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Author Topic: Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?  (Read 12443 times)

hellhounds88

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Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?
« on: January 23, 2012, 01:21:51 AM »
I'm a 1L, and ever since I got my grades back a week ago I've been worried sick. See, I've been scouring the interwebs for advice, and most of it is cynical, pessimistic, and harsh. For a person in my situation - that is, with a 2.9 GPA - the internet consensus seems to be that I'm stupid; that no matter what kind of "experience" I get in the legal world during my time in law school, my first semester 1L grades have burned a mark of inferiority into my forehead. Firms will see someone like me as a person who "doesn't get the law" or "can't spot issues" or "lacks intelligence." Thing is, I know I'm pretty darn smart. I went to an extremely rigorous college, studied a very hard major which forced me to learn two dead languages - Ancient Greek and Latin - and pass a comprehensive translation exam that tested me on everything I'd ever read in them. I studied abroad in Greece, and learned to speak Modern Greek while I was there. I learned how to analyze and memorize incredibly efficiently. Yet, for some reason the other people in my class who don't seem as smart (sorry to be conceited) are doing way better than me. I know I shouldn't feel this way, but I'm incredibly envious of these people and the attention they receive, from professors and students as well as prospective employers. I fear that I've been "sorted out" of the group of employable and, more importantly, respectable students. Permanently.

I want to be a lawyer. Truly I do. And I always thought I would make a good one. The only thing keeping me from dropping out at this point is my love for the intellectual work of studying the law. Apparently though I'm just not smart enough to become a good lawyer. This is very hard to accept, given that I KNOW I can handle the intellectual workload of most attorneys.

My question to you all is this: Is the conventional wisdom correct? Do grades effectively determine your destiny? Do they tell everyone in hi-res letters just how good at the law you are? Do they predict what kind of attorney you'll be?

FalconJimmy

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Re: Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?
« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2012, 09:00:16 AM »

My question to you all is this: Is the conventional wisdom correct? Do grades effectively determine your destiny? Do they tell everyone in hi-res letters just how good at the law you are? Do they predict what kind of attorney you'll be?

Wow man, relax!  I'm not in that different a boat than you.  I have about a 3.1, and my school has roughly a 2.8 curve.  If your school has a 2.8 or 2.9 curve then fully half your class is in worse shape than you are. 

Yes, you are no longer in the running to transfer to a better school.  You are completely out of the running for biglaw.  Most of the midlaw firms in your area are not interested in you.

However, you can still earn a few hundred grand a year as an attorney if you pursue this career.  If you need a job, then go out and network like crazy.  Join the local bar, the state bar and the ABA.  Attend all the events.  Get to know people.

If you're going to hang out your own shingle in areas like labor (plaintiff side), family law, criminal law, and other areas like bankruptcy and personal injury (which you'll have to work simpler cases/clients until you know what you're doing), then your grades, frankly, are immaterial.  No clients in those areas ask your GPA and in your town, most of the attorneys in those areas didn't graduate from a T14 school. 

Chin up.  Yes, your grades are destiny for a lot of things, but not really for most others.  Keep plugging away.  Don't be discouraged.  You can still make a bundle and have a great career in the law.

Morten Lund

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Re: Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2012, 02:35:23 PM »
  You are completely out of the running for biglaw.  Most of the midlaw firms in your area are not interested in you.


For once in my life I am going to un-crush a dream*, at least partially.  Take note - this may never happen again.

*Assuming that OP's dreams include BigLaw.  If not, then feel free to disregard.



FJ is right, as usual, but I will add some detail with a caveat on the quoted part of his post. 

Yes, bad first-semester grades make it harder.  Much harder.  This is mostly because of the disproportional impact of those first-semester grades: interview decisions for the 2L fall interviews are made either entirely on the first-semester grades, or at best on the full first-year grades.  So without good first-semester grades it is hard to get a good interview, and hard to get a good 2L summer job, which makes it hard to get a BigLaw job after graduation.

BUT - while that is the standard path to a BigLaw job, and the easiest, it is not the only path.  Plenty of firms hire in the "3L Market" as well, and if your bad grades are isolated to the first semester, then your GPA/class rank should be within criteria, and you will be in pretty good shape.  Heck, you might be better off than many.  Most students available in the 3L Market are people who did not get job offers from their 2L internships, and they are sometimes viewed as "damaged goods."  You won't have this problem, since your 2L internship won't have been with a BigLaw firm.

