Why Work Experience Matters for Law School Applicants

In recent years, many law schools have indicated a preference for applicants with real-world experience over those applying straight from college.

For example, 82% of the class of 2021 at Harvard Law School arrived on campus with at least one year of work experience. The top-ranked school placed increased weight on work experience roughly a decade ago, after seeing that students with work experience were better prepared to handle the challenges of law school.

Likewise, at least 90% of students at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law have at least one year of full-time work experience. The law school’s website boasts: “This real-world knowledge contributes to our students’ maturity, dedication, and focus.”

Work experience can take a wide range of forms. Certainly, experience in legal offices is common and highly relevant. Other common backgrounds include business, nonprofits, teaching and public service.

[Read: 5 Ways Paralegal Experience Can Help Law School Applicants]

However, applicants with an unconventional background can also stand out. My law school class included a professional pastry chef, a beauty pageant winner and a rock musician.

Including Your Work History in Your Application

Your law school resume should clearly present all your work experience. Schools also commonly ask applicants to list each significant job or volunteer position individually on a separate form for easy comparison.

Consider integrating such experience into the personal statement, as well. While your resume presents the objective facts about your job and its responsibilities, your personal statement gives you an opportunity to breathe life into the subjective experience of your work.

[Read: 2 Law School Personal Statements That Succeeded.]

Try to provide specific examples of meaningful experiences in which you displayed qualities that schools value, like diligence, maturity and leadership. What were some of the challenges you faced, how did you address them and how did each experience shape your path to law school?

If the law school has interviews, be ready for a work-related question. Common topics include challenges you faced, examples of teamwork and how you handled setbacks or failures.

Advice for Applicants Who Lack Work Experience

If you have not been in the workforce long, be sure your resume highlights the experience you do have. Include all jobs before or during college, summer internships and campus jobs like teaching or assisting with research.

Don’t hesitate to list service jobs or seasonal jobs like lifeguard or camp counselor. Law is a service profession, and many lawyers work under pressure with difficult clients.

If you have a long gap in your resume or a dearth of work experience due to some life circumstance like a family obligation or an injury or illness, include a brief addendum to provide that explanatory context to the admissions committee.

For example, one of my clients was unable to work after college because the sudden death of a parent left her managing both her grief and the family finances. Her addendum explained her personal challenges and responsibilities in a way her resume could never convey.

Advice for Applicants With Significant Work Experience

Applicants with a wealth of work experience should include an extensive resume of up to two pages in length. Older applicants who have been in the workforce for many years should be careful how they communicate their work experience to admissions officers who have little familiarity with their field.

Scour your resume for any jargon or technical details. Translate your responsibilities and achievements into plain English. Terms like “deliverables,” “synergy,” “deal flow,” “downstream,” “operationalize,” “matrix” — and “vertical” as a noun — may sound vague and meaningless to admissions officers unaccustomed to corporate buzzwords.

[Read: Before Law School, Learn to Read, Write Like a Law Student]

However, corporate America is not unique in its use of jargon. Whether your experience is in the military, academia, medicine or the nonprofit sector, watch out for language that will sound opaque to an outsider.

Applicants used to business writing should also be wary of the passive voice, overly complex sentences and getting lost in the nitty-gritty of a deal or project. Keep the focus on you.

Work experience is just one factor in a law school application. Ultimately, law schools seek to balance their class. However much real-world experience you bring to the table, there will be a seat for someone at your level.

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Why Work Experience Matters for Law School Applicants originally appeared on usnews.com

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