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How Should Working Professionals Prepare Before Going to Law School?

Posted by Jon Romberg on 11/7/16 11:15 AM


While the majority of law students come to law school directly from college, there are a significant number who come from the workplace. If you are someone who started working after graduating from college and are now considering going to law school, you may be nervous about whether it’s a problem that you don’t really remember everything you learned in college. And you may be wondering what you can or should do to prepare for law school.

The answer is—pretty much nothing. Your college experience, whatever it was and whenever it took place, will not hold you back. And your work experience is an asset, not a liability.

In terms of substantive preparation for law school, there is less that is necessary—or, even, particularly helpful—than you might imagine. Professors don’t count on your arriving at law school having studied law or political science or anything in particular while in college. We also don’t expect you to have worked as a paralegal, or to have a parent who is a lawyer, or otherwise be familiar with the law. Your legal education does not depend on prior knowledge: you will be taught everything you need to know while in school. That isn’t to say that some familiarity with, for example, American history is unhelpful, but it’s by no means necessary, and there’s no need to try to get up to speed before arriving at law school.

I was a philosophy major. My experience closely reading complicated texts and carefully developing logical arguments for and against precise propositions was, in my opinion, at least as useful as some classmates’ experiences actually studying law, history, or economics at a collegiate level. Legal analysis is quite similar to the kind of thinking I was expected to do, for example, in the Metaphysics of Time Travel course I took with Professor David K. Lewis, the philosopher who propounded the idea that every hypothetical fact variation we can conceive in our world is actually represented in some possible world that literally exists somewhere in the universe. But what was helpful to me in studying law was not so much what I specifically learned from, e.g., Kant’s Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, but from my having engaged in some form of sophisticated training in how to reason and communicate clearly.

English majors use their writing skills to great benefit in law school, and as lawyers; clarity of expression is a prized skill. Science majors use their rigorous attention to detail and their skepticism about purported truth not empirically grounded in data to pierce through platitudes and wrestle with the law in all its complexity. Even if your memory of the details you recited at length on college examinations has faded, your deeper, underlying capacities have undoubtedly not only endured, but continued to grow.

And your experience in the workforce since college has added an extra layer of preparation: Many of you have developed substantive areas of expertise (in finance, or real estate, or health law, or any number of subject areas) that translate into an enriched experience in the classroom, not only for yourselves, but for your fellow students.

But even more notable, in the almost twenty years I’ve been teaching Contracts to many non-traditional students who returned to law school after some time away from the academy, is the maturity that comes with real world experience. Your experience juggling projects and meeting deadlines is directly applicable to studying and practicing law. You may need to brush up on note-taking and test-taking skills, but your capacity to apply a thoughtful, practical perspective to the cases you read and the doctrines you discuss will be of great benefit.

You should spend the time before law school relaxing and enjoying yourself. Your preparation should consist largely of coming up with a plan to balance the significant commitments of law school with whatever work or familial obligations will exist after you enroll. Cramming does not work in law school; you, of course, did not wait till the last minute to study for finals in college, though maybe you have a “friend” who did so. But you know, from experience, that cramming doesn’t fly in the workplace. Your friends coming straight from college may not be so wise.

Pictured above: Professor Romberg teaching Contracts.

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