What's Next?
January 22, 2010 8:01 AM   Subscribe

A few days ago, first-semester 1L grades were released at my top-25 law school, where I'm paying sticker. My jaw dropped when I found out that I'm well below median. What now?

I guess my next course of action should be somewhere between dropping out ("If you're not at Harvard/Yale/Stanford, and you're not in the top 10 percent, forget about it!") and not caring at all ("First-year grades really aren't a big deal at all!")

Any advice from someone who's not a fellow 1L of mine?
posted by anonymous to Education (76 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Um... no, you should not drop out.

(How is being a dropout better than being a lawyer who happened to finish in the bottom of the class?)
posted by rokusan at 8:08 AM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do. Not. Panic.

Try to ignore the folks gushing / lording over their own grades.

There are stories of Supreme Court clerks who had bad first-semester 1L grades.

There are many grade-focused career paths (white-shoe BigLaw, appellate clerkships, etc.) and this economy doesn't make things easy for ANYONE. But a bad batch of 1L grades isn't the end of the world.

Regarding your grades, lots of people will be giving you the lawyerly answer of, "It depends." If you really are/were shooting for the "Supreme Court clerkship" career-path, then yes, you might have an uphill climb. For other career paths it really is true that grades aren't a big deal.

Take things one step at a time. Your immediate short-term goal in law school is to figure out a strategy for improving your grades. Or if you are truly on one of the "grades aren't a big deal" career paths, figuring out what really is important for that path.

Most people I remember from law school really didn't know what career path they were doing. So, one step at a time.

Do. Not. Panic.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 8:12 AM on January 22, 2010

No, don't drop out. Focus on doing better the next five semesters.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:12 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

rokusan, the dropout doesn't have $100K in debt to go with his unemployment.
posted by spacewrench at 8:12 AM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Bust your ass and do better this semester. You're already basically in the hole for tuition anyways, so dropping out now won't change things much. I had just under a 3.0 my first semester but managed to finish out cum laude, so all is not yet lost.

But first year grades are a big deal. You get your first summer job based on your first semester grades, you get your second summer job based on your first year grades, and you ideally get your first real job based on your second summer job.*

But if you don't do well this semseter, seriously consider dropping out. The market is brutal, and I know people with better grades than you--better grades than me too, actually--who graduated from my top-25 law school in '07, '08, and '09 who don't have law jobs. I know one girl who actually threw in the towel, did Teach For America, and got her teaching license, because there just aren't law jobs to be had. I do have a job, but it basically fell on me out of the sky, so I can't take much credit for getting it.

$30-40k of debt with nothing to show for it sucks, but $90-120k of debt and an unmarketable degree doesn't suck all that much less.

What are your other options?

*Or at least that's how it was supposed to work. It largely isn't working that way any more, as BigLaw has pretty much stopped hiring and canceled OCI. Your first year grades may not make as much of a difference as they used to. No one knows. But do know that if you don't land a BigLaw job you're going to be dealing with debt for at least a decade, assuming you get a job at all, for which there are no promises.
posted by valkyryn at 8:13 AM on January 22, 2010 [13 favorites]

(But, OP, roomthreeseventeen's advice is what you should heed.)
posted by spacewrench at 8:14 AM on January 22, 2010

Many good lawyers didn't graduate in the top of their class. Many important lawyering skills don't lend themselves to quantification in a grade point. If your aim is to become a lawyer then concentrate on learning those things that will serve your future clients -- and learn them well.

As you allude -- the expensive tuition at (most) law schools encourages reducing education to a cost-benefit analysis. I think there should be more to education than just a bump in salary.
posted by GPF at 8:14 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

(How is being a dropout better than being a lawyer who happened to finish in the bottom of the class?)

Dropping out of law school is different than dropping out of college. I'd bet OP has a major in something. I don't know what the job market looks like for law students, or if not being in the top of your class means you won't get a good job.

It is healthy to constantly rethink your situation, but in this case, stick it out for the rest of the year at the very least. If you're still doing poorly after the first half of your second year, start looking for jobs, is it really worth racking up the incredible debt?

I honestly don't understand why lawyers do what they do. Kudos to you if you can stick it out, but I would never have the chops to do it.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:17 AM on January 22, 2010

Valkryn's response is the only one you need.
posted by dfriedman at 8:18 AM on January 22, 2010

Talk to your professors about your test. Not to suck up, or to get them to change your grade, cause that's not going to happen. What should happen, if you have decent profs, is they will explain where you went wrong on your test. It could be a structuring issue (remember IRAC), or it could be you just didn't understand a big concept on the test. What sucks most of all is finding out you left something you did know out of your answer because you just plumb forgot to include it.

A lot of times, the professor might even show you his/her grading rubric. My Civ Pro I professor did this last year, and it really helped me to see this huge list of all the possible things you could get points for mentioning. Of course, a lot of the stuff on the list were things no student was ever going to actually write down, but knowing how he graded helped me raise my grade considerably in Civ Pro II.

A few of my friends in particular found talking to the professors helpful because they really needed to see the importance of structuring an exam answer clearly, and making sure to not just throw up the black letter rule on the test, but to actually apply it to the given facts.
posted by mesha steele at 8:19 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cut your losses, seriously. You can still get out with minmal long-term damage. The only possible way that you will ever repay that 200k in loan debt is if you either you land a job at a BigLaw firm. Those jobs are now closed to you for the forseeable future, until you build a large book of portable business and practical skills someplace else.

You are facing a brutal job market with an absolute GLUT of debt laden students in your same position who are willing to work for almost nothing, with thousands more like you graduating every single year. There are no jobs out there, and you will be competing with Ivy league grads and out of work attorneys with 5-10+ years of experience for each and every one. The "NY to 190k" model is dead, but the loans are still flowing.

The secret law schools dont tell you is that they are not trianing you to practice law. They are training you to sit in a law library in a monkey with a typewriter for 5 years at 80+ hrs a week writing for some partner who thinks that you are worth less than dirt. Unless you are willing to essentially train yourself to practice solo or to find a mentor willing to train you, and cope with the insane debt while you do so, do yourself a favor and get out now.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:27 AM on January 22, 2010

sorry for the terrible typos. typing this at my non-law job.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:31 AM on January 22, 2010

valkyryn and I went to law school together. I have a job, but only until August (term clerkship). It's tough out there. Mesha has some good advice; talking to profs after the first semester helped me understand what many of them are looking for in exams, and how to write a good exam answer. Since your jaw dropped when you got your grades, I assume that you put in the work and knew your material. If you didn't; do that this time around. Law school takes a lot of work.

If you did put in the time, my guess is that you haven't figured out how to take a law school exam yet. Since you're in a top 25 school, I'm guessing you had at least decent LSAT scores, which means that you were either very lucky, quite talented, or figured out the test. A lot of law students don't take the time to figure out law school exams and how to write them. There have been a number of good books written on the subject; I'm sure your law library has them in stock. Talk to your law librarian.

Another, slightly outside of the box, suggestion is to consider transferring to another school. Even with below-the-median grades, Pepperdine or other similarly situated law schools, T3 with some name recognition, may be willing to take you at a steep discount from your T-25. Coming out of Pepperdine above the median and with 1/4 of the debt may be better for you than coming out of your current school in the bottom 1/3 with a ton of debt, but that decision will depend on why you want a JD in the first place.

