Law School Gap Year(s)?

A Discussion of my Decision to Wait Until the Year After Undergrad to Apply to Law School
Tags: gap year, KJD, law school timeline
Apr 2, 2023

Table of Contents

  1. Why I Don't Regret My Gap Year
  2. Benefits of Gap Year Before Law School: Admissions
  3. Benefits of Gap Year Before Law School: Law School
  4. Benefits of Gap Year Before Law School: Job Recruitment
  5. Things You Can Do During a Gap Year Before Law School
  6. Related Articles

Why I Don’t Regret My Gap Year Before Law School

Taking a gap year has become more common over time, as admissions committees and employers have indicated that they appreciate the maturity, professional experience, and transferable skills that come with holding a full time professional role prior to continuing with a legal education. As an example, 82% of my Harvard Law classmates took at least one gap year before law school. By the time I graduated from college, I still wasn’t certain that applying to law school was the right next step for me. Because of this, I decided to take a gap year, to gain work experience as a paralegal, and to ensure that I was fully prepared to make the financial and temporal commitment of a JD degree. For me, taking this gap year worked out overwhelmingly to my benefit.

Benefits of Gap Year Before Law School: Admissions

I had a STEM-related major in undergrad, and did not have a lot of legal-related experience prior to taking on a role as a paralegal. Because of my particular background, having law-specific work experience helped a great deal in demonstrating interest, as well as conveying to admissions committees that I had an idea of what I was getting myself into, and wouldn’t drop out of school after my first real brush with “the law.” Law-specific work experience during a gap year is especially helpful to demonstrate both of these qualities, as well as maturity, and a higher likelihood of success both during law school and with post-graduate employment prospects. However, non-legal work experience, especially if an individual already has some elements in their background that demonstrate interest in the legal field, can be just as helpful to an application. Many of my friends had finance or consulting backgrounds, worked as teachers, or otherwise held roles that demonstrated applicable and transferable skills, maturity, and an understanding of professional conduct. Having an interesting work background can also provide a compelling basis for a personal statement, especially if an individual wants to return to the field they have started in, knows how a J.D. will be of benefit to them, and specifically how they hope to apply the degree to their field. 

Additionally, if you need more time to maximize your LSAT score and/or polish application elements, waiting a year to ensure that you submit the best application possible will help you to maximize your potential with offers of admission and financial aid.

Benefits of Gap Year Before Law School: Law School

The benefits of work experience in law school will primarily come from law-related work experience, but working in an adjacent field may sometimes provide helpful background knowledge as well. For example, friends with a finance background tended to grasp concepts more quickly in contracts, while others who had experience in the political realm had an edge in our legislation and regulation course. I personally worked at a transactional law firm, and found that my prior experience working with contracts was a huge benefit to me in my contracts class. I received a high grade in the course, and I attribute this result primarily to my year of background work with the subject matter. Having practical legal experience in any form prior to entering law school can be a huge help with understanding and synthesizing material that may otherwise be quite foreign. 

Benefits of Gap Year Before Law School: Job Recruitment

Finally, the benefits of work experience will absolutely be felt once job recruitment begins for summer and post-grad positions. The job recruitment process for post-JD positions begins very quickly – as early as 1L spring semester. Accordingly, many people will start the job recruitment process with a very similar resume to the one that was submitted with their law school application. Any form of professional experience will therefore give you a boost among peers, especially if that experience happens to be legal. I have been told in interviews by a couple of recruiters now that my relevant work experience really helped me to stand out from peers – and that’s with only a single year of paralegal experience, and a few summer internships. Being able to tell interviewers that you already have experience with client interaction, drafting contracts, or working in a high-pressured law firm environment, for example, will inevitably give you a boost in the hiring process. Similarly, being able to discuss work experience in a field connected to your practice area of interest, or in a different high-pressure type of position, will convey qualities, knowledge, and/or skills that will be desired by future employers, and can only be to your benefit. Additionally, having some work experience before law school can be a huge help in narrowing down practice areas of interest – a process that, like job recruitment, happens much faster than you would expect.

