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by Vault Law Editors | July 29, 2020

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diverging path

Deciding when to go to law school is a crucial question for prospective law school applicants. Should you continue straight from undergrad to law school, or should you take time before entering law school to work or travel? Some may be eager to start their legal careers or feel an advanced degree is the logical next step, while others may want time to make sure the legal field is right for them, save money for school, or even optimize their application. The decision is a very personal one.

Vault sat down with its law interns—Ashley Reed and Brian Zhang—to learn more about their paths to law school, what factors influenced their timing, and what they would do if they were applying to law school now.

What influenced you to go to law school when you did?

Ashley: I originally went straight from undergrad to law school. That was a decision I regretted—not only was the school not a good match for me, but I felt like I needed more time to figure out which area of law interested me. I left after the first year and decided to find internships involving different types of the law. After a year of gaining experience, I applied to a different law school and pursued my J.D. knowing what my goals were.

Brian: I studied engineering in undergrad, but I was pretty sure I did not want to work as an engineer. In fact, after having done some summer legal internships, I was fairly certain that I wanted to be a lawyer. I also already had some ideas about what areas of law I might be interested in. Thus, I was excited to switch gears and move on. Additionally, I suspected that I would sort of “forget how to be a student” if I left the academic environment for a while and came back.

Do you have any regrets about your decision?

Ashley: No. Taking time off before going to law school helped me understand my goals better and allowed me to gain experience that helped me excel in both school and internships.

Brian: Not really. I definitely see the potential benefits of taking time off, but I think I made the right choice overall for my individual situation.

Why should someone either take time off or go directly to law school?

Ashley: I strongly recommend people take time off between undergraduate school and law school for two reasons. First, you will have more time to study for the LSAT and work on your applications. Second, you will have the chance to build experience in different legal areas  and gauge your legal interests. If you spend the time working in the legal field, the knowledge and skills you develop may help you in school and with future internships. This is also a great opportunity to earn and save money since working during law school is difficult.

Brian: It depends on whether you are satisfied with your law school admissions results and have some idea of what you want to do with your law degree. Plenty of law students start directly after undergrad with the habits, skills, and instincts of a student still fresh in their minds. During law school, you will have the time and opportunity to narrow down your target area through classes, internships/externships, and extracurriculars, as well as by talking to professors and hearing from all sorts of practitioners. Going straight to law school enables you to get to your dream job sooner—and start earning a lawyer’s salary sooner, if that is important to you. Many employers won’t mind that you lack years of significant work experience, as long as you have some experience under your belt (e.g., a summer internship or part-time job during undergrad). If your financial situation allows, going directly to law school can be a great way to get on the fast track to your goals.

How did your decision impact the way you approached or experienced law school?

Ashley: Having the time off helped me approach law school with a serious mindset. Because I spent my year at a refugee center and at a corporation, I knew that a J.D. was necessary for me to achieve my goals. When I first went to law school, I did not fully understand the value of a J.D.

Brian: Since I never stopped being in “student mode,” I was very motivated and determined to do well and to improve upon my undergrad performance. Interestingly, I found that it can be both daunting and satisfying to be in the same class as people who are mostly older than yourself.

What do you think you would have done if faced with the decision during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Ashley: After looking at this question for a few minutes, I still do not know my answer. I think I would have taken time off before going to law school. I would not have excelled as much with virtual classes because that does not align with my learning style.

Brian: I’m not a huge fan of virtual classes either, and the effects of the pandemic would take a toll on the overall experience of law school. That makes the decision to wait or go straight through more pertinent than ever. I think I still would have applied and considered my options. If my law school of choice planned to safely offer in-person classes (which some schools are doing for first-year students) and I did not have much else going on for the year, I probably would have enrolled.

Ashley & Brian: While there are pros and cons to each path, the decision ultimately comes down to your personal factors and preferences.

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