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Late Bloomers: Going to Law School Later in Life

published June 23, 2020

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
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( 1537 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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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. Often schools enjoy and prefer to see applications from students with life experience.

Late Bloomers: Going to Law School Later in Life

As C.S. Lewis puts it, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” Many people have taken to this advice with 40.5 percent of students enrolled in the 2012-2013 school year between the ages of 25 to 39 years old, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students over the age of 40 made up 12 percent of those enrolled. When it comes to law school, around 20 percent of the applications were from students over the age of 30 between 2005 and 2009, according to AmLawDaily.


The bigger question to consider is what to go back to school for. There are certificate, associate, bachelors, or higher education programs that can help you achieve your goal. If your goal is to become an attorney, then starting from the beginning may seem like a daunting prospect, but for some it can greatly pay off in a few short years. If you already an attorney, but are looking to make yourself more marketable, there are plenty of certificate programs you can take to pick up a variety of skills directly related to the industry or not.

Many JD 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 JDs to graduate in anywhere from three to six years. This range of options is allowing more and more mid-lifers to pursue law degrees.

If taking an online program is something you think will work best with your schedule, keep in mind that the program must be accredited by the ABA in order to be able to take the bar exam in any state. As a way of enticing students of all ages, many law schools have taken to creating hybrid programs that allow for some online classes combined with on campus classes. The ABA has accredited the hybrid program at William Mitchell College of Law, the first of its kind. Since the start of the program last year, many other schools have been working towards creating their own that the ABA will accredit as well.


Other programs that many law schools have been adopting are for accelerated three-year J.D./M.B.A. degrees. Some of the schools that offer this are Yale, Columbia, Boston University, the University of Pennsylvania, and more. Graduating in three years with a J.D. and an M.B.A. will give you an edge over students that only have a J.D. The course curriculum is extra challenging, so you have to be committed to not having a social life for three years, but the end result may be worth it.

Part time J.D. programs generally take four years to complete, but are very convenient for students that need to keep working a day job and can only take classes on the weekends or evenings. The top five rated programs by U.S. News are at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Fordham University, George Mason University, and the University of Maryland.

LLM degrees can be extremely beneficial if you work in a specialty. LLM degrees are offered in tax, bankruptcy, environmental law, human rights law, international law, information technology law, and many more.


Why They Go and What They Do


Unlike some of their younger counterparts, mature JDs 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 sheer intellectual stimulation.

In 2018, LawFuel reported on an 87-year-old man who sat for the bar exam. A former law enforcement officer, Ibarra Mariano actually attended law school 51 years earlier. He wanted to pass the bar “to help other people.” John VanBuskirk was 71 years old when he graduated from North Texas Dallas College of Law in 2018. He also completed more than 800 hours of pro bono work during his law school experience. He just never wanted to retire. Kay Lorraine graduated from the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law at 70 years old in 2017. She always dreamed of going to law school, but before she tackled that dream, she ran a film production company, sang jingles, and worked with several local non-profits. 

As you can see, some go to help others. Some go simply because they don’t have a desire to slow down. Some go simply to fulfill a dream. As you’ll also learn through some other examples throughout this article, some go simply because they wanted a challenge, felt they had more to offer the world, or wanted to pursue a certain level of intellectual stimulation missing from their daily lives. Regardless, it is never too late to apply for law school. 


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. Nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals who opt to attend law school may be able to join an existing practice or start their own thriving practice focused on personal injury, medical malpractice, or offer their services as an expert witness in the future.


