What’s Age Got to Do with It?
One month from today, I will begin a two-year JD program at Drexel University’s Kline School of Law. I am 51.
A month ago, these two facts seemed a sufficient premise for this blog on starting law school late in life, on the chance that my experience could be generalized to others on an unconventional path to a law degree. Everything seemed on track. On March 9, in fact, I was even present in person at Drexel, meeting other accepted students and chatting with professors standing not two feet away, excited for the beginning of things on May 11 and trying to resist calculating the hours till I’d be back for my first class. I came and went by train that day, testing my commute and finding it satisfactory. I was prepared to fall in love with Philly.
Well, I’m still going to Drexel—figuratively speaking—and I’ll still be writing this blog about being a late starter. But as with everything else in our lives, both of these ventures are now going to be shaped and constrained by the ubiquitous coronavirus. I am thinking that I could not have picked a worse two years of my adulthood to pursue this degree if I’d planned it: starting on lockdown, and riding wave after wave of social distancing till I end (hopefully, best case scenario) vaccinated and graduated, maybe having met my classmates and profs face to face in the meantime, maybe having had the rich hands-on experiences that drew me to Drexel from the start. But “hands-on” right now is really not an appealing modifier.
Ever since I concocted the bright idea of attending law school after my daughter’s high school graduation, this question about my age has haunted me. What difference does it make, starting after 50? The math fascinates me: I am more than twice the age of most of next year’s 1Ls, who are as old as my son. I’ll have a decade or more on many of the men and women who will be my instructors. After the bar, I’ll have what, maybe fifteen, maybe twenty years to work if I’m lucky? I’ve wondered if this is really the best decision for our family financially. And wouldn’t a two-year program be the best thing for me, to get me through that door faster and into practice somewhere? Or should I take the typical three-year route, and savor the experience?
The math on my other age-related questions has been much more difficult to calculate. How will I relate to those half-my-age cohorts? How many social cues will I miss, how much cultural vocabulary do I have to catch up on, how many apps don’t I know that I should know? How will I come across to professors who are younger than me, or basically my age? In part anxious to be liked, in part anxious not to offend, I’ve tried to guess how much my age will really matter. It’s like trying to read a note taped to my back.
Of course, that was my pre-pandemic list of queries and worries. I would guess that for some of those things, like just plain getting along with people, my age won’t matter one bit, or might at worst provide some levity when I miss a cultural reference sometimes. What’s of more pressing concern right now relates more to my place among the generations than to my raw score of trips around the sun. Now I want to know things like: Will I be able to take my virtual classes at my mom’s house in another state if I have to go take care of my elderly parents because of the virus? While I’m here at home with my little family, how am I going to take classes and spend the four hours it takes to wash all the groceries down after my biweekly trip to the store? Will we have enough bandwidth, snacks, and goodwill for a WFH CPO, a college senior, a high school senior taking college classes, and a 1L?
So we’ll see how this goes, and what I find out. I’ll post some reflections here occasionally, starting with some background on how I got to this countdown to law school at age 51 in the first place. Each of our stories is unique, of course, but hopefully something of my experience will resonate with someone else on a similar journey. It’s always nice to know you’re not alone.