Believe it or not, many BigLaw firms also hire folks based on resumes in the mail.  The right letter at the right time will work wonders.

Lawyers aren't stupid - even BigLaw lawyers.  If you can get past the set criteria, to the point where you can tell your story, we will listen.  We all went to law school, and many of us (myself included) found that first semester a major obstacle as well.  If you can show that you did figure it out, and convince us that you are smart, diligent, and dedicated, we will be interested.

FalconJimmy

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Re: Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2012, 04:21:51 PM »
Thanks for that post.  It didn't even occur to me that if you can follow one average semester with 5 excellent ones, that you'd have an extraordinary GPA.

hellhounds88

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Re: Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?
« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2012, 07:29:13 PM »
Sorry for the belated reply, but thank you both for your advice. What you both seem to be saying is that yes, first semester 1L grades do determine my destiny as far as job opportunities go. This is discouraging but it doesn't destroy me. However, my post did have one other question, directed mostly at people who have had some experience in the legal market:

Do biglaw, midlaw, etc. lawyers think that your grades in law school are an indicator of how smart you are? Of how well you know the law? Does the associate at big & big look down his nose at opposing counsel who got a C in contracts? Does the judge? Are attorneys basically sorted into castes when they're 1Ls? Do the people who did poorly have any chance at convincing anyone that they might be able to do a good job, or are they simply dismissed out of hand? For the rest of their lives?

john4040

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Re: Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2012, 08:58:27 AM »
Do biglaw, midlaw, etc. lawyers think that your grades in law school are an indicator of how smart you are? Of how well you know the law? Does the associate at big & big look down his nose at opposing counsel who got a C in contracts? Does the judge? Are attorneys basically sorted into castes when they're 1Ls? Do the people who did poorly have any chance at convincing anyone that they might be able to do a good job, or are they simply dismissed out of hand? For the rest of their lives?

Like it or not, the legal industry is incredibly prestige-driven.  Large corporate clients demand the best attorneys and will only go to those white-shoe firms that hire, what they perceive as, the "best attorneys" (HYS, Law Review, top x%).

Unfortunately, one of the few indicators/predictors of your value when you exit law school is your law school GPA and law school.  Another is your prior work experience, however, this only matters if your prior work experience substantially relates to the position you seek.  Once you're in practice, as Morten stated, you can "climb the ladder" into biglaw, assuming there's a need at that firm and you're good enough.  Nevertheless, some firms will simply dismiss you based on the school you went to and your grades.  You will be blocked from these firms and there will be nothing you can do to get in short of offering them a multi-million dollar book of business.

Morten Lund

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Re: Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2012, 09:07:29 PM »
Like it or not, the legal industry is incredibly prestige-driven.  Large corporate clients demand the best attorneys and will only go to those white-shoe firms that hire, what they perceive as, the "best attorneys" (HYS, Law Review, top x%).

... some firms will simply dismiss you based on the school you went to and your grades.  You will be blocked from these firms and there will be nothing you can do to get in short of offering them a multi-million dollar book of business.

John is spot-on.  Firms looking to hire don't take your grades in law school as an indicator of how smart you are (college grades, on the other hand...), and we don't particularly care how well you know the law - we assume you know nothing.  Nor does your GPA or class rank come into play in the courtroom or the boardroom.

But prestige does matter.  It matters a lot*.  It (IMO) matters a whole lot more than it should, but that's reality for you.  This is in part due to law school elitists within the firms, but in no small part due to market demand.  The law firm industry is just that - an industry, and they respond to their customers' desires.  A few decades back, some clients started demanding that their legal teams not be completely male and white - and suddenly law firms sprouted diversity programs**.  More recently, many corporate clients like to work with firms that have sustainable business practices - and you will now be hard pressed to find an AmLaw 100 firm that does not have a sustainability program of some kind**.  And, less nobly, some corporate clients prefer to work with attorneys from the top schools, or with firms that have very selective hiring criteria.  In response, some firms have changed their hiring practices to favor candidates that look good on paper. 

