Stop! Runaway! Hide!
Alas, students who enter law school later in life tend to be an intrepid lot. They need to be.
Law school is tough on everyone but more so on mature students who often have non-academic obligations such as family, work, and debt. And then there are surprises.
Many of your classmates will come from privileged backgrounds. Some will try to downplay it; others will flaunt it. Work during the school year is not a necessity for them. Their parents are generally lawyers, judges, bankers or business leaders.
An interesting observation made by a friend of mine is that the vast majority of law students’ parents have never been divorced or separated. An informal survey we completed supports this finding.
Whereas mature students are likely not from wealth or they would have attended law school earlier. This inequity is especially apparent in courses where the only way to find the correct answer is to call a lawyer, like your mother or father, which I experienced in Civil Procedure last spring.
However, the greatest problem for mature students is age discrimination. It is rampant in the legal profession which traditionally was and remains in many ways a tight oligarchy. The reality is that many Bay Street firms prefer to hire eager young impressionable students who are willing to work exceeding long hours without job security for their first real paycheque rather than hiring older more experienced students with established work records but who value their quality of life.
And age discrimination is not just found on Bay Street. For nearly all international internships, there are age restrictions. Canadian anti-discrimination laws do not apply abroad. The International Criminal Court, for instance, caps the maximum age at 34 despite the fact that Canada is a signatory to the Rome Statute.
But hold fast Mature Students! The fight is not lost. There are ways to compete. The first priority is to make friends. If you have a car, this will help. Most young law students are only too willing to be of assistance when asked and will be very respectful. Secondly, embrace technology and take full advantage of the social media world of web 2.0. Facebook and Twitter are your friends when used appropriately and effectively. Thirdly, try to adapt your previous work experience with a niche legal market. For example, if you are a science or engineer type, consider pursing intellectual property as an area of practice.
Lastly, keep your patience. Academia is a bubble environment not to be confused with the real world. There will be times when you will have to control your inner voice. On the other hand, academia is a nice comfortable environment. The buildings are warm, the roof does not leak, and you can have a beer at lunch.
Will law school be worth it? Absolutely. Soon you will be able to answer in the affirmative the all-too-common question “What are you, a lawyer?” Take solace in the fact that most students survive law school, even mature ones.
Joel Welch is the incoming President of the Mature Students Club at UWO Law.