Further, building on both professional and personal experience after law school, there are numerous professional opportunities a non traditional law student may find more appealing should they decide that sitting for the bar or practicing law isn’t an attractive prospect. Here are a few examples:  

  • Civil rights investigator. Hired at either the state or federal level, a civil rights investigator has the responsibility of determining whether a complaint of discrimination is valid. You must hold a JD from an accredited law school.
  • Law firm administrator. The job of a law firm administrator is to manage the law firm. Generally, you’re responsible for the facility, human resources, legal technology, and finances of the law firm. You would report to a specific partner. Your actual responsibilities would depend on the law firm.
  • Law librarian. Your job would be to help others find what they need, assist with research, and manage the facility.
  • Legal editor. There are numerous legal publications available online as well as in print. They need good legal editors. Many offer work from home opportunities in addition to competitive pay.
  • Legal recruiter. If you have a background in business or human resources, you could have a future as a legal recruiter helping lawyers find their dream job.
  • Mediator. If you take the required meditation courses in your state, you could make a lucrative living as a mediator.
  • Contracts administrator. If you enjoyed contract law, consider becoming a contracts administrator. In addition to reviewing and analyzing contracts, you’d be responsible for revising and preparing contracts as well.
  • Literary agent. If you enjoy writing, becoming a literary agent could be a great job for you. Many publishing companies won’t talk to writers unless they’re represented by an agent. You’ll also have the skills required to draft and review contracts.

Developing New Skills

Like their younger classmates, some older JDs 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 JDs are held to the same competitive admissions criteria as the twentysomething crowd, Georgetown considers the breadth of life experience when reviewing older applicants. Harvard Law has a section on their webpage specifically for those that are considered “experienced.” Maturity, life experience, and work experience are positive factors that you can use to your advantage on your application. 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 a faculty adviser to several of the school's law journals, he believes that the over-30 JDs 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.

After law school, non-traditional law students (now non-traditional associate attorneys) bring law firms and businesses the value of their previous work experience. This isn’t something that should be ignored when creating resumes, CVs, or cover letters. It should be capitalized upon, especially when there are transferrable skills and experience in related practice areas. During interviews for both summer internships and law firm interviews, previous work experience and life experience should not be played down or ignored, either. Longevity, related and transferable skillsets, and even anything else that is relatable to the position can be extremely valuable. The benefit of maturity should not be ignored.


The Challenges


There are some drawbacks to heading to law school later in life. For one thing, older JDs 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 student's 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."

When considering law school, it’s imperative to do the required research and determine which is the best choice based on the community, future goals, and financial commitment. Some law schools offer dual MBA-JD programs. Some offer LLM programs that may be completed after the JD program. Many offer study abroad programs. There are various factors to consider when choosing the right law school, but none of them should be taken lightly. Ultimately, the real deciding factor is a non-traditional law student’s reason for returning to school.

There are obvious advantages when older people start attending law school after they have had some work experience. For one thing, they are bound to be more focused and less likely to get carried away by peers in extracurricular activities. For another, they will be able to call on real-life experiences to connect with what they are learning. Of course, they will also be older, but they won’t be alone. There is a growing trend where people change careers every 10 years or so, and going to law school is one of the most popular ways this is manifested.

However, older people also tend to have more baggage; spouses, children, mortgages. The adjustment of going back to school can be difficult. Even single people may find it a bit difficult to get back on the saddle, simply because they have gotten used to a certain lifestyle. Here are some things that older people need to consider before deciding on going back to law school. It may also be important to consider resources for spouses, the job market, school systems, housing options, etc., for non-traditional law students who may be moving to a particular area.


Show Me the Money

Law school requires some serious investments of time and money. It is three years full time at an average total price tag of $100,000, and that’s only for tuition. Other expenses such as food and books will really put a strain on your wallet. Student loans may be the answer if there is too little money for comfort, but that may not be such a good idea since those loans need to be paid back. Some companies finance their employees in pursuing higher education such as law school, so if that is the case, then there is no problem. Of course, that would mean working during the day and going to law school at night, so it may take longer than usual. However, overall it’s a good option if it is offered. If not, the best way would be to save up enough to cover expenses for the duration of law school before chucking your current 9-to-5 job.

Always check with your current employer to determine what, if any, tuition reimbursement program is available as well as whether you are obligated to remain with your employer for a certain amount of time following the completion of your degree. Additionally, if you or your spouse works for a college, you may be entitled to receive a substantial discount toward an affiliated law school if you meet the entrance requirements. This could lessen the financial burden by a significant amount.


