Law School Grades: Some Perspective


Associate Director Jill Collins

Grades came out on Friday, and there was probably a wide variety of reactions.  For some, you breathed a sigh of relief, and for others you might be wondering what you can do differently this semester.  Whether you’re feeling like your hard work paid off or like your hard work didn’t yield the results you hoped for, this post is all about keeping it in perspective.  

For more advice on moving past your 1st semester grades, please join us for the New Outlook program on Friday, January 24, noon-1pm in Room 520.  This program features advice from your professors (via video), tips on improving your performance, and advice from new Assistant Dean for Career Development, Fiona Hornblower, on how grades impact your job search.   

First of all, let me say that grades are important, and I won’t pretend they aren’t. For better or worse, your GPA will be one of the ways people evaluate you.  The problem arises when you let grades define you.  So here are my two keys to keeping grades in perspective – and finding your own success.

1.  Understand that grades are not necessarily a predictor of future success (however defined) – especially first semester grades.  Exam grades tell you who is good at law school exams, which test your ability to spot and analyze issues in a short amount of time and with only what you can memorize or bring into the exam.  However, many legal jobs require just the opposite type of performance – analysis on long-term projects where perseverance and precision are the keys to success.  Guess what else?  You’re still learning how to be a law student!  You’re already much wiser than you were on December 11 before you walked into your first law school exam.  So don’t conclude that all is lost after your first semester. 

2.  Know what you value.  Set your goals accordingly.  Then measure your progress based on YOUR values and goals.  What the heck do I mean by that?  For law students, answering this question often means thinking seriously about why you came to law school.  For some of you, you chose law school because you want to help people.  Maybe helping people means being a good counselor to your clients.  Thus, being a good counselor is one of your goals.  Meeting that goal might involve excelling in clinical work and the client counselling competition.  Where do first semester grades fit in reaching your goal?  They’re important because being knowledgeable is part of being a good counselor, but it’s not the only way you will reach your goal. 

But wait – what if I want to find the job that makes the most money?  Then I need good grades so I can get a job during OCI for a summer associate position at a big firm where they pay a lot so I can get hired right out of law school and make that big starting salary as a first year associate????   Well, that’s one way to make money.  But it’s a little short-sighted.  If you value making money, then your goal really needs to be to become a partner or head up your own firm.  In order to do that, you should be a competent attorney, which requires passing but not necessarily stellar grades.  However, what you need in addition to competence is…the ability to build business!  Bring in clients.  Keep clients. Bring in more clients.  Bring in the money, my friend, and you’ll go home with the money – regardless of your law school GPA.  So if what you value is making money, and your goal is to become partner, then you should be focusing on becoming a good (or at least competent) attorney AND building relationships with everyone – your classmates, practicing attorneys, your parents’ friends, and so on. 

What if I got great grades?  If you got terrific grades, then certain pathways might be easier for you.  But taking the time now to focus on your values and identify goals that really support those values might help you avoid simply falling into something that doesn’t support your values. 

Determining your values and setting your goals will be different for everyone.  This is just one more reason why grades – which necessarily measure everyone by the same yardstick – are only one piece of the puzzle. So, keep those grades in perspective!! 


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