OFF THE RECORD - Seton Hall Law

Going Back to Law School to Change Careers

Posted by Lili M. Young on 10/16/18 8:03 AM


Many students know from the first day of college they want to attend law school as soon as they graduate. But for others, the decision comes later. They might not decide on law school until they’ve tried another career. They might want to save money and gain work experience before returning to school. Or they might simply need a break from the rigors of studying. Whatever the case, older students often have a different perspective on going to law school and a different experience once they arrive. In this Q&A, Seton Hall Professor Thomas Healy talks about his own unconventional path to law school and the pros and cons of being an older student.

How much time off did you take between college and law school and what did you do in the intervening years?

I took five years off after graduating from the University of North Carolina. I was a journalism major, so I worked as a newspaper reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh covering a variety of issues, including crime, the courts, public schools, and higher education.

Why did you decide to leave your job and attend law school?

I had always thought I would return to school at some point, and the longer I worked the more convinced I became that doing so was the right choice for me. The question was what kind of degree I would pursue. I thought about getting a PhD in history or political science, but wasn’t sure what I would do afterward. Law school was attractive because it opened up so many possibilities. I could practice at a law firm, work for the government, return to journalism, or get a job in academia. I also knew law school would expose me to ideas from lots of different disciplines – economics, history, sociology, and psychology. Finally, I had developed a strong interest in law from my days covering crime and the courts.

What was your experience like as an older student?

It was terrific. After five years away, I was eager to prove myself in the classroom again. Having worked full time, I knew how to be productive and efficient, and I didn’t mind studying nights or weekends. I also had lots of experience to draw on in analyzing the cases we read. Unlike many students, I knew how the court system worked and understood many of the underlying policy issues we discussed. I felt like I had a real advantage and appreciated the experience more than I might have five years earlier.

What advice do you have for working adults who are considering law school?

Think about the ways in which a law degree might further your career goals or open up new doors. And when choosing a law school, think about whether the environment is attractive to older law students. I knew, for instance, that I wanted to be in a major metropolitan area, not a sleepy college town. I also didn’t want to live in a dorm. Having been out of college for five years, I wanted to be treated like an adult, not an undergraduate.

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