I agree with valkyryn that if you put your head down, work hard, and still come out with bad grades at the end of this semester, you need to at least start considering other options. You could always head for the peace corps or TFA for a few years, the consider whether you want to make another go at law school. Given the economy, I don't think many schools would hold it against you if you applied for readmission after that sort of a move.

Finally, on preview, I think T.D. Strange's advice is a little premature. You're not going to get a refund on this semester. You may as well stick it out and make your decisions from there.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:31 AM on January 22, 2010

T.D. Strange's comments reflect a common criticism of law school, and while not entirely unmerited, I think that's going too far. It's true that law school doesn't teach you much about how to file incorporation papers, manage discovery, or acquire clients. It isn't supposed to. It's supposed to teach you how to exercise discretion, which is what your clients are really paying you for. This isn't easy to quantify, and doesn't necessarily track with grades, but all that means is that the system is screwy, a situation hardly unique to law education.

craven_morhead, who indeed is a colleague of mine, does have a good idea. Consider a transfer. If you aren't in the top half of your class at your top-25, a lot of the benefits of that name start to diminish pretty quickly. Even at that range you're not likely to get a really prestigious job--something like 25% of my school tends to end up in BigLaw, and 10-15% or so wind up clerking on any level--so cutting your losses with debt by moving to a regionally-respectable but not nationally prestigious school is worth thinking about. A lot of people find that local good-old-boy networks are far better connected to schools outside the top-50 than they are for schools designed to send people to Kirkland & Ellis or Skadden, because all the good-old-boys went to local schools and stayed put.

A judge at my swearing in remarked that there is at least one courthouse in every county in the state, the schedules of all of which are booked solid for months, and every case in every courthouse needs at least two lawyers. She's right. There is work to be done. It isn't glamorous work--and much of it will not pay for much more than $50-75k in total debt, if that--but you can in fact make a living at this if you don't reach beyond your grasp. It may not be an upper-middle class living, but there are worse things.
posted by valkyryn at 8:44 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have never, ever, asked any professional that I have hired in any capacity whatsoever what their grades in school were. I have never, ever been asked, in 15 years of working as a professional in various fields, what my grades in school were.

If this is something that affects you getting hired for Big Money at a Big Firm, then yeah, that's a problem. But if your concern is that people won't see you as a good lawyer if you don't score top percentile grades, frankly, nobody outside of grad schools or prospective employers will care.
posted by Shepherd at 8:46 AM on January 22, 2010

What do you call the guy who graduated at the bottom of his med school class?


The same applies here. Stick it out.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:47 AM on January 22, 2010

Rokusan, to state the obvious, a dropout will not rack up another $125,000 in debt only to find that there are no jobs available (and there really aren't).

OP, I'm not going to sweet talk you. You've been dealt a pretty shitty hand here, and it's going to be hard to recover from it (unless you make your legal career yourself--see below). In this day and age, someone below the median at a top 25 school is not going to fare very well in the traditional law firm / pro bono marketplace. There are way too many people with better qualifications who have either been laid off and are looking for work, or who will be graduating your year. Firms are already over leveraged, with idle first-, second- and third-year associates just scrounging for work to do--which limits need for future hiring. Pro bono organizations are struggling with less funding and doing more with fewer people. I personally know dozens of excellent associates who have been laid off in the past 18 months, and there are thousands out there.

If you're just going to hang up a shingle and litigate on your own, your grades don't matter--only your aptitude and hustle (stop: self assess. Bonus question: how does your aptitude and hustle compare to that of the legion of other lawyers without work right now?).

If you can knock it out of the park in spring semester and are confident you can do the same each semester afterwards, you should stick with it. And do talk with your professors about your grades, as mesha writes--they may help get you on the straight and narrow for the spring (and might bump you up if you can persuade them of your legal thinking).

But seriously consider cutting your losses. I know too many people with $100,000+ in debt and no job, or jobs reviewing documents for $20/hour. Don't do that to yourself.

On preview: there's a lot of gee-whizzery in this thread about good lawyers not necessarily being good law students, and Onward legal soldier and whatnot. The suggestion to transfer and be a big fish in a little pond is something to consider, too. But really be circumspect about continuing at an expensive school if you're not going to have a job. It is a crushing weight of debt to bear without anything to show for it. I'd also be loath to listen to anyone who is not seeing the legal market firsthand; it's cataclysmic out there.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:51 AM on January 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

What do you call the guy who graduated at the bottom of his med school class?


The same applies here. Stick it out.

Quite possibly the stupidest and most flippant advice I have ever heard. Doctors' and lawyers' salaries have been under pressure for years; "sticking it out" may work for Navy SEALs. It is not clear that the same conclusion ought to be determined by either law or medical students.
posted by dfriedman at 8:51 AM on January 22, 2010 [10 favorites]

I have never, ever, asked any professional that I have hired in any capacity whatsoever what their grades in school were. I have never, ever been asked, in 15 years of working as a professional in various fields, what my grades in school were.

Every candidate for a law firm associate job includes a full transcript, which is scrutinized as much as their resume. It's a petty, status-obsessed field, for the most part. Even in the go-go-go days, I've seen people from top-tier schools "no-offered" for having a B+.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:57 AM on January 22, 2010

No, doctors to lawyers is not a fair comparison. It's much easier to find employment as a doctor, for example. Also, doctors tend to be a little more respected, for what that's worth.

I still say a bottom of class degree from a top school is still a degree from a top school. $125K is not a huge amount of debt, and if you've come this far... it's just one semester. Improve.
posted by rokusan at 9:03 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even in the go-go-go days, I've seen people from top-tier schools "no-offered" for having a B+.

... at a V3? Skadden would be happy to have every A- average kid from the T6.

Anyway. It depends on how bad your grades are. If it's clear law just isnt your thing, you might consider cutting your losses.
posted by jock@law at 9:04 AM on January 22, 2010

I think it very much depends on what you want to do after law school. If you want to be at a big law firm, much of the above advice applies. But there are other options. See if your school has a loan repayment program for public interest work. I believe JAG repays loans, as does, under certain conditions, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act.

Anyway, it's worth doing the math and investigating what you really want to do as a lawyer.
posted by shivohum at 9:09 AM on January 22, 2010

"But if your concern is that people won't see you as a good lawyer if you don't score top percentile grades, frankly, nobody outside of grad schools or prospective employers will care."

I'm going to assume that the OP cares a lot about what prospective employers will think.

"$125K is not a huge amount of debt"

I disagree, especially if you're in a situation where it doesn't find a way to pay for itself.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:09 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I assume that you did the work and knew the material, but got thrown by the way in which law school exams are graded. Your profs are going to be used to discussing bad grades with 1Ls. Many will have available a high grade exam so that the two of you can discuss what the high grade did well that you did not. Consider a tutor. Check the aforementioned books out of the law library. Bust your butt next semester and see if all these things don't make a difference. If they don't then poor grades may make it difficult to get into better firms, get clerkships etc. Were you thinking about litigation as a career path? Many of the best litigators did horribly in law school.
posted by caddis at 9:18 AM on January 22, 2010

Maybe my earlier post was too cynical. There are still ways you can make it work. But really make the choice that you want to be a lawyer to help people or to fight the man or clean up crime or whatever your cause happens to be. If you went to law school because you are an English major who didn't want to teach highschool or work retail or because you read in USNEWS that the average salary (did you look at the percentage reporting salary information?) of graduates was $108,000, give up. Suck it up and teach highschool or work retail like the rest of America.

