Advice for Incoming Mature Law Students

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.

12 Comments on "Advice for Incoming Mature Law Students"

  1. Thanks. I’m new to this blogging thing but I’ve been known to start a good discussion now and again. I appreciate the comment.

  2. Good post. I sort of wish there had been a Mature Students Club at UVic when I was there.

  3. E. Bardowell | August 26, 2009 at 8:19 am |

    Well said. However, the mature student brings a wealth of life experience to the class room. This experience is important in discussions and summation of legal facts. Many of the mature students have lived through some of the cases that are discussed in the lecture hall and they are able to bring a new and refreshing perspective to the discussions. A law degree is still an undergraduate degree; some of the mature students have advanced academic degrees and know how to study and do competent research. The most important thing they bring to the table is the ability to plan and balance their activities in terms of meeting deadlines and produce quality work. Future employers should be happy to have mature students among the young and experience. Finally, they tend to do well in law school due to their work ethics.

  4. I’m 29. Does that count as mature? I went to campus for the first time today and almost lost my mind. When I was 19 I didn’t have a girlfiend. Now I do. Hopefully my old-maness scares them off so I don’t have to.

  5. I like your article very much. I think that anybody over 25 years of age is considered a Mature Student. Thank you for posting it and will pass on the wise words to others.

  6. Thanks. This was encouraging. I struggled through my undergrad because I found it difficult raising my family and dealing with health issues. Plus I was unsure if university was still for me. I am 27 now and 1 credit shy of my undergrad degree. I am excited and nervous because I have to wait three more years before I apply as a mature student. I am confident that the wait will test my patience, but as long as I stay focused, I can do it. Do you think the trend will change? Where firms will start to see that mothers/parents with older children make more stable employees than the care-free, twenty-something grad who is continuously looking for the next thing???

  7. I’m 44 years old, and about halfway through my undergrad, with aspirations of law school and hanging out a shingle for a niche market that is currently underserved by the legal profession. I won’t make a killing, but I’ll make a decent living compared to my years as manager of a small mom n pop carpet cleaning company. The key for me so far has been the unwavering support of my wife, which in combination with the support of my family and friends, is keeping me on track for this. I’ll be at least 50 by the time I’m able to enter the profession, but that’s okay with me. There is a benefit to being much older than the other students in an academic environment. The older one gets, the less important it is to “fit in” for the sake of fitting in, and conflict is much easier to deal with considering the years of experience in the “real world”.

  8. Comment on Bob’s posting:

    Well done Bob. It is annoying that age is regarded as a disadvantage. Sure, one may not consider a career which requires a younger man’s skills and physical abilities, but no one can tell me that a younger man is necessarily advantaged by age in his intellectual capacity. I am 55 and thinking of a career change, may even be law if I can get in !

  9. What if you have complex layers such as being mature (almost 45), disabled, poor and outspoken – what kind of a mix is that for a law student. I attended Law School for one year and it is the impetus for my current career as a Diversity Strategist – we need to address the worse case scenarios and not limit ourselves to the little problems that may arise – we could have used a mature students forum in 2005. Way to go – great information.

  10. kim arnold | March 7, 2012 at 10:11 pm |

    Thanks for your insights! I am a 38 year old woman with a young child (I dislike the connotations associated with the term “single parent”) and I am applying for law school next year. I actually relish the confidence and abilities of entering law school as an almost 40 year old but I appreciate there will be challenges as well. Fortunately, I’m tech savvy (Phew, one hurdle down) Glad you shared. :)

  11. Great article!

    I am 26 now and starting a fast-track law degree here in England. AN I WAS SO SO GLAD TO GET IN:) I have studied previous which where health related coursers and it’s great to see that Experience has Great role particularly with community work i have done so much of. However I would also highlight that my background and languages are also a strong plus which I am very glad to have:) Great to read other comments and a fab article!

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