For many law students, this will be the first educational experience of your lives where success doesn’t follow naturally from doing the reading and showing up to listen to the teacher. In my last post, I linked to some sound advice on exam taking skills. Mostly, that advice consists of during-the-semester and end-of-the-semester tips. Here and in a couple of future posts, I focus more on pre-law school tips. Today: Grades and psychology.
Law school isn’t like Lake Wobegon. Not all the women are strong; not all the men are good looking; and most important, not everyone is above average. Regardless of how spectacular your undergraduate record is, and regardless of how many graduate degrees you have, sooner rather than later you should accept the possibility that you are not smarter than everyone else in your law school class, that you may not be destined to get straight A’s, and not only that you may not rise automatically to the top, but that you might fall in the middle — or even below. When first semester grades arrive, be prepared for the possibility that you’ll have a list of B’s — or worse. It happens to a lot of people. It could happen to you.
First: Do not use your transcript to determine your self-worth. Ever.
Second: Whether your law school is “Tier 1” or “Tier 4,” average grades alone will not keep you from getting a good job. Average grades alone will not keep you from passing the bar exam. Average grades alone will not keep you from being a great lawyer or other professional success. That doesn’t mean that grades aren’t important. They are. And that doesn’t mean that you won’t have to work at getting a good job, and passing the bar, and becoming a professional success. You will. But average grades are not the end of the world.
Third: Whether your law school is “Tier 1” or “Tier 4,” great grades alone don’t guarantee that you will get a good job. (Note to prospective Harvard, Stanford, and Yale grads: This applies to you too. When I was in practice, I was an on-campus interviewer at
both all three schools, and I dinged an awful lot of people with amazing records.) Great grades alone will not assure that you’ll pass the bar exam, or make you a great lawyer or other professional success. That doesn’t mean that grades aren’t important. They are. And that doesn’t mean that great grades won’t help you get a good job and become a professional success. They will. But there is more to doing well in law school that getting great grades.
Fourth: If you want to minimize the risk of getting average grades and maximize your chances of getting good grades — and this is a decision that you’ll have to make; I don’t assume that this is the best or right choice for everyone — there are things that you can do. Being open to the possibility that you’re average is step one. It means that you know that regardless of your blinding intellect, you still have your work cut out for you. Step two is doing more than doing the reading and showing up to listen to the professor. More than briefing cases and creating outlines for each of your courses. Not coincidentally, it leads you down the path of getting the most out of your legal education in general. I’ll elaborate on that in future posts.
Link to Welcome to Law School, Part I: Get fit.
Link to Welcome to Law School, Part II: Scientists should read some literature.
Link to Welcome to Law School, Part III: Non-scientists should read some science.
Link to Welcome to Law School, Part V: On law school prep classes.
Link to Welcome to Law School, Part VI: On taking law school exams.