If you decide to stick it out through the next semester, buy something useful with some of that loan money and pick up a copy of Solo By Choice and How to Start & Build a Law Practice. Ask yourself if it's something that you think you can live with if/when you graduate unemployed and have to make your own career.

Even if you decide you want to stick it out, the suggestion to transfer down is a really good idea. Many local schools are much more plugged into the state and local courthouse process than the national or pseudo-national schools. Taking lower debt and really building a relationship with a local practitioner while still a student could substitute for grades and turn into a real career, rather than result in the sisyphean struggle just to get back to even money that most of us new law grads find ourselves in.

In any case, if you decide to stay, don't get trapped in the idea that you have to read all the cases and spot all the issues or whatever BS they're pushing on you to take up time and justify charging 46k a year. Do the work, but more importantly get out and learn how to actually practice. Go watch court. Talk to the adjunct profs (not the worthless tenure track gasbags) about what they actually do, and if you can volunteer to do something for them. Take all the skills and clinic courses you possibly can. Make it work for you, because no one else will.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:18 AM on January 22, 2010

$125K is not a huge amount of debt

Well that's certainly relative. It's a lot of debt to a lot of people. Let's not make assumptions here, ok? I think I might die if I had that much debt, and saying that it's not makes you look like an asshole. Just thought I would point that out.
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:19 AM on January 22, 2010

valkyryn's advice lines up with what I've been hearing. I know people at top-3 schools who don't have jobs lined up, despite being in the top 10%. Right now things are really bad, but two years is a long ways away. Since the internship schedule valkyryn lined out is really kaput right now, a lot (A LOT) are applying to firms they did not intern with. At that point, in my opinion, the second year internship seems a lot less important compared to your degree and grade. If you feel you can get your grades up, I think you'd be better off than you traditionally would, as far as getting a job to pay off the debt.

Getting a law degree at a lower ranked school isn't worth it unless you want to be a lawyer. The pay is low, the debt is high. You do it because you want to be a lawyer. Making $50k-70k and similarly high debt (undergrad too?), is really crushing. Livable, but crushing.

At least at a better school you have the option to shoot for the moon. It is a risk, but a risk I'd take if I was willing to put in the effort to overcome the bad first semester grades.
posted by geoff. at 9:19 AM on January 22, 2010

geoff, can you elaborate a little on your distinction between wanting to be a lawyer and shooting for the moon? Are you talking about the difference in pay between a public defender and a white shoe attorney, or something different?
posted by craven_morhead at 9:22 AM on January 22, 2010

Not to turn this into an argument, but really rokusan, think about what you're saying. A bottom of the class degree from a top school is still a degree from a top school? Sure, but in a market where not even the top of the class can find a job, this is plain bad advice.
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:24 AM on January 22, 2010

You have to decide (or get advice from those who would know) whether you are relatively lazy or relatively dumb or both.

If you're not dumb compared to the other students but not working as hard as they do, you might be able to turn it around, given your recent kick in the pants. Try harder. Stop coasting. Put in more hours. Study with better students.

If you're relatively dumb (be honest with yourself) but working hard compared to the rest, you probably need to become something that doesn't require as much processing power but still gets you a pretty good job. Think about the top 20 or 30 careers here. If you're good with math, more than half of the top ten are made for you. And 'paralegal assistant' is number 7.

If you're relatively dumb and relatively lazy, but still good enough to get into a top-25 law school, so not really dumb and lazy at all, and perhaps actually pretty smart and industrious compared to most folk out in the world, I suggest you become a teacher. Teachers are needed everywhere. Do that.
posted by pracowity at 9:26 AM on January 22, 2010

The positive take:

I was in a very similar situation 10 years ago and stuck it out. I ended up doing really well for the balance of law school, graduating in the top 5% of the class, going to work in BigLaw, and then moving to a very comfortable in-house job where I am enjoying myself. I lived pretty frugally after graduating and paid off loans within 8 years. So a bad first semester of your 1L year - while you are figuring out how to be a law student and what professors look for on exams - isn't necessarily a killer for your future prospects.

If you like law school and think you will like being a lawyer - and these are two critical points - then you can stick it out and be fine.

The more measured take:

If you do decide to stay, your career goals (assuming you want to start at a firm) will already be more difficult to attain due to your 1L first sememster. Firms hiring 1L summers (to the extent they still exist) look almost exclusively at those scores. So a well-paying 2010 summer job is probably out. Then, firms hiring for summer 2011 (where you would generally have your best chance to score an offer of employment for after graduation), will look primarily at your overall 1L scores. So you only have 1 semester to get the grades up. If you can't score the 2L summer job at a firm, you will need to work your ass off as a 3L candidate to get in somewhere. I sent out targeted resumes and cover letters to about 85 firms my 3L fall. I got back, literally, rejection letters from all but one firm. Luckily, that firm interviewed me and hired me. If they hadn't I would have had trouble getting in to a law firm. The best thing I did for my career prospects was working for $8 per hour at a Legal Aid clinic the summer between my 1L and 2L years. I had a great great mentor and got a ton of real world experience. I was able to use that experience both on my resume and later in my career.

I have a good friend who went to a tier 2 school and performed in the middle of his class. He had moved from the midwest to the west coast to go there, and decided after year 1 that although he didn't really like it he would finish the degree for good measure. He graduated with $100K+ in debt. He now has a good job working at a bank, but he doesn't use his law degree at all (even though he took and passed the bar) and has told me that he really wishes he could go back and bail out after year 1 and save himself the loan payments.

If you do decide to leave, there's no shame in it. Law school is a weird place, and your ability to write the correct thing on an exam is not correlative to your intellect or skills. And your prospects are not necessarily hurt. I had 2 friends leave after their first year. The first had decent grades but realized in the first year that the degree wasn't worth it from a cost-benefit analysis. He is now a very successful and widely-respected reporter. The second had poor grades and decided that he wasn't in love with the idea of being a lawyer anyway. He went into a financial services job and is just fine. In both of their cases I believe they clearly made the right decision.

One thing you don't say in your post is whether you had under-median grades across the board, or one (or two) bad exam results. For me, I did pretty well in 3 of my classes and absolutely tanked my 4th. I convinced myself that I got hosed on the bad grade and that it was not reflective of my abilities. That made it easier to stay confident going forward and shake it off. If that is you, it is easier to give the advice to stick it out and incur the debt. If on the other hand you did sub-median in everything, the likelihood of you routinely excelling for the next 5 semesters is more remote and you should think hard about whether the debt is worth it.

Good luck.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:29 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

$125K is not a huge amount of debt

What? $125K is like having a mortgage except a) you can't get rid of it through bankruptcy and b) once you pay it off you don't have a house. If the OP gets a typical law job (which is a significant if), paying that student debt will eat somewhere between 15 and 30% of his or her income for between 10 and 30 years. When you factor in interest, it's entirely arguable that it's economically rational to drop out. Depending on the OP's undergraduate degree, he or she may make more money over his or her lifetime not being a lawyer.

