salaried, that is best, even if you know you’re not staying long-term.
Finally, the most important gain from a gap year is growth. Taking time off to work or travel or volunteer (whatever your lifestyle allows) adds perspective and experience to your life. It will mature you and give you a keener sense of focus. If you get a job within the legal field it will also expose you to attorneys and lay a foundation for your professional network. Imagine knowing a handful of attorneys and having an insider’s perspective of the law before even going to law school? That’s major.
But what if you’re like me and just ~know~ you want to be a lawyer? It’s hard to delay your dream goal. I know. I didn’t take a gap year because all I ever wanted to be was an attorney. But if I’m being honest, deep down, I had a fear that if I didn’t enroll after undergrad somehow it wouldn’t happen. Is that your fear too? It’s a common one and for those of us who would be the first attorneys in our families, it’s logical to assume you won’t meet this goal because we have little evidence that says it’s actually possible. So why slow down now and risk a derailment? I get that. But what if instead of viewing a gap year as a risky delay, you just view it as part of your plan? You’re taking this time to go in as prepared and ready as possible. I think re-imaging what a gap year means to your plans can make a world of difference.
One last note, there is a big concern about it being “too late” to start law school after you’re a certain age. My heart pangs when I hear this from 20-somethings who can still take tequila shots on school nights and get up early the next day lol. First, there is no race to earn your J.D., you’ll earn it when it’s best time for you. Second, professional success at 25 is great, but life is loooooong. Regardless of when you start law school, lawyers work for, like, ever (it’s actually kind of an issue). So if you’re hesitant of taking a gap year because you fear you’ll be “too old” I assure you taking one or two years will not be a negative. More than anything it will guarantee that you have a long and fruitful career.
Did you take a gap year? If not, do you think it would have helped or maybe you don’t think it made much of a difference? Let me know what you think!