It’s funny, if you Google “career change to lawyer,” you’ll find article after article providing tips to people transitioning from their careers as lawyers to some other field. Keep scrolling and you’ll find the occasional article about making the transition from law student to actual attorney. You won’t find many articles about making a career change from one field to the legal field, however. As a bit of a corrective, that’s what we’ll discuss today. So, assuming the deluge of articles about leaving the field of law didn’t already deter you from pursuing a legal education or career, here are some things you might want to know about making such a career change.
1. You might feel a little rusty taking a standardized test … but almost no one feels on top of their game taking the LSAT
To make this career change into the legal industry, you’ll have to go to law school. And to apply to law school, you’ll almost certainly be taking the LSAT. Which will abruptly end your blissful retirement from the world of classrooms, grades, and standardized tests.
Almost every career-changer I encounter in the LSAT classroom comments on how strange it feels to be studying for a test after years in the workforce, or how rusty they felt taking their first practice exam, or just how out of place they feel among the more traditional, recently-delivered-from-the-university, pre-law student. Many seem to worry that this put them at a competitive disadvantage relative to these more traditional pre-law students. While it’s true that you may need to use a little more electrolysis than those other students to feel comfortable in the classroom, this won’t put you at a significant disadvantage in preparing for the LSAT.
And that’s mostly due to the unfortunate truth that most everyone — including the more traditional pre-law student and the later-in-life career-changer — will have some challenges adapting to the LSAT. This exam tests skills that most do not already possess and thought processes that most do not typically undergo. These are learnable skills and thought processes, to be sure. But it’s not the case that the fresh-faced university grads have studied these things any more than you have. Say what you will about the LSAT — and you may eventually say some very profane things about it during your studies — but it does have a nice sort of leveling effect.
In short, don’t worry about being out practice; very few feel truly comfortable with this exam, so you’ll be in the same rusty dinghy as everyone else.
2. You’ll have to budget some study time, though
But the above does mean that you’ll have to study for the LSAT, just like everyone else. Now, you don’t have to do anything drastic like immediately quit your job to study for this exam. But those LSAT-takers who work full-time jobs will have to budget a study schedule and be steadfast in sticking to it.
For full-timers, we tend to recommend a consistent schedule of two-to-four hours of study time per day, for at least five days per week. If you’re able to adhere to this schedule, you can expect to complete your LSAT studies in a two-to-four month period. We wouldn’t recommend that you save all your studies for the weekend. Studying for the LSAT is really a process of developing certain skills; acquiring and refining such skills requires consistent practice. Practicing every five or six days will likely delay the study process. Plus, studying for anytime over four hours a day can lead to diminishing returns. You’re better off spreading the study hours over the course of the week rather than trying to save them for the weekend. And you’ll need the occasional Saturday or Sunday off to rest up, engage in self-care, participate in your hobbies, or do whatever else you do to stay happy and sane.
If you’re planning on taking a comprehensive LSAT course as part of this study process, consider the various online courses on the market. Courses in which the lectures are transmitted to you through the internet — either in the form of on-demand lesson videos or live online lectures — can be a boon to those with busy schedules. Since you can view these classes anywhere you have an internet connection, won’t have to spend any more time commuting than you already do, freeing up more study time.
3. Your letters of rec? It’s fine if they’re from professional sources
After you take the LSAT, you’ll have to get your application materials together. We have a handy guide for all the application materials you’ll eventually require, but we’ll highlight a few that might be relevant to you in this blog.
The most common question we tend to get from career-changers is whether they have to track down some long-forgotten professors to provide a letter of recommendation. Most law schools require at least two letters of recommendation as part of their applications, which will be uploaded to Credential Assembly Service (CAS) account you make through the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) website. And for those more traditional, recently bachelor degreed applicants, we recommend at least two letters of recommendation from a professor. After all, admissions departments are primarily interested whether applicants will be a good students, and professors can speak most directly to that point.
But for anyone who’s been out of school for five or more years, we think it’s totally fine to get letters of recommendation from people in your professional life. Unless you’ve maintained very close relationships with old professors, you’re going to have a ton of trouble finding any former professor who is willing to write you a recommendation, and even more trouble finding one who can write a non-generic recommendation. So it’s preferable to go with those who can speak to the qualities and capabilities you exhibit in your work field. Enough of those qualities and capabilities are relevant in the academic field that you shouldn’t think of that as a weakness in your application.
4. In your law school application, only your undergrad GPA will calculated, but you’ll still need to include transcripts from any graduate or professional schools you attended
Another common question from career-changers regards their transcripts. Since many career-changers attended some graduate or professional institutions, they want to know whether their graduate or professional grades will be factored into their applications. While any law school will take a look at your grades from graduate or professional institutions — and, to be clear, you’ll need to include in your application transcripts from any graduate or professional institutions you attended (as well as transcripts from any community colleges, summer programs, or international programs) — your Undergraduate Grade-Point Average (UGPA) is the top-line figure that LSAC will calculate and many law schools will use (along with your LSAT score) to get an initial read on your application. And, true to its name, your UGPA will only include grades earned as an undergraduate.
That said, the fact you attended graduate or professional institutions can still be a positive factor in your application, even your work will not be counted in your UGPA. Which brings us to our final point …
5. Think of your pre-law career as an asset to your application
Sure, there’s a renewable energy source of green recent poli-sci grads to fill the incoming classes of law schools. And yes, most of your eventual classmates will fit that description. But just because you don’t fit that mold won’t be a shortcoming in your application. Quite the contrary, in fact. Law schools want diverse classes. They want people from a variety of professional, social, and economic backgrounds. They want people of different ages and experiences to fill their halls.
Lean in to your career when writing your personal statement and updating your résumé. You can show how your experiences both sparked an interest in the law and will help as you pursue a legal career. Making a career change is a huge decision that requires a ton of courage. Emphasize that in your application narrative, and there’s no reason to think law schools will view your career change any differently.