I always post this graph in these kinds of threads. Unless you have some connections into the large firm world or are capable of building a successful practice on your own, your pay will be squarely in the lower of those two spikes.

Now, here's what I would recommend. You are going to talk to each and every professor and go over your exams. Find out exactly what you did wrong and how to do better. Take notes in these conversations. Then, work extremely hard to improve. By the way: did you make an outline? If you didn't, you need to. If it's not your usual way of studying it may seem silly, but it's used for a reason: it works well for most people.

In the meanwhile, you need to work overtime getting a summer job. Go to the school's career office and pull out all the stops. When you go over your exams with professors, ask them if they have any concrete suggestions for summer jobs. Literally ask every family member and close friend you have if they know an attorney, whether personally, professionally, or as a client. You need to have a summer job working as a summer associate, preferably doing the kind of work you want to do when you graduate. It will be difficult. You need to apply to every single firm that you could possibly, feasibly work at this summer. You do not have the luxury of picking first and applying second. Watch this talk on how to get a job and follow its advice (NB: self-link; I work with the professor giving the talk).

Then, this is the calculus: if you land a summer job with a firm, congratulations, stick with it even if your grades remain mediocre. If you don't get a job with a firm and your grades are substantially improved, then stick with it. But if you don't get a job and your grades haven't improved, it's time to throw in the towel: either transfer to a much cheaper school or (if your undergraduate degree can get you a job) drop out.

An additional word of advice: get on law journal. At most schools this is decided through some combination of grades and a write-on competition. Find out how that works now and begin preparing for it. For example, if the write-on involves a lot of Bluebooking, then make Bluebook flash cards or whatever you need to do to know the rules in and out. For many large firms, good grades and being on law journal are absolute necessities: they simply will not consider an applicant who does not meet those requirements. And no, moot court is not a substitute for law journal.
posted by jedicus at 9:33 AM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

My mother loves reminding me that she got D's her first semester in law school and that she seriously contemplated dropping out.
She ended up making a conscious decision to stay in and finish- not to let the system beat her, so to speak, and her grades improved vastly.
She's been a practicing, successful attorney for the past 27 years.
Now, I get that the job market is much tougher nowadays than it was then, and of course, only you know what the best course of action for you is. If this casts doubt on your decision or ability to practice law, then by all means, you don't have to finish.
But remember also that first year of law school is HARD. HARD. Whatever decision you make, go easy on yourself.
posted by bookgirl18 at 9:50 AM on January 22, 2010

You should at least stick out the year. And while you should absolutely try to put this semester behind you and focus on next semester and maybe the next two years -- don't move on yet. As painful as it might be, you must take each one of your exams and get the professor to go over it with you in detail. Professors will be happy to do this, as long as you arrange a convenient time, and is the best way for you to know what you did wrong and could do better in the future.
posted by chinston at 9:51 AM on January 22, 2010

[My mother did badly and considered dropping out of law school. She stayed and is now a successful attorney].

Good on your mother, no doubt she worked very hard for her success, but her situation cannot be generalized. Most people who do poorly in law school do not become successful attorneys. Also, 27 years ago, even adjusting for inflation, law school was much, much cheaper than it is now. The stakes are considerably higher for the OP than they were for your mother.
posted by jedicus at 10:13 AM on January 22, 2010

Shrug. I guess I've known too many people who took on even bigger debts from school and paid them off after graduating... which is why $125K doesn't sound devastating to me.

A law degree from a top school in exchange for $125K of debt just doesn't strike me as a bad deal. As for the ease of paying it back (which at this level is the same as finding meaningful employment, really)... well, I think there's a bit too much panic about today's economic dustbowl. Yes, it's bad out there. But that's now, and you're a few years away from entering the world. The economy of today's America isn't the same economy we'll have a few years from now, and it's not the same economy the rest of the world will have, either... so I have trouble believing that a bottom-of-class graduate from a top school won't be employable, somewhere, sooner or later. Heck, even if you're convinced that the economy will be dreadful indefinitely, you could always choose to focus on bankruptcy law or something else recession-proof.

I think the best advice above is that which points out that if you like law and want that career, then by all means press on and improve and don't worry about one bad semester or an amount of debt that will seem smaller later. Do what you need to do.

But on the other hand, I also agree that if law's just not your thing, you should back out now and find something you can be more committed to.

I don't see it as a question of money, not really, but rather of passion.
posted by rokusan at 10:18 AM on January 22, 2010

Good luck. I'm one of those lawyers with crap grades that... but I chose the path less traveled and live in the middle of the ocean and all that.

Anyway, I just wanted to remind you that, yes, it's a tough market out there right now but it hasn't always been, and it won't always be, these things are cyclical and you have no idea where you'll be when things start to turn around again.

But again, good luck and think of it this way: there are people who did worse than you that are probably not going to try as hard to make it all work and there are people who did better than you who are going to slack off a bit because they're spending so much energy patting themselves on the back.

On the other hand, there are a million ways to make a buck in the world, you don't have to be a lawyer.

@jedicus - yes, just like a mortgage except when you pay it off you don't have a house but you do have the means to make another 125k, and then another... and another... you know that thing they say about giving a fish, teaching to fish... no? you've never heard that one, oh okay, that explains it.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 10:28 AM on January 22, 2010

geoff, can you elaborate a little on your distinction between wanting to be a lawyer and shooting for the moon? Are you talking about the difference in pay between a public defender and a white shoe attorney, or something different?

Yeah difference in pay. If it is financial security that anonymous seeks, do not become a lawyer. Outside of a top school pay drops dramatically for an entry level lawyer. Anecdotal evidence confirms that. If you can't live with being a lawyer in a mid-market firm with big debt, don't be a lawyer. Going to a lower-tier school is still expensive when looking at your pay out of the gate. You'll hate your job, you'll hate paying off the debt, and you'll be miserable.

If I thought I could do a lot better, just dedicate myself more, I'd definitely stay in the top program and try to pull up the grades. It is a risk but as valkyryn points out, doable.

There are some people who get a law degree, especially at a top program, who simply want to be in Big Law. They're type A, overachieving types that those kind of programs attract. If the reality of Big Law or big money out of law school makes you doubt whether or not you want to be a lawyer, this is perhaps a good opportunity to not be miserable in the future.

I would only "shoot for the moon" if I thought I had a chance and failure is acceptable. If you don't really want to be a lawyer, I wouldn't think the failure would be acceptable (at least not to me).
posted by geoff. at 10:35 AM on January 22, 2010

Obviously your career counselors will not tell you to drop out, but you should really consider talking to them, if you haven't already. Ask them what your realistic options are for employment this summer and in the long term.
posted by ishotjr at 10:49 AM on January 22, 2010

Oh, a word of warning for when you go to your school's career office. They may try to paint a rosy picture about their employment statistics. Be skeptical. The numbers are typically exaggerated in three ways: first, it's all self-reported. Second, it counts all employment, not just law jobs. Third, it doesn't differentiate between jobs people wanted and jobs people settled for. Don't be afraid to ask hard questions about where people in your situation are actually ending up. If the career office can't tell you or refuses, that should tell you a lot.

