Perspective on Law School Grades…

Law School Grades are like a marathon

Law School is a Marathon Not a Sprint

Of the potential law students who take the LSAT each year, only about 34% make it into law school (about 2% make a T14 school).  Given the hurdles that you overcame to get into law school, and the fact that you have always done well in school, your first semester grades probably disappointed you.  It’s understandable, you are used to being one of the smartest kids in the class—you have always been.  And we all like to think that this reality will continue, notwithstanding the talent that surrounds us in law school. 

Perhaps you identified the delusional gunners.  You know, the ones that had so much brilliance to add to class during the first semester, who now sit silently after their first semester performance.  You knew you would do better than those guys and you probably did.  I mean, you worked hard, you did what you were supposed to do,  and yet, you find yourself (for the first time in your life) outside the top 10% of the class.    

One of the greatest gifts of law school is the humbling realization that we must learn to derive our self esteem from something other than our accomplishments.  Not every student gets this gift during law school, but many do.  The law school exam is a snapshot of your performance on a given day on a given exam.  Your grade is not derived from how well you grasp the subject matter.  It comes from how well you grasp the subject matter in relation to those in your class; which you can influence, but never control.  Doing well depends on thinking within a narrow analytical realm.  Some people are too intellectually creative to ever do this, while others are too rigid.  Both of these students master the course material but are never rewarded on the exam.  Both of these students have the potential to be, and probably will be, great lawyers.  And, even if you never do well, it is helpful to remember what they call the person who graduates in the bottom 5% of their law class and barely passes the bar exam—A lawyer! 

All of that isn’t to say, however, that law school grades are not important.  Your grades will influence the type of work you will do at the beginning of your legal career and will follow you in certain fields.  If your grades are not where you want them, you need to evaluate your exam-taking skills and make efforts to improve them.  This website has some great tools for doing that.  But, if it doesn’t work out, you should remember that half of your law school class will graduate in the bottom 50%.

Consistently low grades ARE a predictor of how much difficulty you will have with the bar exam, and with finding a job.  If you are not happy with your grades, now is the time to do something.  If you want to learn the subtle distinctions that will take you to the top of the class, begin with the Exam Strategies we provide and be sure to download the Free 1L Law Student Guide to see how I went from top 25% of my 1L section to top 5% of my law school class.

Can Law School Be Fun?

Tips for 1L Law Students Law School Can Be a Rollercoaster Ride, Make Sure to Have Fun!

Your first year of law school will keep you perpetually busy.  If you have a moment you are sure to have something school-related that you can fit into the time.  There is always more you can do.  But, if you do not make time for yourself, you will experience burnout and your grades will suffer. 

One major key to maintaining your sanity in this obsessive and competitive environment is to learn to have some balance in your life.  Make yourself a schedule like you would have at work.  Between those hours, you “work.”  When you are off, make sure that you have a family and social life.

You should also consider joining one or more of your law school’s organizations or clubs.  Keep an eye out for the intro meetings.  Not only will you learn about each organization, they usually feed you.  Find a few of these organizations that you want to be part of.  Do not attempt to hold a leadership position as a 1L—it’s not worth the distraction. 

You will have opportunities to attend alcohol-filled-receptions and happy hours thrown by organizations or law firms.  These are an excellent opportunity for socializing, whether you drink or not.  Also be on the lookout for other types of parties and events.  Usually there will be plenty to choose from until about a month before exam time. 

If the student organizations don’t appeal to you, find something else.  Take a fitness class. Volunteer.  Do something.  The key is to having several activities that you balance with your “work” so that you don’t go crazy.

Sometimes your professors will get in on the fun.  Here is a set of hilarious exam instructions from an actual 1L law school class:  

Final Examination  – Con Law

3 Hours


1.  This is a Final Examination — Very Serious Business indeed, which will undoubtedly affect your entire future.  That’s why I’ve put these Very Official Looking Directions on the front cover.

2.  Do not panic. Stay calm at all times.

3.  Go ahead, compromise your anonymity; why would I care? I grade blindly just to make the registrar happy.  Do you really think I’m sufficiently invested in your lives to play favorites?

4. This is an open book examination. Use whatever materials you want.  They won’t help you, but you know that.  Of course, flipping through 100-page outlines, treatises, Gilberts, and nutshells does help the time pass.  Have you tried cross-tabbing your outline during an exam yet?

5. Feel free to make up facts if you like — the screwier the better. Wacky abbreviations are fine, too, so long as they make me laugh.  Just do something, anything, to amuse me.  That said, be aware that nothing affects your final grade more adversely than jokes that make me cringe.

6. You can write or type. I’d really, really (with sugar on top) like it if you typed — so I can spot how silly your answers are without expending too much effort.  If you do write, however, and happen to have sloppy handwriting, I might give you credit for brilliance that your answer in fact lacks.  (How do you think I got to be a professor?  Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.)

7.  As Polonius said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” So do as he said (and not, please Dear God, as he did).

8.  Whatever you do, don’t bother to ask the proctor any questions about the exam. He’s just an undergraduate with a pulp novel who is, beneath his blank face, snickering at your misery.  I promise he’ll be of no help to you and will only waste your precious time.

9.  Any questions that arise during the examination must be asked of the proctor. Do not try to contact the instructor, as that could theoretically compromise your anonymity, which would prompt a nasty rebuke from the registrar, which is the thing your professor fears most in life.  But cf. Instruction #3, supra.

10.  I haven’t flunked anyone in a while. I’m about due, I think.  But that’s neither here nor there.  Cf. Instruction #2.

11.  Closing line. (*Circle your favorite*):    a) Good Luck! ;   b) Godspeed!;  c)  May the Force be With You!;  d)  Have a Nice Vacation!;  e) Hasta la Vista, Baby (Note:  This closing is nothing more than a pleasantry.  If everybody enjoyed good luck on the exam in this curved course, I’d be totally screwed.  But you knew that.)

12.  You haven’t wasted precious exam time reading these instructions, have you?