Am I too old for the law?
March 24, 2008 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Am I too old to go to law school? I'm 33 and . . .

I already have a Masters in one of those liberal arts subjects that does not a career make. (Career 3.5ish gpa haven't taken any test LSATs)

The law sounds like it could be intellectually vigorous and well paying but what kind of jobs do 36 year old Law grads get? Enough to pay back their loans and raise a kid?
posted by Any Moose In a Storm to Work & Money (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
In my law school class there were a number of students older than you. There were, in fact, enough such students that they formed a "graduate before 40" club. So whether or not you can get a job (and that will depend on a number of things including where you are, where you go to school, how you do, what kind of law you decide to practice and the state of the economy in four years) there are certainly plenty of people who do it.
posted by The Bellman at 9:36 AM on March 24, 2008

I, as well, have many non-trad (as they're called - short for "non-traditional") students in my law classes, ranging from mothers who put off a career until their kids were older to an early-50s retired CEO who thought public interest was a good way to stay active after a fairly early retirement.

You'd be fine in law school, provided you actually want to do law. There's a saying around the school - "You may figure out you don't want to be an attorney while in school - but after the first semester, you're already in too much debt to be anything BUT an attorney."

While not technically the case, there's some serious underlying truth in that statement. It's a large investment that will (probably) pay off - but for a select few, its a $150k lesson in what you don't want to do.

Take a practice LSAT and see how you do. If its respectible (155-165), you should give law school a serious look.
posted by plaidrabbit at 9:47 AM on March 24, 2008

No, you're not too old to go to law school but take a long hard look at the economics of the legal profession (debt, real starting salaries--as opposed to Big Law starting salaries) and the realities of working lawyers before you do this. I went to a top-tier law school in my late-20s. We will have paid off the mortgages on both our houses before I pay off my law school loans. I work for a very steady, very busy small law practice (6 attorneys) and I make less than most of my nonlawyer friends (who primarily work in IT fields), and all of my lawyer friends (except the PDs) but I go home every day at 5:00pm and I can take time off with ease. It is--for most people--no more well-paying than any profession and the field is not recession-proof.

By the way, the daily practice of law is no more intellectually vigorous than was my daily practice as a university publications manager (my career before law school). There are occasions when it is more rigorous than the philosophy graduate work I did, but they are the exceptional days and exceptional cases. Working with your stereotypical lawyer (the aggressive argumentative type) can be extremely draining, as well.

All that said, I like practicing law, but it is nothing at all like I expected it to be.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:49 AM on March 24, 2008

Not too old, from my experience. I went to law school with a 60-something former neurosurgeon, a late 40s mom, and others past their 20s. I did notice that many of them attended at night, and the day students were mostly 22-26.

Intellectually vigorous: yes.

Well-paying: can be. This depends what kind of law you want to do and what kind of setting in which you want to/can do it. That, in turn will depend what your grades are like in law school (for law firm jobs, they continue to ask for law school transcripts for years after, and it does matter, for the most part), where you live, etc.

Also, the epxerience of my Big Law Firm friends, the ones that make a lot of money is that they work a LOT. Consider that in the make a lot of money/raising a kid calculus.

My advice would be to go to law school if you are truly interested in the law and not JUST (or maybe even predominantly) because of the money. I have plenty of classmates who work in firms and like it, but I have many classmates who went to law school for job security and money reasons and hate it now. Of course, hating your job is not law-specific, but there do seem to be a lot of people who go into law because of the money and end up feeling unhappy or overworked . Some of my friends feel they have sold their souls. That kind of thing.

I, on the other hand, loved law school and have loved what I have done with a legal degree.. I've never worked in a law firm or made a ton of money.
posted by Pax at 9:53 AM on March 24, 2008

My son-in-law applied to several law schools, after having been a mere insurance office worker for 5 years, after college, and some years of other boring employment. Was accepted at U. Mich. and finished May last year, at age 36-37 (somewhere right in that area). Took the NY Bar a few mos. later, and is now on Wall St. at one of the most prestigious firms. I am bragging a bit, but also, to help you, pls. note this: his situation was NOT one of dashing, articulate, neatly planned, personal power. He was married, with a new child, much discomfort and struggle. It weren't easy. But it can be done.

You have to have confidence that you can crack multiple, big books, and learn what's in 'em. For multiple hours on end. And that your wife won't bail on you (if you're married). There's not much in the 3-yr. law school bit that is interesting for a spouse of a student.
posted by yazi at 9:56 AM on March 24, 2008

I'm 34 and in law school. I also work. It's fine. I am definitely older than a lot of the students but not ridiculously so, and there are a few students older than me. I have had a successful career in another area, but I am ready for a change, which is why I made the decision to go to law school. I'm having a great time.

MeMail me if you have any specific questions.
posted by miss tea at 10:01 AM on March 24, 2008

The question you should be asking yourself is not, "Am I too old to be in school?" but "Do I really want to go to law school, and be a lawyer?"