A law degree from a top school in exchange for $125K of debt just doesn't strike me as a bad deal.

'Top school' doesn't mean as much in the law world as you might think. There are many Top 25 schools that don't carry much weight among employers, nationally or locally. My alma mater is a good example.

I don't see it as a question of money, not really, but rather of passion.

Frankly, that's a Horatio Alger fantasy. The practice of law can be something that the OP absolutely loves but without good grades he may well be stuck in solo practice. And for all he or she may love the law, if he or she isn't also an amazing salesperson and a workaholic, that solo practice will likely not be particularly successful.

What do you call the guy who graduated at the bottom of his med school class? "Doctor" The same applies here. Stick it out.

No, it's completely inapposite. The AMA regulates the number of medical school slots to roughly match the number of medical jobs that are available. The ABA, on the other hand, generally favors the creation of new law schools even in the face of a glutted job market. For example, UC-Irvine just opened a law school and UNT-Dallas is working on one.

jedicus - yes, just like a mortgage except when you pay it off you don't have a house but you do have the means to make another 125k, and then another... and another...

There's more to it than that. There's also the opportunity cost of $125k that could otherwise have been invested rather than spent on loans. If I invest $125k and leave it alone for 30 years at 4%, that's over $400k. Tack on that dropping out means two additional years of earnings and it can be entirely rational to fall back on a different career rather than muddle through law school.

And you're assuming that having a law degree with bad grades actually makes the OP able to earn more money than otherwise. This is far from certain. The OP will likely find it very difficult to get a law job, and having a JD can actually make it harder to get a non-law job. Employers usually see one of two possibilities: either they couldn't hack it as a lawyer and something is wrong with them or they're too wishy-washy to pick a career and stick with it, so they'll probably bail on this job too.
posted by jedicus at 10:49 AM on January 22, 2010

Maybe I'm being too Pollyanna-ish here, but a lot of the advice being given seems like the DTMFA advice commonly given in relationship threads.

Given her first-semester 1L grades, the OP isn't going to become an associate at Cravath or Sullivan & Cromwell. Or get a federal court clerkship. A healthy dose of reality here certainly helps.

Yes, it is a horrible market right now for new law grads and young associates. In two years, meh. No one knows. Making career-altering decisions on speculation about the job market in two years....well, I would avoid irrational exuberance but the "cut your losses now" advice seems extreme.

All of this "cut your losses now" advice assumes that the OP won't be able to turn it around during the second semester. Unlike DTMFA advice where the abusive spouse is never gonna change, we really don't know if the OP can/will turn it around.

Is/was the OP totally focused on BigLaw in major markets? Or does the OP have family/connections in smaller markets and was intending to look at BigLaw "back home"? Or perfectly happy without thinking about firms at all. (But then how would the OP service the assumed law school debt?)

There are many law school grads out there without jobs. But not all roads out of law school lead to document review for the rest of the OP's career.

I think the first step is for the OP to get rooted and focus on whether she can improve in the second semester.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:57 AM on January 22, 2010

You've gotten a lot of good advice from the actual lawyers in this thread. Listen to them. If you do stick it out for the spring semester (since you already paid), join a study group, study off old exams if they are available, and talk to your professors about the material and their expectations.

One thing you might consider, if you do stay, is to do clinical courses for credit. At my law school, at least, this had a variety of benefits. First, it was MUCH easier to get an A in your clinical than in a standard class, so they were very effective GPA inflators. Second, they actually taught you real lawyering skills. Finally, they gave you an "in" with an organization right off the bat, and allowed you to have experience in X category already on your resume. Your school's policies may vary, so talk to 2Ls and 3Ls about it first. Also, did the classes you did badly in have any common testing denominators, i.e. all 4 hour in-class? Maybe pick classes in the future that have take-homes or papers. Some people thrive in certain testing conditions and others don't.
posted by amber_dale at 11:04 AM on January 22, 2010

I would drop out and cut your losses. Were you liking law school? Maybe you should continue going to class and look for jobs in the mean time. Or take a leave of absence.

Have you talked to an advisor or a dean or a trusted professor, and taken their advice? If you do, go with someone realistic.

Also, if you take the GREs, maybe you can get into a master's program in something related or useful.

A law degree without great grades is not worth much. No point in taking on debt, even if people tell you degrees are useful no matter what. They aren't. Debt will hold you back.
posted by anniecat at 11:07 AM on January 22, 2010

I say again, maybe you should drop out, but not until after this semester. You can, at least theoretically, turn this around, and trying will not cost you all that much more than not trying. You're already paid for the semester. Give it your best shot. If it works out--and it can--great. If it doesn't, consider your options. But definitely finish out the year.
posted by valkyryn at 11:26 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The market is brutal, and I know people with better grades than you--better grades than me too, actually--who graduated from my top-25 law school in '07, '08, and '09 who don't have law jobs.

This is a sad testament to a weakness of the entitlement mindset instilled by top 25 law schools, more than it is a commentary on the job market. There's a time-honored way to get a legal job when the white-shoe firms don't pan out: you can show up at a courthouse, hang out there on a daily basis, let judges know you are available to take appointed cases, introduce yourself around, and you will have a job within a month. This method works without fail, whether you're a top 25 graduate or a graduate of a local, zero-prestige law school. I see this happen all the time at the courthouses where I work ... a lawyer with a license and without a job shows up every day, hangs out by the elevator, gets appointed cases, and pretty soon one of the busy lawyers offers him or her a job.

I realize following this plan might be stooping way too low for the elevated self-regard of these top 25 graduates, but it works.
posted by jayder at 11:27 AM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

jayder, I think that's what the judge at my swearing in meant. Beggars can't be choosers.
posted by valkyryn at 11:55 AM on January 22, 2010

top-25 law school

Even if you graduate at the bottom of your class, you're still way ahead of the rest of us schmucks who get to go to U of Yonkers or Hoboken Tech.

No, I mean it: if you are at the bottom of your class, you'll still be ahead in pecking order from the top of the classes at all the generic universities and colleges scattered across N. America.

You're in a new educational environment. You're discovering your study skills and habits, which worked for you in the past, need to be fine-tuned. No surprise there. Adjust and adapt.

In the meantime focus on LEARNING and let the grades take care of themselves. I wish I had heeded that advice during my own educational ordeal...

And while we're on the subject of your education, be sure to NETWORK. You're going to discover that it's not just your grades, or your class ranking, that determines where you end up outside of graduation. IMHO a lot of the Ivy League are just that, places for the up-and-coming to meet and be met, to forge relations that continue throughout their careers. Keep that in mind too ...
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 12:02 PM on January 22, 2010

and if you were smart enough to get into the law school you're smart enough to graduate. "The greatest component of success is consistency of purpose." Maintain your purpose...
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 12:04 PM on January 22, 2010

I realize following this plan might be stooping way too low for the elevated self-regard of these top 25 graduates, but it works.

I agree with you and with the ones who say there will be jobs in the future, even if they aren't now. But what will these jobs be? How much will they pay?

Will the OP be able to pay off $125K in debt at a job that pays $50K a year? Only the OP knows what she wants to do with her degree, but even people with good grades (and even people only considering law school), should take a good, hard look at that salary chart jedicus linked and run the numbers. Paying off $125K when you're only making $50K-60K is hard. We're talking about paying $500-$700 or more for 30 years.

