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Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? While the typical law school student is between the ages of 23 and 26, according to the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), 21.8 percent of all law school applicants in 1999�2000 were over 30. Though their reasons for seeking a legal education and their experiences in their programs differ, the general consensus remains: School isn’t just for kids. Many J.D. programs have fairly flexible schedules that accommodate older students with outside commitments. In addition to offering a full-time program with daytime courses, schools offer evening classes and part-time curricula, allowing J.D.s to graduate in anywhere from three to six years. This range of options is allowing more and more mid-lifers to pursue law degrees. WHY THEY GO AND WHAT THEY DO Unlike some of their younger counterparts, mature J.D.s tend to have very specific career goals in mind when enrolling in law school. Everett Bellamy, an assistant dean at Georgetown’s Law Center, believes that there are several key motivational factors. Some seek to strengthen their skills within their chosen industry; others are in search of a career switch; and still others go for the sheer intellectual stimulation. BUILDING ON EXPERIENCE Lucille Roussin already held a Ph.D. and taught art history and archaeology at Sarah Lawrence College and Cooper Union before she decided to enroll in the full-time program at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Over the years she’d become interested in stolen artwork and antiquities and wanted to help governments reclaim their cultural relics. After consulting with friends and colleagues, she decided to take the plunge and apply to law school at age 49. “The whole thing was bizarre,” she says. “Suddenly I was on the other side of the podium, taking the Princeton Review LSAT-prep course with a bunch of 20-year-olds and starting my first year at school all over again.” Today, Roussin has a thriving private practice catering to collectors and national governments with well-heeled clients that include the Republic of Turkey. DEVELOPING NEW SKILLS Like their younger classmates, some older J.D.s are just beginning their professional careers. Margaret Utterback, 36, worked as a naval officer right after college but had been a stay-at-home mother for 10 years when she applied to the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison. “I was starting to feel like I was lacking intellectual stimulation,” she explains. “Once my kids started going to school full-time, I wanted to talk to grownups and get my brain back in the groove.” Utterback is now president of Wisconsin’s student support group, OWLS (Older Wiser Law Students), and will begin work this fall as an associate at Madison’s Quarles & Brady. EXPANDING YOUR MIND Walter Pincus has covered national security issues at The Washington Post for almost 40 years; last May, at 68, he donned his cap and gown at Georgetown Law’s graduation. For Pincus, the decision to enroll in the part-time program was motivated by his desire to take on a new challenge. After six years of legal study, he’s now preparing for the D.C. bar and hopes to combine his media savvy with his legal expertise, serving as counsel to corporations in crisis. He’ll also continue contributing to the Post, whose editors have been supportive of his “extracurricular” activity. “The experience has been terrific,” says Pincus. “And,” he adds, “I was older than most of my professors!” THE UPSIDE Law school faculty have welcomed older students. Dean Bellamy is quick to point out that though older J.D.s are held to the same competitive admissions criteria as the twentysomething crowd, Georgetown considers the breadth of life experience when reviewing older applicants. So, while your LSATs need to be high, job performance matters far more than how many extracurriculars you pursued in college 15 years ago. Gregory Ogden, who teaches civil procedure and administrative law at Pepperdine, believes that older students enhance class discussions. “They bring a perspective and maturity that helps us deal with conflicts and problems,” he says. As faculty adviser to several of the school’s law journals, he believes that the over-30 J.D.s prove stronger in work-related skills like cooperation and management. “They have a stabilizing influence on group projects,” he points out. Wisconsin’s Assistant Dean Ruth Robarts, who went to law school after working as a high school principal for 10 years, agrees. She believes that her prior experience made her a better student. “You’re just more focused and more mature,” she explains. THE CHALLENGES There are some drawbacks to heading to law school later in life. For one thing, older J.D.s don’t always enjoy the same opportunities as their younger counterparts. Lucrative, partner-track jobs at firms often demand young blood�eager recruits without outside commitments who can put in insane hours as associates. Adnan Latis, a thirtysomething 2L at Wisconsin, acknowledges, “There is a stigma. I would be in a better position at a firm if I were younger, because they expect you to work 100 hours a week.” With a wife and two young children, Latis is unable to make that kind of time commitment. However, he notes that older law students can find niches within the legal field. Firms will often create more reasonable schedules for older associates with useful experience, such as engineers and scientists who now want to work as patent attorneys. Corporations and not-for-profits also readily hire older graduates as in-house counsel. Another hurdle older students face is readjusting to the rigors of school; it can take some time to get back into the swing of things. “I wasn’t used to studying anymore,” says Roussin. “I had to discipline myself again.” With time, Roussin found that she was able to develop an effective studying strategy, devoting blocks of time to reviewing at home, and she succeeded. IN THE END … Whether you’re 22 or 62, law school can be a successful, rewarding experience. Latis, who moved his wife and two children from Nevada to study in Madison, has no regrets about his decision. “If you really want to do something, don’t ever make age a hindrance to your objectives,” he advises. “It’s just an excuse.”

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