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Many of you may wonder who is considered an “experienced” law student. For the purposes of this section, we’re considering an experienced law students as students who are entering law school after a period out of school or after pursuing long-term educational or career opportunities in another field. In the public sector, maturity, life experience, and work experience (particularly if at all relevant in the area of law you want to practice) are almost always seen as positive.
Prior work experience is often marketable to a public interest employer, and in many cases can be considered an asset. Public interest employers often do not have the resources private firms do, so having someone with prior work experience who is able to step in and handle a great deal of responsibility without a great deal of supervision can be advantageous.
Don’t leave off prior experience even if you think it is not relevant or if you worry that it is not glamorous. If “marketed” properly, public interest employers will value even fairly menial work. Working as a waiter or waitress at a restaurant, for example, can show that you are willing to work hard, that you are not a prima dona and that you have interpersonal skills (see Ben Maxymuk's interview for an example). If you have any questions about what to include and what to leave off, or how to frame your experience, an OPIA advisor is happy to help you.
Non-traditional students may also wonder how their work experience prior to law school affects them during the interview process or how they should include their past experience on their resume. We often suggest that students should limit their resume to one-page in length. For experienced students, this does not always apply. It may be difficult to limit yourself to one page if you believe you’re cutting out essential experience you want the employer to know about. Although there are no specific rules to resume length, a two page resume for experienced students should be sufficient, unless you’re applying to a position within academia or to postgraduate fellowships. In these cases, a longer resume is necessary. For some examples of what an "experienced student" resume might look like, click on James Bickford or David Lifland's profiles below.
The interviewing tips below are highlights of our full interviewing and networking page.
Be ready to address weak areas of your resume, such as gaps between jobs or schooling, sudden changes in career direction or poor grades. Everyone has weak spots hidden within his or her resume. If you’re an experienced interviewee, you should be able to quickly mark those areas for questioning. Avoid appearing apologetic, defensive or insecure and be willing to talk about these areas briefly and openly.
If you have had a previous career, be prepared to thoughtfully answer questions about why you decided to go to law school and, if you have shifted practice settings or substantive focus, why you have made the shift. For example, if your previous work experience was all in the private sector, be ready to explain (especially for your first summer job) why you now want to work in the public sector (see David Lifland's interview, for example). Public sector employers really seek people with a passion for their work, so you must be ready to convey that passion, especially if you do not already have a public interest track record or experience in their substantive area of law.
If your previous experience was all in academia (e.g. you were in a PhD program) be ready to explain why you have decided to pursue the public interest practice as opposed to the academic path.
Be prepared to address questions on how you might handle being supervised by someone who is younger than you or who may have had less work experience. If you put a career on hold to raise a family and get married, you might also have to face questions about readjusting to a busy work schedule and juggling a career and family simultaneously. This makes it even more essential to be as well-prepared in advance as possible. Read our experienced students interview questions to get a sense of some of the questions you might face during a job interview.
Below we’ve included some Q&A responses from alumni that had careers prior to entering law school. These students offered their input on from summer job issues, activities at the law school, resume writing, and other topics. While these should not serve as a comprehensive representation of what older/more experienced students encountered when deciding to go to law school, this does provide a few perspectives that could be helpful in deciding your own path.
James Bickford worked in public policy related positions and obtained a Masters in Literature before deciding to go to law school.
Holly Idelson got her start as a political reporter, frequently contributing to C-SPAN and writing for Congressional Quarterly for a number of years.
Annie started at Americorps working on adult literacy, followed by work with the Center for Conflict Resolution and then as a doula for teen mothers
David Lifland, a 2011 graduate, talks about his transitioning from years as a consultant to going back to school after 15 years.
Jane had a varied career path before entering law school, including being a teacher, journalist and public radio producer.
Ben held numerous jobs before taking the plunge into law school.
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