Grades – One last look back before going forward

Well, I think grades are coming out today.  Most of you have been able to put classes out of your mind for three or four weeks and settle into your summer routines.  But, before you can get comfortable writing memos all day and enjoying your nights like you are part of the real world, law school reality sucks you back in.

A summer away doesn’t mean that you’re not still part of this crazy world where you compete for interview slots, network as much as possible, and spend a few nights a week at SGA ‘bar reviews’.  The truth comes a knockin’ today, which means that you have to spend some time reflecting on those grades and how they’ll impact your future choices.  My goal here is not to be a Debbie Downer.  I’ve been in your shoes, and I know that once those grades appear on your computer screen your mind is going to be a nonstop express train with no last stop.  It doesn’t matter if your performance was phenomenal or abysmal, the same trip to nowhere will begin.

How did I do compared to everyone else?

Is this good for the big firms and OCI?

Is it good enough to transfer?

Am I even in the top half of the class?

Was law school the right decision for me?

What bar am I going to tonight to celebrate?

What bar am I going to tonight to forget about this for the night?

I don’t have the answers to all these questions.  If you want, you know that you can always come to anyone in our office to discuss them, but the real questions that need to be answered can only be done all by yourself.

Are these grades a reflection of the work I put in?

And no matter how good or bad you think you did:

What can I do along with these grades to get ready for the next part of law school?

In terms of the first question, this is really gut check time to decide if you reached your potential.  Did you put in enough work over the entire semester to garner the grades you think you should have?  You may have studied every waking moment during reading period, but grades are really a great reflection on your work over the entire semester.  Think of your grades as more of an evaluation of your course work.  Do you have to do more this coming year, change your study habits, or is everything just perfect as is?

For the second question, it’s all about taking the other steps towards being a well rounded law student/job candidate.  Grades are important but the whole package can present a bigger and better picture than just a GPA.  Getting involved with student groups, having an internship, doing research with a professor, going to networking events, meeting alumni – the opportunities are endless.  You don’t have to let your grades dictate what you think your future will be.

Use the summer to look at your grades in the bigger picture of your law school success.  No matter where you are on that curve, these are important things to put in perspective as you gear up for another year or two of law school.  Think about what you’ve done well and not so well and how these experiences can be building blocks for improvement during the rest of law school.  Even though grades are a big piece of the puzzle, remember that a puzzle has more than one piece.

We’ll be here all summer prepping for your return so we’ll keep blogging.  Good luck with those grades and remember to be proud of what you’ve accomplished. – Josh

One Comment

Robert posted on September 4, 2011 at 11:34 AM

“Are these grades a reflection of the work I put in?”

When students are only graded on a single essay test subjected to a mandatory curve, then the answer to this question for the majority of students will have to be “no.” I feel that the hard curve creates a strange arms race among law students where the entire student body works harder and harder to achieve no progress that will be observed by employers. No matter how brilliant every student is, the curve ensures that only X number of students will be advertised as such.

This may not have been a problem a decade ago when firms were each selecting 60 or more summer associates giving every student a real opportunity to prove themselves, but that is not the economy we are dealing with today. I feel privileged and lucky to have built the professional contacts that I have, and I know (as I’m sure we all do) dozens of fellow JDs who will make fantastic attorneys but simply have not yet had the right opportunities to prove that.

Sure when advising an individual student, we can tell them to work harder to bring up those grades. But that student cannot improve themselves in that regard without bringing down another. How does such a system reflect professional skills and aptitude?

It is my humble opinion that the law school needs to adapt its approach to give ALL of its students the best chance in today’s tough market. Rather than competing against one-another, we should be working together to prove and improve the true worth of our students to employers. And unfortunately, the opportunities in today’s economy are not “endless.” I have been to dozens of BU networking and professional skills seminars and see the same faces showing up again and again, putting in that effort, and being told only to keep showing up. The reality is that the Opportunities < Candidates.

We need creative solutions to keep up with the changing tide in our profession. Ideas I like include: a pass/fail/honors grading system where "honors" is left to the complete discretion of professors to identify students with strong potential in that subject; and clinic-like courses in 1L year to familiarize all students with basic skills such as filing motions and interacting with clients.

With regard to professional skills, we can safely assume that every law student is capable of learning these tasks, but in today's tough economy, employers are looking for "Yes, I have" rather than "Yes, I can". In the past, the school could assume that a motivated student could find opportunities to learn these skills outside of the classroom. But I have dozens of friends whose experiences belie that conventional wisdom. By not changing our strategy to help those students we reinforce the MISconception of employers that students without those experience have only themselves to blame.

The goal we should work toward is the name BU being the most important and communicative part of our students' resumes, not their grades. We charge our students too much money to have them rely on finding on-the-job training.

Just a thought.

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