Things You Can Do During a Gap Year Before Law School

There are many occupations that you can take on during a gap year before law school – ultimately, the main goal should be to try to ensure that you don’t spend a gap year unemployed (obviously absent personal circumstances that may make a total break necessary to you). The following list includes positions that, in my experience, have been looked on favorably by either legal employers or law school admissions committees (in no particular order):

  1. Paralegal/Legal Assistant – For the reasons already mentioned in detail above, a role in the legal field before law school will help you to develop a familiarity with legal concepts prior to law school, demonstrate interest, market yourself to future employers, and help you narrow down a practice area of interest. 
  2. Teach For America (or other similar position) – if you have an interest in teaching or academia.
  3. A public interest position in an area of interest –especially if you think you may be interested in returning to a similar area with a JD in future.
  4. Consulting – Anecdotally, I have met a lot of people who spent a few gap years in consulting, and have heard friends say that they found it to be a rewarding use of time over a gap year.
  5. Work in an area of passion unrelated to law, that you could see intersecting with your future career as an attorney– For example, if you think you want to work in entertainment law, try to become a production assistant; if you are interested in becoming an academic, work under a professor as a research assistant.
  6. Work in the services industry – take up a job at Trader Joes or a coffee shop, and then tell admissions committees and employers all about the client-interaction and customer service skills you learned.
  7. Work as an assistant to a judge, on a team of congressional staff, or another politics-related or -adjacent role.

Overall, I don’t have any regrets about taking a gap year before law school. Spending a year after college working will not have a significant impact on the timing of your career – but could be quite influential on your choices of law schools, and overall career trajectory. With that said, I do know plenty of “KJDs” (kindergarten → JDs) who are incredibly successful, and have thrived with the timing of their law school experience. Some people espouse the benefits of staying consistently in an academic environment, especially before getting a taste of real paychecks and feeling the lack more acutely when returning to school afterwards. Either way, the gap year decision is an important one, and should be deliberate, informed, and thoughtful. Hopefully this article will help to ensure that your decision can be all of those things! 

Related Articles

  1. LSAT & Application Timeline as an Undergrad
  2. Understanding your LSAT Score - For Applicants
  3. What is a good LSAT Score
Pilea HLS '24

I graduated from college in 2020, and took one gap year of work as a paralegal before starting at Harvard Law. I never expected to be admitted to Harvard when I started my law school application process, and I’m incredibly grateful to be here now. I spent a LOT of time researching law school admissions during my application year, and took on the role of a part time admissions/LSAT tutor last year with the goal of spreading the knowledge that I gained through my app process to hopefully help others with similar aspirations!


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PSA for anyone headed to school this fall or next: look into your state's 529 plan and any related tax benefits
Depending on state (and especially if you're working before school), room to save thousands of dollars over 3 years (4 tax years) in school
do we smell any news for us in the waitlist hell
im so dumb its literally Saturday
bbq it is
law school has made me unaware of the days of the week
me too, me too
do you guys want to hear my newest irrational fear
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That you have so much fun tonight dancing after the sun goes down you fall in love but way too hard and your heart pops!
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Hi wherever you are hope you have a great Saturday! Stay hydrated!
hydrating! 👹
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Hahah lolll show those fools your dance moves!! I am actually about to start working until about 4 in the morning so I can go out of town Tuesday so avenge me!
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I came face to face with an Amazon worker on prime day though and that was crazy. Don’t think I’ll ever forget that. They looked completely drained it was insane.
rip to that young lad, wishing them hydration and days off from work. don’t work yourself too hard ara! chronic stress kills!
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Thanks wasp right back at you! You too! This work is really interesting! It’s one of three jobs where it’s been hard to stop before school starts for sure.
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