1.3 – The Role of Law School Grades


Role of Law School Grades

In this lesson, I want to talk a bit about the role of law school grades. This flows from what we were talking about in the previous lesson. Taking law school seriously as a professional commitment does mean you're going to at least have to think a little bit about law school grades and how they're going to fit into your career. Here's the thing that you do need to know, which is that law school grades do matter. Law is a very hierarchical and status-focused profession, and law school grades are one way that employers are going to sort people and to make certain opportunities available or not.

Provides Opportunities

Job interviews, law reviews, research assistantships

Law school grades are going to open certain doors for you, make it easier to get certain kinds of job interviews, certain kinds of positions, and so forth. They also can have an impact within law school itself in that your law school grades could enable you to have certain other kinds of opportunities. For example, at many, but not all, law schools, there's what we call "grade on to the law review," so if you want to participate in what we call the "flagship law review" at many law schools, having better grades is going to make that easier. It also might open up opportunities to work as a research assistant for professors at your law school.

Graded on Strict Curve

The bad news is that your grades are going to matter. The other piece of bad news is not everyone is going to get top grades in law school because law school, unlike some undergraduate programs, is graded on a curve. It's a pretty strict curve at most schools that really enables sorting, and you can figure out where people are in the class based on their grades. You need to be aware of this. You need to recognize that this is true and that it's part of recognizing that law school is an important professional commitment and thinking about this and not just ignoring it.

I also have a couple pieces of good news too.

Dispositive for Career

First, even if grades matter, they're rarely going to be dispositive in terms of your career. I can point to many, many examples of people that didn't get successful grades but became very, very successful lawyers, probably some of the most successful lawyers in America. Some of the people whose names are all over the headlines, who have made huge amounts of money, things like that, didn't achieve great academic recognition in law school. It doesn't necessarily have that much bearing on how good of a lawyer you're going to be because it may turn out that your particular set of skills is one that makes you a really, really good lawyer in some way but doesn't necessarily translate into getting absolute top grades in law school.

Many employers understand this, so it's not the case that you're not going to get the kind of job that you want or have the kind of career that you want if you don't get the kind of grades that you're really hoping for. That said, all things equal, grades are going to open more doors. You might as well try to do as well as you can.

Grades Are Not Fixed

Grades can be improved with every semester.

The second piece of good news is that grades are not fixed and stable. Grades can improve a lot. For example, Elena Kagan, who later was the dean of Harvard Law School, solicitor general of the United States, and is now a Supreme Court justice, went to Harvard Law School. In her first semester, she didn't do particularly well. She got some B- grades and was nowhere near the top of the class.

But she figured it out and ended up graduating near the very, very top of the class, then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. What that shows you is that grades are not in any way just a reflection of your raw intelligence or your worth. Instead, they are basically something that's the product of effort, practice, and strategic thinking, and you can have some control over the kinds of grades that you can get. They're also not just going to reflect the raw amount of work that you put into them. Instead, they're going to reflect the amount of ~~smart~~ effort you put into them.

This class is designed to help you figure out how you can develop your grades and work in a way that's smart, not just in a way that involves the most amount of effort.

Learn about our Law School Explained courses.

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