is the o/p still around? If so, I have a few things to add.
First, don't let what other people think get you down. Some people are obnoxious and unnecessarily harsh. That's no reason to get hurt and offended. Keep this in perspective: this is just words on your computer screen. They have no ability to harm or help your life in any way. Only your actions are going to do that.
If I understand the question correctly, you're wondering if it's advisable to clean out your 401(k) in order to finish a law degree?
And the law school you're looking at is 4th tier?
In that case, I'm going to say it's probably a poor decision from a lot of perspectives.
First, you can get good jobs out of a 4T law school, but it's only going to happen for the very, very, very top of the class.
You might be thinking, "no problem, I always was one of the smartest people in my class."
Now, as much as people bag on law school as a refuge for unemployables with humanities degrees, the reality is that your typical law student is one of the smarter people you encountered in undergrad. The guys who scraped by with the university's minimum acceptable GPA are not likely to be applying to any law school.
Even if you go to a 4T law school, there will be some seriously smart people there. So, doing well in your class? It could happen but it might not.
The other thing to consider is that the salaries in law are extremely bifurcated. A smattering of new attorneys are nailing the biglaw jobs at $160,000 per year. The rest? Duking it out for jobs that pay maybe $60,000 a year.
(Also, note that although it is illegal, it is highly likely that your age will be held against you for biglaw jobs. They're looking for that young pup who graduated first in their class, won't mind spending 80 hours in the office every week so they can bill 60, and who won't ask for time off to see their kids' piano recital. Even if you would never take a moment off to see a piano recital, just keep in mind that old folks like you and me aren't what they're generally looking for. They have very few jobs that pay obscene amounts of money. There is a vast supply of people who want those jobs. They can get whomever they want and don't have to compromise.)
(I apologize that I'm not more of an authority on this. I'm just relaying what appears to be the consensus based on what I can gather from friends who are attorneys or what I find on the net.)
Sorry, but some of those 4T grads, the ones at the very bottom, are unlikely to get a job at all that's related to the law.
In fact, in this hiring climate, it appears that folks in the bottom of their 2T graduating class are having trouble finding jobs, too.
In law, more so than other disciplines, the two things they're going to look at to determine whether they'll hire you or not is the strength of your school and your class rank. Really, almost all other factors are, if not irrelevant, darned near.
Contrast to business where, say, a lot of employers aren't that concerned with gpa or strength of school. They want to know if you have the basic educational credentials, then you can sometimes work your way into a job by displaying superior interpersonal skills.
If you've ever met a biglaw associate, it's undeniable that they're smart and hard-working. It's also pretty obvious that they weren't hired for their interpersonal skills.
I'm sympathetic to your situation. I did a career change at your age. I emptied my 401(k) and started a business and at least so far, it's paid off. I have taken out 4 times that amount in cash and if I sold the business today, I'd probably get about three times what I invested.
I'm just not sure that if your decision is purely economic, that a law degree is going to be as lucrative a choice for you.
Now, for a few things that could swing the decision back to the “pro” side.
First, I am a slow learner, but eventually figured out that working for yourself can pay more than working for somebody else. I then made the quantum leap into realizing that having other people working for you pays better than working for yourself.
If you are entrepreneurial, then you don't really need to worry about what the starting salaries are. You can hang out a shingle and start going for it.
Second, the only reason to go to law school is that you really want to practice law. If that's your dream in life, well, sometimes dreams are worth pursuing even if they aren't economically optimal decisions.
Just keep in mind that your decision to get a law degree has two components of cost: direct cost and opportunity cost.
This blog post breaks it down pretty succinctly:http://lawgoround.blogspot.com/2011/03/random-thoughts-while-i-wait.html
In a bad economy like this one, if you have no prospect of a job, the opportunity costs aren't a factor, though.
I will also add that financial advisors will say, universally, that your retirement savings are sacred, forever and ever, amen. You never touch them, period, for any reason. (Yes, I know I personally violated this rule.)
Like any rule of thumb, I think it's safe to say that the people who follow this rule tend to do much better than the people who don't, in the long run, over a large enough sample size.
Best of luck to you, but I'd advise you to either go to a better school, or find a way to do it without raiding your retirement savings. Even taking out student loans is better than emptying your retirement savings, IMHO.