How I Got Into Law School at 47
With Only An A.A. Degree, Practically No Money, And Without Taking The Dreaded LSAT
by Karen Kelly
In the fall of 1999, at 43 years old, I had a colossal mid-life crisis.
My life was rolling along quite nicely. I had a decent little home business selling used books on the Internet. I was happily single and living in my own condo in Davis, California, a lovely university town. Although working for myself involved
working many more hours than it ever did working for someone else, my time was still my own. I could take an afternoon off on a moment’s notice, and make it up in my pajamas after dinner, with a glass of wine on the desk.
And then I received one of those letters from Social Security, showing how much money I will be living on when I retire. Having no money in the bank, and not making enough to save a dime, I did the most logical thing a person in my shoes could do to prepare for my retirement. I took a vacation to Mexico and charged it on my credit card.
While lamenting over multiple margaritas in a beautiful Mexican courtyard with other “snowbirds” from the U.S. and Canada, it became perfectly clear that I should sell everything and move to Mexico. Which I did three months later.
My brilliant idea was to create a Website and newsletter on retiring in Mexico, which would support me. After all, I’d read a book once that said you can live in
Mexico on practically nothing! I had enough money to live on for one year.
Although I wrote many fascinating articles, I had failed to do the market research which would have shown me that there virtually was no market. Woops. I also expected to have my Internet service–which was imperative to starting my business–hooked up sooner than three months. It took two months to get the phone hooked up. And, as it turns out, it’s not that cheap to live in Mexico if you want to live like an American. Before giving up, I maxed out several credit cards trying to make it work.
I came back to the U.S. with my tail between my legs and filed bankruptcy. Then I learned that nobody would rent an apartment to me because of the bankruptcy. And nobody wanted to hire a 44-year-old woman who had been self-employed for several years, sold everything, moved to Mexico and went bankrupt.
With the paltry savings I had left, I rented a room in a stranger’s house, and started selling books again, which I lined the walls of my little room with. And I cried. A lot.
Letting go of the idea of retiring was easy. I met many retirees in Mexico and they were bored out of their skins. But, I did need to save for the old folks home and dreamed of owning my own house again. I was going to need a career that paid serious bucks and which would allow me to be self-employed following graduation. The market for 50-year-old graduates isn’t particularly hot.
So, between bouts of sobbing into my pillow and soothing myself with California wine (about the only thing affordable in California besides the weather), I started searching the Internet.
Which careers could I shoot for where I could make good money, and start my own business immediately after graduating?
Clickety click on the keyboard…sip of wine…
Doctor? Forget it. Terrible at science. Hate blood. Clickety click.
Lawyer? Hmmmm, I always enjoyed researching the law for my own legal problems. In fact, I handled my own bankruptcy. I negotiated several successful real estate deals on my own. I could have an office at home. Nah, I’ll never get accepted. I’ll never pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). I’m too old. I’m not smart enough. I can’t afford it. I’ll have to go to college for four years to get a bachelor degree and then three more years of law school. Clickety click.
Technical writer? I’d only need a B.A. in English! Which classes do I need to take? English literature? Yuck! Shakespeare? Gag. Poetry? A nonfiction writer’s nightmare. Clickety click.
Counselor? Need too many degrees. Can’t stand whiners.
Sigh. Slurp. Sniffle. Walk the dog. Regroup.
What are the requirements for California law schools, anyway? Clickety click.
And then there it was on the computer screen. A miracle. And a ray of hope.
As it turns out, another thing that is affordable in California, is law school. In California, a student can go to a state approved law school, as opposed to an American Bar Association (ABA) approved school. Graduates can practice in California and some other states, but not in all states as ABA law school graduates. As I intended to stay in California, that was fine with me.
These law schools offer a four-year program, as opposed to the three-year traditional route, but I would only need a two-year associate degree (A.A..) to get in. I would save a year’s time.
Tuition ranges from $2,000 per year for correspondence law schools with no financial aid available, to over $12,000 per year at an actual campus which offers both day and evening courses, and financial aid. The more expensive of these law schools have a rigorous admission process, requiring letters of recommendation and decent LSAT scores. The cheapest correspondence schools do not. I wouldn’t have to take the LSAT! And I could see being able to afford $2,000 per year tuition in two years.
Law school was actually looking possible. I took a deep breath and enrolled at
the local community college. And then I experienced another miracle.
Really broke people qualify for the maximum financial aid. The tax money I’ve paid over my lifetime came back to me in the form of grants. Turned out the tuition for my A.A. degree was going to be free!
On May 30, 2003, I strutted to the music of “Pomp and Circumstance” under palm trees in Woodland, California, with a smile as big as Texas, to receive my Associate in Arts degree in General Studies with honors. I had a new credit card in my purse, and later poured champagne for my daughter and friends in an apartment leased in my name.
Attaining that degree wasn’t a cake walk. It took nearly three and a half years, and I had started out expecting it to take less than two. There were plenty of days when I was sure I couldn’t do it, when I thought about giving up, when I struggled with financial aid, couldn’t afford books, argued with counselors and employers, and discovered I’d taken classes I didn’t need to take.
And then one day, there I was. I had done it. I really had done it! I still stare at that degree in complete and utter amazement. I may be in shock for years.
On June 15, 2003, I began studying law. I’m simultaneously petrified and ecstatic. I’m hoping to open a small practice out of my home after I sit for the bar in 2007, specializing in elder law or immigration law, both of which truly interest me and should be in high demand in 2007.
When I start worrying about being too old to be in law school, I remember what a good friend told me. “Just think. You’re going to look so old, they’ll assume you’ve been a lawyer for years.”