IANALstudent, but I am a non-traditional one - I got my BA in my 40's and now am shooting for my MA. And I'm in good company. Higher education is often wasted on the young. Mature students who have outgrown their paaaarrrrtaaaaayyyyy! phase tend to be more interested in hitting the books and applying themselves. And besides, you'll be X age in however many years it takes to finish your degree anyway, with or without the degree. Do you want to be X years old with a degree or without one?

Is law school right for you? Just remember it isn't a guaranteed ticket to a six-figure income. From many reports, there are more lawyers than there are jobs. You might want to ask some alumni of your chosen law school how easy - or hard - it was for them to find jobs.

But if you love law, go for it - and good luck!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:26 AM on March 24, 2008

Having substantial full-time work experience before law school puts you at an advantage, I'd think. My older classmates (I'm 24, went straight from college to law school) generally seem to have carried over the "nine-to-five" mindset, and have no problem devoting X uninterrupted hours per day to studying.

In other words, you probably already have the sort of discipline that the young folks might need to take a semester to develop.
posted by cac at 10:29 AM on March 24, 2008

I know several law students older than you who have firm job offers from prestigious, high-paying firms. I definitely wouldn't let age stop you. You might want to be aware, though, that there are some firms whose culture is not welcoming to older hires -- they want young, enthusiastic people who will be willing to devote themselves completely to the firm. One of the older guys I know lost a job offer because -- I kid you not -- he got lost during a scavenger hunt all of the summer associates were forced to participate in, and wasn't able to make it to the company dinner in time. They took this as a sign of his lack of enthusiasm and willingness to play by the firm's rules. But he had several other options, and is taking a position with a great firm, getting a great salary, and will actually have time to spend with his wife and kids.
posted by katemonster at 10:34 AM on March 24, 2008

You're not too old. But factor in the career trajectory and ask if you'll be happy working in a salt mine/Big Firm for 20 hours a day with 25 year-olds for the first several years of your career.

As for the intellectual aspects of law school: Eh. It's not a PhD program. It's all pretty easy stuff, to be honest. I went to one of the top 5 schools and was pretty surprised at how little brainpower was in the lecture hall sometimes. Law school is a technical school. If you're good at applying concepts to situations and memorizing, you'll do well.

But think about the work-life issues before you even apply.
posted by LGCNo6 at 11:00 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I went at 31 after a 10-year career in journalism. There were several in my class that were in their 50s. I hated the whole experience so I'm probably not the best person to ask but I will say that the number of seasoned, mature, intellectually-curious students were far outnumbered by the number of classless, immature, money-hungry, whiny, privileged 20-somethings.
And what Rosie M. Banks said. I wish I had listened to my dad and just gotten an MBA ... a shorter program and a more surefire way toward the six-figure income.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:25 AM on March 24, 2008

As for jobs, if you're willing to put in the 60+ hours at a large firm, I'm sure you'd be just as competitive as a younger graduate. I know that my fellow non-trad students all ended up doing very well in their chosen paths. If it's public interest you seek, I think your experience will play well.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:28 AM on March 24, 2008

I wouldn't worry too much about your age, I know plenty of people that were in their 30's when they started and really they are just like everyone else. However, I would suggest going to a school where the average starting age isn't 22. In Washington, DC, for instance, where I am, non traditional grads are very common and no one thinks twice. Also all the people I know that have had prior careers have done quite well getting jobs. However, ultimately what matters as far as getting a good job and paying back your loans doesn't have much to do with your age, but has a lot more to do with how high of a ranked school you get into.
posted by whoaali at 11:47 AM on March 24, 2008

My dad, concious of the fact that he had three kids to get through college, started law school on the same day I started high school. He was 40. He was a partner at a major NYC firm six years later and is still an active partner at the age of 60 in his NJ firm, although on a slightly abbreviated schedule.

He went to law school full time while working full time; his office was in the same building as his law school and he commuted in the elevator. He was and is a fucking powerhouse.

So no, you are by no means too late for law school, even if you don't have quite that much get up in your get up and go.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:29 PM on March 24, 2008

There's a 2nd year student at my school (a year below me) who is, and I am not making this up, 78 years old. He enjoys it and handles it just fine.

Age is not a factor.
posted by toomuchpete at 1:27 PM on March 24, 2008

Not law school but I started my MBA at 32 and there are a decent number of people older than I - even a few 40+.
posted by UMDirector at 2:21 PM on March 24, 2008

I started law school when I turned 30. I have kind of a baby-face, and my more mature looks play well with bourgeoisie who want age and experience in their professionals.
posted by Jezebella at 8:37 PM on March 24, 2008

You might check out The People's College of Law in Los Angeles. They ask that you commit to progressive causes, but the tuition is only 4K a year.
posted by generalist at 7:30 AM on March 25, 2008

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