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Visiting Law Schools

Transitioning from working prior to law school

by Victoria Ratcliffe (1L)

Non-traditional (often dubbed “non-trad”) law students often find themselves as less of a minority in the law community than they imagine.  Whether you are an older student wanting a change of career, or a younger student who took a few years off to work after undergrad, we all face a similar transition from the workforce to our first semester of law school.

During that first week of school, it is always in the back of the non-trad’s mind that they are going to be out of place and not ready for the academic world again.  In reality, the skills we acquire from the time away from academics to pursue life, relationships, other degrees, careers, etc., become invaluable tools not only for success in law school, but tools that are respected by future employers.  It was the conversations I had at orientation with alumni, some of who were also non-traditional students, which really gave me confidence in the skills non-traditional students possess and the ability to thrive while making the transition to law school.

Some of the skills I have found to be strengths include the ability to network, to make a plan and execute it, and to stay cool under pressure.  The first skill that will become apparent is networking.  During orientation week you will have the opportunity to meet with professors, alumni, and other students.  Most undergrads do not have experience or confidence networking, so here is a great opportunity to let your non-trad-self shine.  Networking, mingling, and creating connections is an important part of many of our careers before law school, and it will continue to be critical both during law school and after.

The second skill is the ability to make a plan and execute it.  Sounds kind of silly, right?  Many of us non-trads can’t imagine getting through a day without our routine – typically kick started with some form of caffeine.  I have found that law school is like a job, and who better to know how to be successful at our job than non-trads transitioning from the workforce?  Develop a routine that works for you.  You can make a schedule, have a planner, a check-list, or a wall of post-its, as long as it keeps you focused.  Being organized and creating a routine is fundamental for most non-trads, and is a definite asset going into school.

The third skill I have found to be an advantage is the ability to stay cool under pressure.  There will be countless times during a semester where you’re staring at a list of things that need to get done and you just shake your head – you have an LCR memo, 50 pages of Civil Procedure, God only knows what’s due in Contracts, you’re on call for a Torts assignment you haven’t even started, and you haven’t seen last night’s episode of X-Factor.  I find that after a deep breath, non-trads see these situations as no different from those we’ve faced in the workforce and in life.  There aren’t problems or to-do lists big enough to faze us.

These kind of strengths are valuable in school, as well as when you search and interview for jobs in summers and after graduation. It is important to note that everyone will experience their transition into law school differently, but remember to be confident in the skills and experience you bring. This will make the transition from working to law school not as intimidating as you may think.

Questions?  Find me on the Law Ambassador website.

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