The Raison D’etre


It is also important to know the reasons behind the decision to go to law school. There is no right or wrong reason; knowing simply makes for better motivation to see it through to the end. If it is to further or go down a more lucrative path in an existing career, then getting a law degree will take that career to a whole new level. However, if going to law school is because of a whim, then there is little likelihood that you will actually get the degree or that it will be of any practical use.


And the Survey Says…


If other people are going to be significantly affected by this career shift, it is important that they are part of the decision. A spouse or domestic partner who is not completely supportive can make it very difficult to follow through. Small children will be most affected by the strain that law school will put on the time and attention of the student parent, so it may be a good idea to wait until the children are old enough to take care of things so that there is time for you to study.


Employment Prospects


Older law graduates often find themselves in competition with younger, more eager candidates for entry level positions in law firms. If a law degree represents a whole new beginning career-wise, expectations should be kept reasonable. Some organizations do prefer older graduates because of their work experience in certain fields, but these are relatively scarce. Many law graduates weighed down by student loans are desperate to find work to pay them off, and are likely to accept lower wages and be willing to work long hours. However, if the law degree is obtained to further an existing degree, then that’s another matter.


The Spirit is Willing…


Last but not least, the stamina needed for law school is prodigious; students must be willing to put in the hours of study. It is not so much intellect as persistence; law school is mostly about how much can be recalled of the law and the cases related to that law. A law student must not only be willing, but able to do the required brain exercises. For older students, it may be a good idea to start small as part-time or night students, where the pace is slower and more relaxed, and where most of the older students are. At the very least, this means there will be a certain level of equality, which will make law school not quite as stressful.

Going back to school is no joke for older people who already have a career. Getting used to being on the learning end of the stick can be difficult to adjust to, especially if the professors are younger than the students! Money, time, family and capability; these are the things that should be carefully considered and weighed before committing to a law degree program.

Frequently asked question

Can You Become A Lawyer Later In Life?

Law school applications can be made at any time in life. According to the Law School Admission Council, about 20% of applicants are 30 or older. The skills and experiences that older law graduates acquired at law school are often useful in the second career that they pursue.

Law students of a certain age may feel much more isolated from their younger peers, who may be more concerned about finding free beverages than child care. As a result, many law schools have associations of Older, Wiser Law Students, or OWLS, to facilitate socializing, commiseration, and advice sharing - and perhaps even occasional babysitting.

The following aspects should be kept in mind by law school applicants who have been out of college for several years or more:
  • Career paths
  • Application materials
  • Personal challenges

Career Paths: It is not necessary for students to present detailed career plans to law schools, despite many applicants' fears. In law school, students can explore a variety of career fields through classes, clinics, internships, career services, and extracurricular activities.

Applicants over 50 have to explain a little more about their legal career expectations to avoid looking like chronic career changers. It is important that you indicate your past career path, your reasons for pursuing law, and your career plans after law school in your resume and essays.

In addition, they ought to avoid explaining their career change in a way that cannot be answered by a law school education. Suppose a former teacher is interested in education reform or making special education more accessible. Her profession has even been fulfilling, but she cannot support her growing family.

Nevertheless, law schools might wonder what kind of lawyer she will be if she complains about paperwork, office politics, and ungrateful parents.

Application Materials: Any student applying to law school needs to submit all their academic records, along with recommendations from an academic professor. In order to locate old transcripts and professors, older applicants should start as soon as possible.

It is okay for older applicants to reach out to professors they have not spoken with for years. Providing adequate notice and asking for a life update and a recent grade report, as well as comments about how the applicant performed at school, would be helpful.

Law schools will probably give less weight to grades earned decades ago, which is good news for older applicants. In addition to demonstrating academic capabilities, such applicants should use other means to prove their capabilities.

Recent examples of their skillful use of research and analysis can be highlighted in their resumes, recommendation letters, and personal statements. If they come from an unrelated field, they might consider taking law-related courses at a local college.

