Military/Law Enforcement Retirees – Next Step Law School?

There are too many lawyers. That is a common lament from individuals who have been sued or find themselves on the opposite side of a case when the other side has legal representation. But these days, we see fewer applicants for law school and more attorneys than ever leaving the practice of law reaching the age where they must retire due to significant health issues or die.

I spent 6 years in the Air Force and when my commitment was up, and at age 32, I started to investigate my career options going forward. I am a pragmatist and pretty methodical. I chose to work in sales for the independence it offered and the unlimited potential for income. The harder you work, the more you make. That was my thinking, and for six years, that was the outcome. Until one day that it became apparent the company that I worked for was pulling their products from the U.S. market. That was unsettling. But I was fortunate as I saw it coming and started to plan accordingly.

Now, at the age of 38, I started my search for a career path all over again. The more I looked, I kept coming back to the practice of law. At age 41 before I could practice law, what did that portend for the return on my investment if I returned to school at 38 years of age?  If you are one of those military or law enforcement veterans about to retire, you will be close to 40 or 50 years of age depending on your rank, time of retirement and entry into the service. You will also have something else in common with me, you will not be a spring chicken and you will have the GI Bill to help pay for your legal education.

Before I entered law school, I did the calculations. How long could I be productive as an attorney? Certainly 20 to 25 years. At what income level? Would it pay me to enter the field of law?

Physical limitations are generally not an impediment to legal practice. I could produce a healthy income stream as long as my brain functions properly. As I write this blog post, I am 70 years of age and have made a rather decent living for 30 years. Did I get the payback I sought? Do the math. You bet! Did my plan pan out? Yes it did. Far better than I ever imagined. Will your plans play out with that degree of success? They will as long as you are motivated, disciplined and focused – oh, that’s right, you were in military/law enforcement service weren’t you? Those are some of my favorite and most successful students.

Unlike the time that I entered law school, today there are fewer applicants and more practitioners leaving practice. In ten years or less, I predict we will see a lawyer shortage. It already exists in rural areas.  Just do the math and look at the entering classes versus those who are leaving practice due to retirement, disability or death. You have the GI Bill, in part, to offset the costs of your advanced degree. You will be entering a field where you don’t have to depend on someone else for employment. Once you pass the Bar Exam, you have a job with the flexibility to practice anywhere and in any area of practice that you desire. The disruption that I faced when my employer decided to close off my avenue of employment should never arise for you if you decide to go solo – and that is what this blog is all about.

The nice thing about retiring with a military or law enforcement pension is that you will have healthcare coverage and a continuing source of income. What isn’t so nice is that you leave the service at an age when you can still contribute to society. Also, the income is generally not enough to continue your standard of living without supplementing it. Although it shouldn’t, and legally, cannot be used to discriminate against you – it still can happen. But with a law degree, your maturity generally works in your favor in the eyes of the client. The income can be whatever you want it to be. In fact, you can work in conjunction with a full-time practice and work less than full time. It is also very nice to be respected for your professional status. That, coupled with your military/law enforcement service will help to enhance your professional status as well.

WMU Cooley Law School, where I have worked for the last 25 years, like many other law schools, offers scholarships and very flexible scheduling options. You can attend full-time, part-time, during days, evenings and week-ends. And you can change your trajectory at any time. Plus we have a retired Brigadier General as the Dean of one of our campuses. WMU Cooley Law School focuses on practical legal education so you graduate with exposure to all of the classes you will need to practice in any venue and in any area of practice that you desire.

Wherever you decide to attend law school, you have choices. The first step is to take the Law School Admission Test. It will be a very good barometer of your likely success in law school. If you do reasonably well, then you are on your way. I loved the law school experience. As a mature adult, I would view the discussions in class on another level from the younger students. I believe you will find that true for you as well. As you look about, seek out flexible scheduling and practical legal scholarship as WMU Cooley was a trend setter and other schools have seen fit to follow that pattern.

Think about your options and enjoy the ride. It could be the best decision you ever make.


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