The average prospective law student decides on law school in undergrad and begins the application process in time to enroll in law school immediately after graduating college. On its face, this seems reasonable. Why waste years in between college and law school if the student knows he or she wants to be a lawyer? This will only slow down the end goal, so the student might as well go straight through to begin that career as early as possible. However, with the legal economy in an indefinite slump, the competition over entry-level legal positions is so fierce that deciding on going straight through from undergrad to law school, the K-JD path, may put a law student at a disadvantage compared to his or her peers with even a year’s worth of substantive work experience. In a time when legal employers are swamped with applications from 3Ls, recent law graduates, and even practicing lawyers, it becomes much harder for these employers to evaluate each application thoroughly. Because strictly scrutinizing a mountain of candidate applications wastes too many resources, especially when a position is time-sensitive, these legal employers often turn to surface-level assumptions that segregate candidates into a yes and no pile depending on particularly desired qualities. When there is an abundance of qualified candidates, one of those qualities, it seems, is whether a candidate is a K-JD or has some real world experience under his or her belt.
Lawyers are on average pretty risk averse. This type of thinking impacts almost every decision they make. It is not surprising, then, that they often exercise caution in the hiring context as well. Caution over hiring K-JDs, in particular. To some legal employers, a K-JD law student is a career student. From kindergarten, he or she has been confined to the classroom setting with little to no exposure to the outside working world. Odd part-time jobs aside, there is often a worry that a K-JD law student may not adapt properly to an office-type setting. In other words, enter the office hierarchy and be able to organize their work properly, work closely and as a team with co-workers, and listen intently to superiors. Some may find this doubt a bit ludicrous. However, when the competitiveness of a given field continues to grow, the standards for entry continue to climb as well. Nothing becomes out of the question, especially when it can be reasonably rationalized. For example, some people are unable to organize their work and meet deadlines even though they may be very smart. Others are unable to get along with co-workers even though they submit very high quality work. Even worse, some are simply unable to handle the negatives of the daily work grind. It is not unreasonable for these employer worries to potentially manifest in an unproven K-JD candidate applying for an entry-level legal position, particularly when there are plenty of candidates with prior work experience that may be, rightly or wrongly, more seasoned. Regardless of its merits, the problem for K-JD law students lies in the fact that a legal employer may hold this assumption. Even if it is not true, a K-JD candidate will not have the ability to overcome it if it is a motivating factor in disqualification because of an early ding.
For 2L OCI, great grades and a solid interview are often able to seal the deal regardless of K-JD status. However, the potential importance of being a K-JD is most often apparent in the pool of candidates that do not have the best grades, but limbo grades. Limbo grades are grades that are not spectacular but competitive enough to still have a shot at a big firm. Because these law students with limbo grades are competing for the remaining big firm positions not filled by the top prospects, a law student’s K-JD status may place the student at a disadvantage. On the other hand, at least a year of solid work experience may provide an edge to that same candidate over his or her otherwise similarly-situated peers. It is not uncommon to hear about law students with prior work experience outperforming their K-JD peers during OCI. At worst, this prior work experience will be negligible. At best, it may tick off another check box that places you closer to the top of the stack of applications.
Outside of the immediate law school job search, taking at least a year off from school to work in an entry-level position before enrolling in law school has some extremely practical benefits as well. No longer in the college bubble, where money is often not an issue and no responsibilities are present, a prospective law student will learn the power of the dollar. Things such as paying for expenses and seeing how far a particular salary reaches are invaluable experiences that help bring a new level of maturity to college graduates. It also allows a prospective law student to save up some money to help pay for any potential law school enrollment. Perhaps most importantly, dealing with monthly finances will help many prospective law students understand the impact that student loans could have on their lives. That is something that some K-JD students do not consider prior to enrolling in law school. Because they have not worked enough to finance much, if any, of their education, the consequences of taking out significant student loans are not understood until after graduation from law school. Of course, obtaining an entry-level position in an office setting is not exactly easy to do in today’s economy. It is especially hard for bachelor of arts graduates. However, you have to keep in mind that law school is not going anywhere. It will not run away on you because you didn’t enroll immediately after college. In addition, there is no benefit in rushing to law school in today’s legal economy. Things are not on the upswing, and at this point one can hope the state of the legal market has nowhere to go but up. The least you can do is wait it out by giving yourself at least a year to try to obtain an entry-level position. In the end, if you are successful and you still want to go to law school, you will have an extra advantage on your resume and hopefully some money to help minimize any student loan financing necessary for enrollment. If you’re not successful, law school will still welcome you with open arms. The legal market may even improve. You can’t go wrong with that.