*Which law school you attended just might come up in the courtroom or the boardroom.
**That isn't to say that firms do not also have more noble motivations for their diversity or sustainability programs, simply that these client demands have had an effect on the law firm landscape.

Paper prestige will continue to rear its ugly head for the duration of your legal career, but never as seriously as during the first hire.  After that it is mostly an occasional annoyance from some stuffed suit - with one significant exception.

That exception is legal education.  Hiring of law faculty at every law school in the nation, regardless of rank, leans heavily toward the most prestigious resumes available.  This strange state of affairs is described/discussed in Thane Messinger's excellent Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold (plug 1), and also in Professor X's also excellent Law School Undercover (plug 2).  Both books are excellent reads, by the way (plug 3).  You will have tremendous difficulties ever being hired as faculty if you are not a top graduate from a top law school.

Ok - that meandered a bit.  Sorry.  In short:  law firms can be mercenary and arrogant, but are not stupid.  Your grades will set your vector out of school, but do not completely control your career trajectory.

Good luck.

lawschoolsurvival

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Re: Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2012, 09:28:30 PM »
A 2.9 GPA is not bad at all. You are already in the top 10% of people by simply being admitted to law school, and now you have out-performed half of that "elite" group. if you have the skill to do that, you likely have the skills needed to pass the Bar and do well as an attorney.

I knew people who freaked out during their first semester and nearly flunked out, but then out-shined the rest of us during their next 2.5 years, earning very respectable GPAs.

On a final note, if you are like me and don't care about "biglaw", you have no worries at all. A wise man once told me that as soon as you earn your JD and license, you are on an even playing field with the rest of the graduates, even if you were ranked bottom in your class. After that point, all you have to do is sell yourself to your future employer.
www.LawSchoolSurvival.org  - Tips, tricks, and strategies for surviving law school and the bar exam.

alisonmonahan

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Re: Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?
« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2012, 01:03:17 AM »
Look, you're not an idiot because you were at the mean, or slightly below, your first semester of law school. And, outside of job applications, no one's every going to know what your law school grades were. (So you can stop worrying about opposing counsel or a judge looking down on you for your first semester grades.)

But you do need a plan for how you're going to improve things. Have you gotten your exam answers back and really looked at them to figure out where things went wrong? Sucks, but it's critical to do.

This post I did might prove helpful: http://thegirlsguidetolawschool.com/01/help-my-first-semester-law-school-grades-are-really-bad/. In a nutshell, you're not alone, and you have options for improving the situation, should you choose to take them. Just don't let this become a self-perpetuating cycle, or you really will be screwed.

legend

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Re: Do lackluster first semester grades close all doors?
« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2012, 05:27:48 PM »
Good posts on this subject. Obviously you want to do well first semester and first year, but your life is not ruined because of a 2.9. There might be some doors closed to you now, but odds are they would have been closed anyways. The Federal Clerkship, BigLaw Summer Associate, or Tenured Law Professor might be out of the question, but your odds of getting them would have been about 5% if not lower to begin with.

Getting a 2.9 is not awful, but your not an elite law student and the odds are you weren't going to be when you started. Realistically even if you would have had a 3.2 and finished in the top 35% of the class last semester you likely wouldn't have been been a Federal Clerk, Big Law Summer Associate, Tenured Law Professor. To get these positions you would need to be in the 10 maybe 20% of your class depending on the school you attend. If your in the top 40% or top 60% your an average student like the majority of law students in America and nobody is really going to care about the differences between top 40  or top 60. At some point it really becomes irrelevant. Your an average possibly slightly above average law student depending on your school's curve. There is no shame in that and you are still likely to have some semblance of a legal career.

I think most 1L's in your situation have this experience, 100% of 1l's start out thinking they will be in the top 10%. This is quite funny when you think about it, but it is probably why law students and lawyers aren't known for their math skills. Some doors are closed to you now, but these doors are closed to most people so you haven't  lost anything.

As others suggested you can boost your GPA, but as you have learned getting good grades in law school is tough. More importantly once you get out into the world your going to get results or your not and your class rank will mean less and less as your career proceeds. Hopefully, this semester goes a little better for you. Even if you don't pull a 4.0 your life and legal career will continue just don't fail out and pass the bar. That is when you really have to worry a 2.9 is not life altering. 

Good Luck this semester