I'm not saying the OP should quit because I don't think there's enough information about what she wants to do with her degree. But she should think hard about how she is going to pay for this. If she really wants to be a lawyer, she should explore transferring to a school where she would have lower debt, and the type of job you're talking about would be more livable.
posted by Mavri at 12:05 PM on January 22, 2010

Why has no one mentioned IBR in this thread?

OP, you need to look into federal IBR.

Worst case scenario, if you end up on the wrong end of the median, you can work in a county PD office somewhere. You'll make around $30-$40k per year, but your payments will be capped at something around 8% of your salary because of IBR, and your debt will be forgiven after 10 years.

If you're willing to do this, I think this is a fine fallback plan if you can't bring your grades up.
posted by jckll at 12:05 PM on January 22, 2010

But, to sublimate jayder's invective into something that could actually be useful to the OP, keep in mind that a good portion of the top law schools don't emphasize the basics of a law practice.

This is not to rehash the old chestnut that "law schools don't actually teach you how to be a lawyer." That is, of course, true.

Rather, it is to point out that at my law school, I, like many of my peers, did not take evidence, crim pro, admin, etc. I did, however, take securities law, derivatives law, electronic commerce, secured transactions, etc. Classes that I would need to work at a big firm. Which is what I and the vast majority of my peers did. I have no idea what an appointed case is, or what I would do with one. Very little of my coursework (or my professional practice) would be relevant to the average member of the public.

Transferring to a lower-ranked school may give you more hands-on training, because the expectation will be that you litigate.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:12 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jive Turkey, I don't think your generalization about T-25 grads vs. all others applies across the board. Especially if you want to live in a certain area, I think lots of times you're better off graduating in the top 10% of a local school than from the bottom of a T-25, especially since the OP isn't going to Yale or Harvard. If that were the case, the OP's school wouldn't be described as a T-25.

Debt forgiveness programs are good, but you still need a job. I was just passed over for 3 starting DA positions with a solid GPA from a T-25 and a state clerkship because the huge pool of interviewees contained a solid number of candidates with prior experience who were willing to start again from the bottom. I'd say that's pretty common all over.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:16 PM on January 22, 2010

Listen to the lawyers in this thread.

I am not a lawyer. Everything I know about lawyers I learned on TV. Many of these comments are written by people who are in the same boat as I am. I'm sure you can figure that out on your own, but it bears mentioning.

My only advice would be to ask you if this is what you REALLY want to do with your life. If not, just walk away, dude. As someone who knows and works with a fair number of doctors and lawyers, I can say pretty confidently that they're not any happier than anyone else, especially the ones who are doing it for the respect and money rather than love of the field.
posted by paanta at 12:21 PM on January 22, 2010

I think craven_morhead's experience says it all. The system is just jammed up with people who are out of jobs--people with great resumes, great grades etc. Personally, I think the most haunting story from this whole meltdown is the law partner who was head of his firm's Supreme Court practice who killed himself after being laid off. Obviously an outlier case, but dark days, dark days.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:23 PM on January 22, 2010

Debt forgiveness programs are good, but you still need a job. I was just passed over for 3 starting DA positions with a solid GPA from a T-25 and a state clerkship because the huge pool of interviewees contained a solid number of candidates with prior experience who were willing to start again from the bottom. I'd say that's pretty common all over.

Yes and no. IBR does not even require a legal job. If you can only get a job flipping burgers at McDonalds, you will owe $0 on your student loans and your debt will be forgiven in 25 years. If you can only get a job as a social worker, you will owe $0 on your student loans and your debt will be forgiven in 10 years (public interest).

Also, I think all the doom and gloom about law school is somewhat inappropriate. The economy is going to turn around. It may not ever be 2006/2007 again, when anyone who wanted a $160k biglaw job could get it, but it's not going to be 2008/2009 forever either. I think the doom and gloom applies more to the unfortunate souls who are looking for jobs RIGHT NOW.
posted by jckll at 12:30 PM on January 22, 2010

Just to add to those saying not all lawyers (who even manage to get jobs) wind up happy and well-adjusted, I saw that the first entry at Above the Law today is an article re a recent suicide and increasing depression rates among lawyers.
posted by lorrer at 12:31 PM on January 22, 2010

It's been covered pretty well, but IAL and I joke with friends and colleagues that I graduated in the top 5% of the bottom 25% of my class.

Grades matter A LOT if you want the big city big firm associateship. You are already out of the running for those based upon this semester's grades. Sucks but this is the big leagues and life isn't fair.

Grades matter a bit if you want a job at a medium sized firm - the boutiques, the family dynasties, etc.

Grades don't matter at all to your clients if you are self-employed as a lawyer.

You are too early in the process to have any idea if you will enjoy practicing law. Which is a problem because that question - will you enjoy the practice - is a primary driver of your decision-making. In my entirely subjective and anecdotal experience most people who hated law school really enjoy the practice. A substantial minority of those who loved law school HATE the practice. Take that for what it's worth but that's my experience.

Many lawyers, maybe most, hate their work and are unhappy at it. If we just run the numbers you've got a fair chance of being a debt-laden, unhappy drone once you are done.

BUT think back on why you went to law school in the first place. If it was "grad school with a better job prospect" consider dropping out or transferring to a program in a field you enjoy. If it was "I'm smart, lawyers make good money, I can do that" stick with it but know you'll likely be a drunk depressed middle aged person sooner than you imagine.

If it was "I really want to use my talents and skills to [help the rainforest] [reduce domestic violence] [help Exxon pollute the planet] [whatever]" then all you care about are jobs in and around that passion. In that case - stick with it.

For job prospects in the non-soul-killing aspects of the law fill your resume with clerkships, unpaid internships in the field you like, judicial clerk positions, etc.

AND go NOW to each professor from whom you got a disappointing grade and have the awful bellybutton gazing, bare your soul talk - where did I go wrong, what did more successful students do that I didn't, LISTEN, DON'T ARGUE, write it all down, look at it every day and use it for next semester.

I have no idea if this applies to you but I saw many people in my law school experience who appeared utterly unable to succeed at law school but who were pushed through the process by the school without ever being told "maybe this isn't for you." I think the school did a great dis-service to some of these folks who failed out (but got to keep the debt as a door prize) or graduated and were shunned by the job market. Only you know if you are possible in this category.

BTW, I have a thriving trial practice in exactly the area of law that interests me, am happy, enjoy coming to work, make plenty of money to live the life I want, and ...

my first grade received in my first semester of 1L was a D-

A final truism - There ARE too many lawyers. There are NOT too many good lawyers.
posted by BrooksCooper at 12:47 PM on January 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Try LEEWs -- it teaches you an easy system for writing (especially 1L) essay answers the way most profs want.
posted by mmf at 1:02 PM on January 22, 2010

Depending on *why* you went to law school, you might also consider becoming a paralegal. It's not nearly the same shark on shark world, and you get to do a lot of the same work as research attorneys, without having to put in the crazy hours.

Granted, you'll never be a partner, and you're unlikely to be compensated in the 7 figure range, but from what my attorney friends tell me, a good paralegal is a fantastic thing to find and someone well respected and compensated.

