In this article, we want to explore this question of how old is too old for law school. To put it simply, there is no age limit for law school. Even though you may face particular challenges that are different from your younger peers, you can certainly take advantage of law school and use the overall experience to accomplish your career goals. How old is too old for law school? Let’s take a look at the factors you must consider.
Traditionally speaking, law school is something that is often thought of or mentioned as a post-undergraduate option. High schoolers, college students, and recent college graduates, especially those with humanities degrees, think of it as a logical step to a rewarding and lucrative career.
Ultimately, this thesis of law school as a “younger person’s game” is generally backed up by the numbers. According to the Law School Admissions Council (“LSAC”), the average age of law school students is around 22 to 24 years old. These law school students are not taking any time off after their undergraduate studies, instead opting to go straight into law school and graduate when they are around 25-years old.
While this is the typical path, it doesn’t mean that it is the only path. You don’t necessarily need to be a political science or history major coming out of an Ivy League college to attend a quality law school. In fact, being an older applicant can offer you a whole host of advantages—should you choose to exploit them.
Getting Accepted as an Older Applicant
To start, one of the common questions about being an older law school applicant centers on the admissions process. Specifically, many older applicants have concerns about whether any potential bias exists or whether their application will be penalized due to their age.
The good news is that law schools have non-discrimination policies in their admissions. Looking at Harvard Law School’s Notice of Non-Discrimination, for instance, you can see that HLS “does not discriminate against any person on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, age,” and more. Your targeted law schools will have a similar statement. Along with this, there is national legislation that protects older applicants from age discrimination. The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits age discrimination in activities or programs that receive federal financial assistance.
Ultimately, federal law is on your side. Law schools cannot implement programs or systems that prefer younger candidates over older candidates.
Beyond these anti-discrimination policies, let’s talk about the actual process of being accepted to law school. Along with your LSAT score and undergraduate GPA, law schools are primarily looking at recommendations and your personal statement.
The general rule of thumb is that a high LSAT score is most critical to getting into your targeted law school, followed by your undergraduate GPA and other “soft” factors (like your letters of recommendation and personal statement). The top 20 or so law schools have median LSAT scores of 169 or above. Older candidates, therefore, should invest most of their time on achieving the highest possible LSAT score. Their undergraduate GPA will still matter, but it won’t matter as much as those applicants who are coming straight from college. Instead, admissions officers will look more closely at older applicants’ work experience and why they want to go to law school.
As an older candidate, you will also want to focus on your personal statement. In terms of the personal statement, you should be prepared to explain why you want to go to law school, how your professional background has prepared you for law school, and what you are planning to do with a legal degree. As you have a significant amount of professional experience, you should view the personal statement as an opportunity to separate yourself from other applicants. What is it about the real-world experience that has primed you for a successful career in law? Undergrads have little in the way of experience, so spend a good bit of time drafting a master statement in this area. For candidates like you, it can go a long way in winning over the admissions committee and getting accepted to your dream school.
The Benefits of Attending as an Older Law Student
Compared to your younger peers, you can capitalize on several benefits as an older law student.
First is the fact that you are more mature. You have a worldly perspective that you can apply in the classroom. While it may not seem obvious on the surface, this maturity can be a crucial advantage in helping you thrive in the law school experience. You’re able to do better on exams, navigate the rising 2L hiring process, and provide more value in classroom discussions. Even if you haven’t completed an exam in some time, your real-world experience and perspective can be an asset throughout the law school process.
You will likely also have a better idea of what you want to do with your law degree. Many younger law students use law school as a crutch for indecisiveness about their careers. They see a law degree as multi-versatile and think that they can “do anything” with a law degree. You, on the other hand, should have a very specific idea of what you want to accomplish. If, for instance, you have been a paralegal for some time, you know exactly how you will use your law degree after graduating. This can be a key advantage because you’ll spend less time “finding yourself” and more time focusing on the classes that will apply to your chosen niche.
The Disadvantages of Attending as an Older Student
As with anything, there are two sides to the coin when it comes to being an older law student. Two come to mind – time and stamina.
First, there is the question of time. Often, older law students have work responsibilities and need to find time in their schedules to attend law school. Not only that, but older law students may have children and other familial obligations. These are significant responsibilities and can interfere with older law students’ law school experience. It makes it more challenging (but not impossible) to read case law, join clubs, and study for exams. Make sure you objectively determine if you can make the time to accomplish your goals.
Then there is the question of stamina. Simply put, law school is hard. Law school is nothing like the experiences you may recall as an undergraduate student. Law school isn’t so much about technical concepts that are difficult to learn as it is about a massive workload. For example, you will take a class on what can and cannot be entered as evidence in a trial. One of the rules is known as the hearsay rule, which establishes when a person’s statement can be evidence. There are 23 exceptions to the federal hearsay rule, which you need to know inside and out. And it is all covered in a one-hour class.
Law School Costs
Whether you are an older or younger law student, any discussion of law school has to touch on finances. One study found that the average cost of attending a private law school is $43,020 per year. The price for public school students is slightly lower ($26,264 for in-state residents and $39,612 for out-of-state residents).
Clearly, these costs are significant. Older and younger law students alike need to account for how they are actually going to pay for their legal education. Dropping out of law school after accumulating significant debt can be brutal. There are a variety of options, most prominently including public loans, private loans, or scholarships. Scholarships sound great, but many students need to take out loans to fund their education, meaning that they will be paying back those loans many years after they have graduated.
The simple question is, can you afford to make the payments. As a personal aside, I referred to my student loans from law school as my “first child” after graduating. Yes, they were that expensive. My payments were in the $1,500 a month range, and the average law student is surely paying more than that amount now. Run the numbers. Can you afford the loan payments? Just as important, can you afford the term of payments? Many student loans have ten to 15-year payment terms. If you go to law school at 50, are you comfortable making payments until you are 65?
So How Old is Too Old For Law School?
Ultimately, law school is an exciting opportunity for ambitious and intelligent individuals. Whether you want to become a public interest lawyer or a commercial litigator for a prominent firm, a legal education is the first step to achieving your goals.
When discussing age, however, the general maxim is that there is no real age limit. Anyone can apply, so long as they understand the obligations and responsibilities that they are taking on by becoming a law student. Don’t go in blind. Develop a cohesive plan based on research and due diligence. You know – the steps you’ve learned to take when considering any significant decision in your life.
However, make sure you are realistic. Does the time, effort, and cost of attending make sense compared to the potential work-life expectancy you will have as an attorney? Does taking on $100,000 plus in student loans make sense if you are only going to practice for 15 years? Only you can make the decision, but do your best to be objective when doing so.
Becoming a lawyer as an older student is achievable. If you have a law school dream yet are afraid of being “too old” to take on the challenge, we encourage you to give it a go. In all likelihood, you will accomplish your law school dreams and do great work in the legal field.