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The Benefits of Working Before Law School

M.Z., 1L

The worth of prior non-legal jobs

There is a moment in the first few days of law school when you wonder if everyone had prior experience with the law. A good proportion of my class has worked for a law firm or the Department of Justice, or did prior legal research for their degree. It is important to understand what the law is – otherwise it’s difficult to assess whether you’ll enjoy it – but like me, your experiences with legal scholarship may be tangential: taking a class here or there, encountering legal obstacles in the pursuit of another objective, or watching – with an abiding love – the second half of Law and Order episodes. Regardless, you may wonder what your non-legal experiences offer as a prospective law student. I offer three possible benefits below.

You’ve been wrong or ignorant before

The students at YLS are amazingly brilliant. The downside of this is that many have never been incorrect in an academic setting. You are guaranteed at least one cold call where you have such an experience: you are either unbelievably wrong or stupefying unprepared. And that is not only alright and expected, but it’s critical to figuring out how to learn this craft. However, if you’ve never been in a comparable position of ignorance, those moments can deliver body blows to self-esteem. Before coming to law school, I worked as a management consultant, and the first six months on the job taught me just how little I knew about the world. Those sorts of experiences make the cold calls less scary: you’ve been wrong before, and you know how to pick yourself back up and reassess the situation.

You can take the workload

There’s a lot of reading in law school. The page count is often low – thirty pages for a given class – but it’s dense and difficult, and it can even feel like a foreign language (especially if written prior to 1950 or so). While doing all of your work is important, there are times when it’s not possible. Having been burdened before – certainly as a consultant my duties exceeded my available time – you’ve learned how to prioritize, and manage your stress as you let some things sit for a few days. This is crucial for sanity, sleep, and self-esteem.

Yeah, but…

Most importantly, you bring real world perspective. The law is weird thing, an insular world playing by its own rules, but impacting the lives of everyone. Having done something non-legal, you’ll have a sense of how black letter rules influence actors outside the legal bubble, and you’ll be better able once you leave YLS to use the law to truly make the world a better place.