By Andy A.
After going through four years of undergraduate education, students interested in law school may wonder whether they should take a year or more off to work or pursue other extracurriculars. The answer really depends on your circumstances and the gamut of your experiences.
But overall, I recommend that students consider taking some time off to get some work experience before law school. While students who go straight through from college to law school can do well, having some relevant work experience will definitely help students find a job before graduating law school.
In this article, I’ll talk about good and bad reasons to take a gap year.
A Bad Reason
1. Fluffing Up Your Resume for Law Schools Admissions
First, let’s talk about a bad reason for taking a gap year. If you think having some work experience on your resume will help you get into the law school of your choice, think again. Law school admissions is mostly a numbers game, meaning your LSAT and undergraduate GPA will do the majority of the heavy lifting (especially for top 14 law school admissions).
Work experience is one of those “soft factors” that can tip you into the acceptance pile if admissions is choosing between two candidates to admit. Soft factors will not remedy a poor undergraduate GPA or a low LSAT score.
If you are lacking in your undergrad GPA, make up for it with a strong LSAT score. If you are lacking in your LSAT score, let’s hope your undergraduate GPA is up to par. If not, study for and take the LSAT again.
While working as a paralegal at a law firm can provide valuable experiences, this alone will not get you into law school.
Some Good Reasons
2. Taking a Breather to Prevent Yourself From Burning Out
Depending on what your undergraduate major is, you may be incredibly burned out from school. The last thing you want to do is to walk into your first-year of law school without enough energy and motivation.
If you thought college was tough, law school may push you over the edge. Unlike in college where everyone can theoretically get an A in the class, law schools enforce a curve so that some must succeed at the expense of others.
In other words, students are ranked in the order of their final scores. The top 5% or so will get an A. The next 5% will get an A-, and so on – until you reach the bottom scorers of the class who will receive a final grade potentially below a B- (depending on what school you attend). Thus, you want to ensure that you are ready to tackle the legal curriculum once law school starts.
I personally took a year off to get some work experience, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Not only did I accumulate valuable work experience, I also had a lot of time to travel to different countries and to enjoy my time away from school.
During my vacations, I would do some light reading about ways to prepare for law school by reading the materials now posted on this website (How to Prepare for Law School (1L) During Your Summer Vacation).
When I started law school at the end of my gap year, I was well-rested and ready to jump into my studies. I had a complete game plan ready to execute, and I subsequently graded into the top 10% of my 1L class that year.
So if you are feeling a little burned out, perhaps taking a year or so off away from school would be beneficial.
2. Pursuing a Passion
Once you start law school, you’ll have little time to do anything else. If you want to stay competitive for the job market, you need to do the best you can with your grades.Your sole focus should be on learning the material. You shouldn’t be doing anything else that would distract you from your academic goals – that includes having a part-time job during law school.
What about winter breaks during law school? Law students generally get about 3 weeks of between their first and second semesters of the year. This is definitely not enough time to take on any sort of long-term passion project.
What about summer breaks during law school? As a law student, you should take on legal internships to get practical experience. The worst thing you can do to bomb your post-graduate employability is to do nothing legal-related.
After you graduate and start your new job as a lawyer, you’ll have even less time (especially if you are in Big Law). If you want to get an idea of how much lawyers work, we wrote a detailed article with examples here.
Therefore, if you have any last-minute, burning passions you want to pursue, a gap year is the best time to accomplish them.
3. Allowing Admissions to Get a Full Picture of Your Undergrad GPA
If you don’t plan on taking a gap year before law school, that means you will be submitting your applications during the first semester of your senior year of college. If you have a less than stellar undergrad GPA, you may want to consider taking a gap year so you can apply after all of your grades for your senior year are released.
As discussed above, law school admissions mostly care about two metrics: your undergrad GPA and your LSAT score. A lower undergrad GPA can be partially remedied by showing an upward trending of your grades. For instance, you may have bombed freshman year, but if you knock out sophomore, junior, and senior year in terms of grades (that means getting A’s and A-’s), then law school admissions will take note.
An extra line of A’s and A-’s during your senior year may make the difference between getting a rejection letter and an acceptance letter.
4. Getting a Leg Up During Law Firm Interviews
When interviewing for a law firm job, having some relevant work experience will definitely give you an advantage over other students who went straight through from college to law school (K-JD). This is especially true for Big Law firms.
Put yourself in the perspective of the interviewer: your first interviewee is a bright K-JD who was the President of Relay for Life at their college and College Council Class President. As a result, they organized many successful events for their student body and raised a lot of money for cancer survivors/patients.
Compare this to your second interviewee who spent two years as a consultant at Accenture before attending law school. This candidate identified problems at Fortune 500 companies and implemented solutions, boosting the efficiencies of those companies and saving their clients millions of dollars. As a result, they can more easily understand the business-side issues of your law firm’s clients. This candidate also possess many more transferable skills from working in the corporate world and has had much direct client contact.
Without more, the difference between these two candidates is glaring and the choice is clear. My classmates currently working in Big Law firms who have served as interviewers for their firms all share a similar experience with these two types of candidates: in general, the students with work experience appeared more mature and ready to hit the ground running in a law firm setting.
However, this is not to say that K-JDs never do well during law firm interviews. When I was in law school, many of my classmates who were K-JDs accumulated multiple offers from Big Law firms. Why? Despite their lack of work experience, they were able to weave together a coherent story about why they wanted to work at X firm and they articulated this purpose clearly and persuasively.
Nevertheless, relevant work experience can make things easier for you. Your path uphill to getting a job may be less steep if you are able to relay your experiences and articulate why those experiences would be relevant to a law firm setting.
As an added bonus, you may naturally make contacts while working during your gap year that will ultimately help you get a legal job later. Hate it or love it – networking is crucial during law school for getting a job.
Unless you know exactly what kind of lawyer you want to be, have an excellent undergraduate GPA and LSAT score, and have the energy to effortlessly power through intense studying for another three years, I would recommend that you consider taking a gap year. Just make sure you do something productive that will help you grow as a person and make you an attractive candidate for legal jobs during law school.