Personal Challenges: Rather than changing careers in the middle of their careers, older applicants may be seeking second chances. Students coming to law schools from all tiers have overcome adversity like addiction, imprisonment, disability, or fleeing desperate circumstances. Students with such backgrounds are valued because they arrive motivated and have direct experience with the legal system.

These applicants should thoughtfully explain an unusual circumstance in their personal statement, diversity statement, or perhaps an addendum. By showcasing their aptitude for the challenges of law school and their career goals, they should demonstrate their readiness for law school.

According to an LSAC analysis of American Bar Association law school applicants published in 2017, older applicants are less likely to be accepted and matriculate to law school. However, this is likely due to personal factors rather than age discrimination. Because of their settled lives, older applicants tend to apply to nearby law schools since they have other life options and considerations.

In any case, older applicants should not be discouraged despite their meandering paths. Although older legal professionals may perceive age discrimination, they benefit from a wealth of experiences, resources, and connections, as well as a greater sense of purpose.

Is 40 Year Old Too Old For Law School?

Anyone can become a lawyer, but it is not easy. In addition to schooling, drudge work, and analytical and critical thinking, becoming a physician requires several years. In particular, those over 40 who wish to enter the field can find it intimidating. Between 2018 and 2028, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a six percent increase in positions for lawyers. In some ways, life experience can be an asset, but it is also a hindrance. If you are dedicated and driven enough to put in the effort, it can be done.

Law School at 40+ Years Old

An undergraduate degree is usually required for admission to most law schools. Your degree is likely many years old if you are over 40. In the event that you are required to earn a degree, you will not need a specific major, but courses in mathematics, English, philosophy, and logic may be helpful. A bar association-accredited law school usually recommends that applicants take the Law School Admission Test, which measures a candidate's reasoning abilities, analytical skills, and reading comprehension.

Most students enroll in law school for three years, gaining a broad understanding of criminal law, constitutional law, and civil procedure. In addition to simulated trials, students can volunteer or intern at legal clinics and law firms to gain experience researching and arguing cases. In order to practice law, lawyers must pass their state's bar exam after graduation.

Life Experience

In most cases, older law students are starting their second or third career. Older students are more likely to stay focused during law school because they have a depth of life experience. A former accountant can practice tax law, for example, or a nurse or physician can apply their knowledge in healthcare litigation.

In addition, a lawyer's client base is often built upon an established network of business relationships. Additionally, many firms are wary of hiring older lawyers, so be prepared to face special challenges during the hiring process.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Several weeks before his 52nd birthday, Michigan lawyer Tom Weiss took the bar exam. As a mature student, Weiss was more motivated than he had ever been as a sailor, banker, or hotel manager. "I was eager to go back to school, and I was ready to excel," he recalls. Although he graduated from Michigan State with honors, finding a job was difficult. The recruiters really liked him, but he didn't receive any job offers. He discovered that firms prefer to hire young graduates who are more malleable and willing to work long hours. In a small firm, he said, it is easier to get hired.

Getting Established

Before you bombard HR personnel with resumes, take some time to do some research. If that prestigious company only hires from top-20 schools and you didn't attend one, move on. Ask about the hiring process at firms that interest you. Look for companies that could utilize your expertise and format your resume in a way that highlights your relevant experience if you have specialized knowledge. Seek out firms that specialize in labor law, for example, if you worked as a human resources manager. As a competitive advantage, emphasize your experience and contacts.

In your solo practice, you can tap into your previous work experience or personal contacts. Consider approaching realtors you know who specialize in mortgages, for example. If you have connections with entrepreneurs you might be able to help them with contracts, partnership agreements or succession planning.

Making the Jump

After 40, becoming a lawyer is no easy feat, but many successful lawyers did so later in life. People who are 25 or 30 years younger are competing with you for the same jobs at a time when others are enjoying their best earning years. Know what you are getting into before you take the plunge.

Talk to lawyers and law schools in your area - ideally those who have made the same transition from another career. It is a valuable qualification even if you do not intend to practice law full-time. Education can also be a pleasure in and of itself.

