-People usually ask me about how to get out of law. But today a reader asks if it's too late for her to get into the game:
I am a D.C.–based, middle-aged, midcareer government relations professional who's trying to decide what to do with the second half of my life. I'm going through career counseling now, looking for a job that pays bills and is emotionally and intellectually rewarding. I've been aptitude-tested (high on verbal, analytical, and logic skills). I'm thinking seriously about public service law.
I'm married, have two kids (15 and 11), and I want my life to mean something more. And law is portable: I can go anywhere in the U.S. (all things being equal) and be a lawyer. I can't go anywhere and be a PAC [political action committee] manager, which is what I do now.
So, the economy is in the tank, there's a glut of lawyers, and new grads can't find jobs. And, oh, by the way, we're all going to die. Is law school at middle age worth doing?
I don't usually recommend law school to most people, but I do remember that some of the most focused students in law school were older. Unlike the 20-somethings, they saw studying law as a privilege.
But what happens when they leave law school? How do they ultimately fare? Two experts' views:
Marilyn Tucker, director of alumni career services at Georgetown Law Center (she's also served as an adviser for women who pursued law as a second career):
Before you leave your current job, you should do the following:
1. Do an honest assessment of why you want a law degree—is it the work (assuming you know what the work will be like), the prestige, or the intellectual exercise?
2. Do the homework—contact the career service office at law schools in your area and ask them about programs on public sector careers; shadow lawyers in the field; and talk to people who have gone to law school in midlife, and ask them if they would go back to law school again.
3. Ask yourself whether a law degree is really necessary for what you want to do. Is it worth the cost? Or can you achieve the same ends without it? Keep in mind that you will likely make less as a junior public interest lawyer than what you are currently making.
It is worth noting that federal agencies have law-related positions that do not require a law degree, including contract administrator, equal opportunity compliance specialist, and consumer safety inspector—to name a few.
4. Understand that going to law school at this stage is risky, especially given the uncertain economy. But even when the economy was sailing along beautifully, it was more difficult for second-career graduates. Be prepared that it might take nine months to a year to get a job. Age discrimination is definitely out there.
You really have to step out of your comfort zone.
You mentioned public service law, but that is very broad. More important than the public service versus private sector distinction is how your personality fits with certain types of practices. If you enjoy debating with your friends, you might enjoy litigation. If you hate debating, you will not be happy as a litigator, even if it’s in the public service sphere.
Many people choose law school because they are at a career crossroad and are not sure what to do next. It happens to recent college grads and midlife professionals as well. If you have enough money saved up and your debt will not be overwhelming, going to law school can’t hurt. But it also can’t hurt to learn how to fly a helicopter.