Depending on your state, if you already have a BA/BS, getting the certificate should be a fairly quick turnaround, and relatively inexpensive.

Just a thought.
posted by dejah420 at 1:45 PM on January 22, 2010

Do you like law school? Do you really want to be a lawyer, or are you just doing the law school thing because you couldn't think of anything better?

If you want to be a lawyer, take the next semester to try to turn your grades around. See how that works out, instead of throwing in the towel at the first setback. You've probably missed the basics of what you need to do on law school exams; seventy-thirding the advice to go see your professors and look at examples of good answers/exams, if available.

You didn't bring transferring up, but someone else did in discussing ways to control the coming debts. The big name schools are valuable for some paths, but there are others where you could do as well coming from a state school (at least in the Southeast). Huge firms in the Northeast, or major national or multinational corporations might go for the big names; but even large local firms and corporations, as well as government agencies, can be at least as happy to hire grads from state schools. So if you do consider transferring to a less expensive school, it may not be such a loss.
posted by dilettante at 1:54 PM on January 22, 2010

Lots of major league naysaying in this thread.

The grades of my friends in law school are all over the map; every last one of them got a summer job last year, 80% already have a summer job this year. Everyone I know who graduated last May has a job that enables them to pay their loans. My school not in the top 25.

Your first stop for advice should be your dean of students, and your second stop should be your school's career counseling office. Some people in this thread seem to think their purpose is simply to sit there regurgitating comforting, meaningless lines of bullshit to you and rake in $. No. They are there to help you and you are paying their salaries! Take advantage of it.

The people in your career counseling office are going to want to help you. Odds are, they weren't in the top 5% themselves. They gave us a lecture at orientation about how people think the career counseling office is only there to schedule you for OCI, when the people they can often be most useful to are the ones who aren't going that route.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:27 PM on January 22, 2010

P.S. The reason that a lot of associates get laid off, and a lot of mid-career lawyers cannot find work, is because the firm cannot afford their salaries. Unless your entire plan for life after law school hinged on making shittons of money straight out of the gate, that is an advantage that you have.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:30 PM on January 22, 2010

If the issue was truly exam writing then the LEEWS system identified up thread might be of use and it is not that expensive. I would still take all the traditional advice but that system might help you identify and break down issues in a more methodical fashion. They are a little circumspect on their details but the premise seems OK. I wonder if any of the lawyers or budding lawyers here have tried it and can comment.
posted by caddis at 2:32 PM on January 22, 2010

Ashley, do you attend a school with a fantastic CSO, or do you not know many of your classmates? (honest question; your experience is very different from mine and my colleagues')
posted by craven_morhead at 3:17 PM on January 22, 2010

I'm not a lawyer, but in my field (criminology) a JD/ PhD has an exceptionally good chance of succeeding in academia. Of course, the qualifying statement to make is that JD/PhDs are rare because it's a LONG time to spend in school, and I don't know if you're interested in that route, or in research/ teaching. Grades aren't considered to be as important as the research that you produce, and aren't very important at all if you want to do government or nonprofit work--work experience seems to be the bigger factor. I live in the DC area, so my experience may differ from others, but there are far more government agencies looking to hire interns and assistants than there are people to fill those positions.

I also don't know how grading works in law schools--grade inflation is pretty common in master's programs and grades are therefore not paid attention to unless there's a C involved. Even with less than stellar grades, if you do well on GREs, do some research on which professors in which universities align with your interests, and present yourself well on the application, you can end up being fully funded through duration, and loan payment is usually deferred as long as you're still in school. I work in my department as research assistant and have managed to get through a BA and MA with less than $10,000 in debt, and I don't anticipate acquiring more. It's an option if you're interested in law as a subject but aren't necessarily in love with the idea of being a lawyer.
posted by _cave at 3:50 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like everyone says, don't drop out. Go talk to your professors, particularly if you're having them for classes again this semester.

Reevaluate everything about your study habits. Do you have a laptop in class? Switch to pen & paper (helped me by 1/3 of a grade). Do you have a study group? Break up with them and find a new one or go it alone. Are you relying on commercial outlines? Trash them and do your own.

It takes a while to get the hang of it. I asked my scary Civ Pro professor about my grade after the first semester, and he just laughed at me. "You're a 1L!" he said. "Your job the first semester is learning law school, not civ pro." Give it some time. ALSO: look forward to 2L and 3L when you get to take classes you actually want -- that makes a huge difference!
posted by motsque at 4:57 PM on January 22, 2010


do you attend a school with a fantastic CSO...

My CSO is very, very helpful, as are all the deans. Generally, the atmosphere at my school is extremely supportive and cooperative. I've obviously never dealt with any other law school's CSO, but I find it very hard to believe conspiracy theories about how in other schools, all they do in there is feed you lies so you'll keep paying tuition.

Law schools mislead *US News & World Report* about their employment stats in the way jedicus described. That is so that they will have a higher ranking. What possible benefit would there, on balance, to have a fully staffed office there expressly to NOT help current students? An elaborate Potemkin village? Come on.

or do you not know many of your classmates?

I know a few dozen well enough to have talked about grades and jobs with them.

your experience is very different from mine and my colleagues

What were you and your colleagues expecting out of law school? If you go into law school planning to make 145k or clerk for the Supreme Court upon graduation, you need to get excellent grades. Unless the OP performs spectacularly on all fronts from now until graduation, he has likely precluded himself from making that much money directly out of law school.

Were you and your colleagues holding out for those sorts of jobs? Yes, there are far fewer of them to go around. If you're only willing to accept that kind of a job, then yes, right now, it's very likely you will be unemployed if you don't have excellent grades. Because law schools grade on a curve, 75% of students in every law school will not have excellent grades.

But to say there "just aren't law jobs to be had?" To imply that the only way to get a law job is for it to fall out of the sky?

That's just wrong. The graph that jedicus posted is right on. People are employed. They're just not big-time gigantic money their first year out. "[S]alaries of $40,000 - $65,000 accounted for 42% of reported salaries."

OP needs to be aware of the fact that unless he does a major 180 right away, his salary will likely be in this range starting out. But $65k is hardly working at McDonalds. I don't know what your tuition was, or what the OP's tuition is. But I could easily pay my debts with that kind of initial salary, even without assistances/forgiveness programs.

The OP will need to calculate whether he'd make more money over the long run dropping out, or the possibility of graduating with the debt he will have and starting at $40,000 - $65,000. And he needs to balance that with whether he'd be happier as a lawyer or doing whatever it is he would do if he dropped out.

But to say that there are no jobs to be had straight out of law school for people who aren't in the top 25%, is just false. And to imply he'd be stuck making $20 an hour doing document review for his entire career is just false too.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:44 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, OP, I would be very careful about transferring to another school if I were you. The difference between your school and the school you'd transfer into may be only a few LSAT points or grade points. So, you may not land anywhere higher in the rankings just based on sheer intelligence. You may land in the same place because of whatever issues contributed to it this time.

