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.

Ohio Supreme Court Denies Law License for Grad with $170,000 in Student Loans.

Law School Tuition

Are Student Loans a Trap?

In a headline that looks like it could be strait from the Onion (except that lay-people wouldn’t get the joke) ABC News reported on the story of Hassan Jonathan Griffin who was recently denied permission to sit for the Ohio bar based on his student loan debt. 

So, can too much student loan debt keep you from being a lawyer?  Apparently, the answer is yes; if you don’t have a realistic plan to pay it back. (And, you were in My Cousin Vinny’s law class).   

I have been noticing a disturbing trend among several states’ bars.  In the last month, both Ohio and New Hampshire failed candidates on their character and fitness evaluation based—at least in part—on having too much student loan debt. 

Last year, New York refused to license a guy who finally passed the bar on his fourth try because his student loans were too big, and his efforts to repay them were too small.  He owed more than $400,000.  The New York appellate panel concluded:

“Applicant has not made any substantial payments on the loans. . .. [He] has not presently established the character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counselor-at-law.”

The Ohio Supreme Court (click here for the opinion) denied Hassan Jonathan Griffin because he didn’t have a plan to repay his $170,000 student loan.  The Court seemed to be offended by the fact that Griffin had maintained a part-time law job instead of taking full time work:

“We accept the board’s findings of fact and conclude that the applicant has neglected his personal financial obligations by electing to maintain his part-time employment with the Public Defender’s Office in the hope that it will lead to a full-time position upon passage of the bar exam, rather than seeking full-time employment, which he acknowledges would give him a better opportunity to pay his obligations and possibly qualify him for an additional deferment of his student-loan obligation.” 

Most recently, New Hampshire has joined the fray also considering student debt in a recent opinion that—as it turns out—is Onion worthy.  I’m serious.  You have to read about this guy (click here for the opinion).  The New Hampshire Supreme Court stated:

In concluding its report, the Committee stated, “[The applicant]’s inability to responsibly deal with his personal financial obligations, his inability to accept responsibility for his criminal conduct, and his practice of placing blame on other individuals or events for his conduct, are all indicative of his inability to responsibly deal with his own affairs.” With respect to his financial problems, the Committee stated that it “does not believe that [the applicant] has made any type of sincere attempt to find employment during the last 20 years that would allow him to make payments on this loan obligation.” Moreover, the Committee found that, “[r]egardless of which excuse [the applicant] puts forth for his conduct, it was clear to the Committee that [the applicant] does not accept  esponsibility for any of his criminal acts.”

We appreciate that the applicant, as his counsel recounts, has overcome mental and physical difficulties. However, taken as a whole, the record reflects an individual with a long history of evading his financial obligations, as well as failing to accept responsibility for the consequences of his poor judgment and criminal behavior. We see no evidence that, as an attorney, the applicant would conduct himself any differently.

While these three prospective lawyers are not the norm, you should take note and make sure to stay current on your monumental student debt, or you just may find yourself in their company.

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