At What Age Do Most Attorneys Retire?

In reality, there is no correct answer regarding the retirement age of an attorney. There are some law firms that have mandatory retirement ages of 65 or 70 for the purpose of ensuring an orderly succession of leadership and client relationships, but with people living longer and many lawyers peaking at the end of their careers, the trend seems to be the opposite in regards to hiring older lawyers.

Developing well-paying law practices is challenging and lucrative, so many lawyers choose to continue working well into their 70s and 80s, as a result of (1) the practice of law is challenging; and (2) lawyers are notorious workaholics. It is more common for people to slow their practice instead of quitting outright.

Can I Become A Lawyer At 30?

30 is the new 20 is what they say..!! While you may not feel like you are in your twenties anymore, your career is definitely not over. After they turn 30, most people think that their working lives will remain the same and they will not consider changing careers. In the law profession, this is not true.

A lawyer's education requires a Bachelor's Degree followed by Law School. Eight years of schooling! After 30 you can definitely break into the industry if you have the stamina to go to school for that long.


A Bachelor's degree in any subject can qualify you for law school. Many people believe that in order to get into law school, you must have a Bachelor's degree in a law-related field, but this is not always true. Law-related degrees definitely make you more attractive to law schools, but they are not all required.

If you are over 30 and already completed your schooling, you can start preparing for your LSAT now. Make sure you check the school's requirements before applying. Earning a degree online is a convenient way to finish your undergraduate studies at your convenience if you have not finished them yet. There is no limit to how many classes you can take and you can work at your own pace. As a mature student, you have more options if you're working towards getting into a program.


When it comes to studying law, two standardized tests cannot be avoided: the LSAT and the state bar exam. It is designed to measure how well you would perform on the Bar Exam and to help you prepare for your first year of Law School. Your ability to read critically, reason verbally, and analyze arguments are measured in the LSAT. A student's LSAT score determines if he or she is admitted to law school and what law schools he or she can attend. State schools typically accept fewer students who score higher than Ivy League schools on their LSAT exams. After you graduate, you take the Bar exam. Until you pass the Bar exam, you cannot practice law in a state of your choice. You can take the Bar exam as many times as you need until you pass.


Students do not take a break in between completing an undergraduate degree and attending Law School, which contributes to the perception that Law School is expensive. Those of you in your thirties are probably set in your careers and seeking a change. Most likely, you have already paid off or nearly paid off the debt you have accumulated for your undergraduate degree. The average cost of law school is between $22,160 and $69,116 per year. Taking part-time classes as an adult with responsibilities is definitely affordable, especially if they can be taken online.


Upon passing the Bar exam, you can start your own firm and open your own business. You would then need to choose what area of law you wanted to specialize in. You might decide to become a Los Angeles cannabis lawyer and specialize in the laws and protocols of the legalization movement. You can gain experience while studying by working as a paralegal or intern for established firms such as McAllister Garfield. Another option would be to go into corporate law where you could work on patents or become a personal injury lawyer. Regardless of your choice, you need to come up with a solid plan to get some sort of experience, whether it's working with experts or getting some sort of experience in the field.

Market Yourself 

Whether you own your own business or work for a small, lesser-known firm, you should market yourself. Partner with a marketing agency that specializes in law marketing. To bring in new clients and market your law firm efficiently, these firms will teach you marketing techniques that you did not learn in law school. In the legal industry, personal injury lawyer marketing has become heavily competitive with firms creating attention-grabbing jingles, inventive commercials, and even utilizing online tools to boost business. You should partner with a reputable marketing agency, such as Nettra Media, that has years of experience in making sure you get the best return on your marketing investments.

If you decide to open your own firm or be self-employed, choose a field such as cannabis law because laws and regulations are forever changing. Marketers invest their money in their own companies. Pick a company specializing in legal marketing. You are only as old as you feel. In no time, you will become a highly successful practicing attorney.


Please see the following articles for more information about law school, the bar exam and succeeding in your first year of practice:

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

published June 23, 2020

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 1537 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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