The only reason I think it would be better is if the tuition were much cheaper. But you need to weigh that against much your school's reputation/alumni network/etc. would affect your ability get a job paying $X salary, assuming your grades stayed the same.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:05 PM on January 22, 2010

Oh, and you don't need to transfer schools to take Evidence. I think it's safe to say that you can take Evidence from right where you are. I doubt your school thinks that litigators have cooties.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:14 PM on January 22, 2010

Brookcooper gives you good advice.
You've been thrown into a group that has excelled throughout college years.
Plenty of the folks that waltzed through their four years of undergraduate study will find the next three much more competitive.
You've got to adapt to a higher level of expectations and peer group.
posted by Agamenticus at 7:03 PM on January 22, 2010

I know plenty of people who nearly flunked out of law school their 1L first semester and were happily employed at graduation. I did pretty decently my first semester, probably around top quarter, and was unemployed for six months after graduation. And I should mention I didn't go to a top 25 school. You may have to get a job a less traditional way, but that's funny thing about the "traditional" way attorneys get their first job, something like only 10-25% of all law students (if even) get their first jobs through traditional fall recruitment. Hell a lot of my friends who got jobs through fall recruitment at big firms then got their offers revoked and were left out in the cold. Now they are sending me their resumes. (Also, if you really kick ass this semester, you'll want to note on resume that your GPA second semester was X. You very well may not be out of the running for fall recruitment, I know plenty of people that turned things around after their first semester.)

My best advice for you is calm down, figure out where you went wrong (whether it's study habits, a particular subject, outlining or test writing) and do better next time. You got into a top 25 school, you aren't an idiot. Law school is very hard and it utilizes skills and a type of thinking you probably have never used prior to going to law school. There is a HIGH learning curve, but then it gets better.

I understand you are in this little world right now. You're insane and everyone around you is crazier, everyone feeds off each other's fears and insanity and you feel like you are a failure because Sally in Torts graded onto Law Review and you didn't, but you aren't. There isn't this pretty, straight line to success. Law school tends to tell people there is one way to succeed and here it is and if you don't do it that way, well then you're screwed, it over, but that isn't true. It'll be ok, don't let this one set back kill your self esteem. Keep trying, you'll do better next semester.
posted by whoaali at 9:23 PM on January 22, 2010

I'm at HLS and there are kids here who still don't have jobs. It's bloody out there. Think hard.
posted by ewiar at 10:00 PM on January 22, 2010

craven_morhead, last thing --

Regarding the girl valkyryn mentioned who "actually threw in the towel, did Teach For America, and got her teaching license, because there just aren't law jobs to be had," if that is representative of what you say your classmates experienced --

It sounds like you were the first class to graduate after/during the time when the economy tanked. You guys probably did not see that coming, most people didn't. Had that girl expected a BigLaw job, tailored her curriculum to commercial law, tailored her borrowing/spending/living expenses in law school to that salary? Did she forego networking with anyone outside of BigLaw? Had she spent her summers with a big firm, which then no-offered her?

A medium sized firm will probably keep a person from a good school with decent grades, who has been there for the past two summers, part time during the school year, has done a spectacular job, and has developed the knowledge and skills that are useful in that area, over someone from a good school with good grades who is a completely unknown quantity.

Public interest organizations want to see a demonstrated, serious commitment to the public interest. It is not as easy as a lot of people assume to just swoop into there. Again, they will probably take first the person who has been there the last two summers. (I originally went to law school for the purpose of going into public service, and this is what everyone I have spoken with has told me. I still do as much public interest work I possibly can just to keep the option open.)

There's a lot OP can do, if he takes BigLaw off the table now, or even a semester from now, depending on how he does, not to wind up in your friend's position.

OP, even if you don't transfer, you can also cut down on your debt quite a bit. You probably take out at least $10k extra for living expenses, right? Maybe you can scale that back. There are always tons of writing competitions with money prizes- sometimes a couple thousand- which are usually sparsely entered. Hint- if you are ever notified that the deadline for a writing competition has been extended, that's a good one to enter. It means they have few or no entries. You could also switch to part time and work full time. It'll take you an extra year to graduate, but you could possibly graduate with half the debt or less.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:05 PM on January 22, 2010

Ashley, I'm not sure about the girl that valkyryn mentioned. We are basically the first graduating class to feel the pinch of the economy. We've also had a ton of turnover in our CSO, which has made things tougher.

I don't think anyone is spinning conspiracy theories, but the CSO, or ours, anyway, does try and sell a rosy picture of things. I have a few friends who have started biglaw jobs, but many others who are either deferred or jobless. Those who are jobless aren't being picky, they're just competing for jobs with other attorneys who have been practicing for 3-4 years and are willing to work for the same paycheck that we are. All other things being equal, who would you hire? These aren't $100k/yr jobs. Applicants are stacked up outside of the DA's and PD's offices out here.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:24 AM on January 23, 2010

I'm sorry, but as a current 1L at an ok-ranked school, reading this thread I am astonished at the huge amount of just terrible advice that is going on here.

UNLESS YOU THINK YOU MADE A HUGE MISTAKE DON'T DROP OUT. Even if you do think your making a big mistake buck up and finish out the year. Work hard, review your exams with your professors, talk to friends that did well, work harder. I didn't do poorly my first semester, but I didn't get what I wanted either, so I'm doubling up the hours I'm studying. AVOID SCHEMEY BASTARDS THAT WANT TO MAKE YOU FEEL BAD. There are a lot of those in law school.

Here at my law school (where we are really the only law school in a HUGE metropolitan area a lot of the 1ls, even the top ranked ones, aren't even bothering to look for externships and internships because there are not any to be had. It's not the end of the world. That means you've got a whole year to bring your grades up and impress some people. I have not gotten my class ranking back yet, but from last years percentiles I believe I'm going to be in the top 20%. Do I think I'm going to get a paid internship? Absolutely not. Right now I'm praying that an externship will come through but I don't have my fingers crossed. If it falls through, I'll be bartending, taking summer classes, reading and prepping and trying to pimp myself out as a research assistant.

Think about it this way, if nobody gets a summer job, then it doesn't matter if you don't. Next year, when your going around looking for jobs again you can show off your new improved grades, and talk about how you bucked up and got it done. Interviewers love that stuff, and most of them remember how shitty the first semester was.

I know your not in your ideal situation. If it continues, I would think more about transferring then dropping out. I have a relative that went to a top-5 school, graduated at the bottom of his class, and had to work really hard to play catch-up his whole life. But he did, and has been making a ton of money, at a job he loves for a while now. His only regret is that he went to the top-5 school because he says the competitive nature there was just awful. He encouraged me to go to a lower ranked school, and I'm loving it. I'm sure that top 20% here wouldn't be in the top 50% at top-5 school. But I like I said, I'm at the only good law school in this region, and I live in one of the biggest metro areas in the nation.

Please, message me or email me if you want any encouragement, help or anything. I developed a few exam taking strategies that seemed to work pretty well, and I'm willing to share them with anyone. Good Luck! Don't be discouraged!
posted by cyphill at 9:42 AM on January 23, 2010

Everyone telling you to talk to your professors to understand what you did wrong and how you can improve is 100% right. If you decide to continue in law school, you MUST do this. I have a close friend who did this and improved his grades by more than a full point. Improvement like that is something you can talk about in a job interview and sound like a total winner.
posted by prefpara at 11:12 AM on January 23, 2010

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