Whether one should take time off before law school is an often-discussed topic both before and during Law School. Law Schools frequently encourage work experience, and a few even require it. Should you take a few years off before going on to law school? In this and subsequent posts, I will try to help you think about and decide this very important issue. For the purposes of this discussion, I use the phrase 'work experience' to include post-graduate degrees, as well as endeavors such as the Peace Corps, Teach for America, political campaigns, world travel and other post-graduate experiences that are far more than just work.
The first question is whether work experience makes a stronger application. The short answer is yes. An application from someone employed full-time after college is often focused, insightful, and reflective in ways that a first-semester college senior sometimes is not. The working applicant will also have a complete college transcript, as well as another year's worth of volunteer, extra-curricular and possibly academic achievements to showcase, along with their work experience.
This is not to say that only people with work experience are admitted to U of C or other law schools; each year we spend a lot of time recruiting college seniors, and we admit many of those students. Think of it this way: let's say you have two applications on your desk with similar scores, grades and college experiences on their resumes. Applicant A is a college senior, and Applicant B graduated from that same college two years ago and has been working as an investment banker, peace corps member, or political advisor, and now you have to decide who to admit. You may admit both, you may deny both, but if both are borderline, the one with the work experience is going to have an edge.
The next question is whether work experience is good for things other than improving your chances of admission. Again, the answer to this question is usually yes. Most students tell us that taking time off before law school was the best decision they ever made (other than choosing Chicago!) and the experiences, friends, and accomplishments during that time have enhanced their enjoyment and understanding of the Law. We also think prior work experience is useful in the legal job search, it helps students understand what they value in an employer, and lets employers know that the student is familiar with the demands of a full-time career.
That is a quick take on the issue, we have asked several students who chose both routes to law school to give their opinions on the issue, and will post their first-hand thoughts sometime soon!