To what extent do Law School grades matter after 1L?
December 7, 2010 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Law School Grades: do they still matter?

I'm a second year law student at a T25 school. I'm at a good school, not a great school. I did very well during my first year, and ended up near the top of my class. I made law review, and was lucky enough to land a summer associate job at a top biglaw firm. Without saying which firm, I'll note that it's consistently listed in the top ten on Vault.

Will my law firm likely want to look at my second year grades when deciding to make an offer? If they do want to look, will they take my second year grades seriously? This firm has a high offer rate. Almost all summer associates were offered permanent positions, even during the downturn.

I'm not a slacker, and I don't think I ever will be. I do my work and try to do it well. But 1L exams were, well, terrifying and anxiety provoking. Some of that underlying fear helped me to motivate and promoted good study habits. Some of it made life miserable. This year I have been studying diligently, but the underlying pervasive sense of fear has been removed. With it, I definitely feel like some of my incentives to burn the midnight oil have been removed as well.

Is this bad? Should I still be trying to maintain my position at the top of the class? If I just hit the middle of the curve, will I put my potential job at risk, or may I relax a bit and enjoy the experience? Can I get B's?

I would love to hear general opinions, but I would especially like any former or current biglaw associates to weigh in.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I did the biglaw firm thing, including some involvement in hiring, and I still hire law students and grads occasionally. Grades matter to me, particularly if the trend is downward. (Upward is fine.) The only thing that matters more to me is writing. I can't speak for your firm, but remember that most lawyers don't spend their whole career in a single firm . . and that the current job market is far from good.
posted by bearwife at 5:11 PM on December 7, 2010

As much as it sucks, it's only 3 years and while you shouldn't kill yourself studying, it's definitely to your advantage to keep up the good work. There is probably also a pretty big gap between being top of your class, and a B student...can you split the difference and maybe relax a bit but still get As?

Not a recruiter, but I'm someone who wishes I hadn't slacked off once I did summer articles. I got hired back but feel like a loser for my third year grades.
posted by Pomo at 5:18 PM on December 7, 2010

Even if this firm has a pretty lax attitude towards 2L and 3L grades, you may not be with this firm forever. Circumstances may lead to a voluntary or involuntary job change sooner or later, and other firms will definitely look at your overall grades. Just take a look at some lateral job postings. Many will say things like "Excellent academic credentials" required (example).
posted by jedicus at 5:18 PM on December 7, 2010

You'll most likely have to give your firm your grades before you start next summer and a final transcript before you start permanently (assuming they give you an offer for permanent employment, which is no longer guaranteed in this market). These offers are usually contingent on "maintaining equivalent academic performance" or something like that. Let's say you had a 3.7 from 1L, as long as you get a mix of Bs and B+'s you should be fine. But this all of this also depends on your specific firm, and, after you summer, how much they like you as a person and the quality of your work product. An overall 3.3 from a T25 school, along with a few years in BigLaw should keep open the possibility of lateraling. My best advice is to still do "well" (Bs and B+s) but put a lot of your effort into creating/maintaining connections with your friends/classmates and your professors - those connections down the line will be much more important than your grades.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:40 PM on December 7, 2010

Bust ass. That is all.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:00 PM on December 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Grades and class rank matter a ton for all three years. Class rank will haunt you for your entire career. Buck up and work hard! You can comfort yourself with the knowledge that, in order to succeed as a lawyer and adequately look out for your clients' interests, you will have to always work just as hard as you have to work in order to get top grades in law school.

If you blow it your 2nd year, you will not get a job offer from biglaw. Period. Especially in the current legal climate. You'll be lucky to get an offer even if you graduate at the top of your class. Seriously, the market is that bad. Skadden is shutting down its San Francisco office. All of the medium and big firms are talking about the importance of eliminating partners and no longer elevating partners without substantial books of business. It's bad out here. Work your ass off.
posted by The World Famous at 6:01 PM on December 7, 2010

They matter. Especially now, they matter. Some people won't care, but some people at your firm will, even if "the firm" doesn't. I knew the GPA of all the first years when they started at my big law. As long as they were Bs or better at a good school, that was alright. Writing matters more.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:11 PM on December 7, 2010

"Class rank will haunt you for your entire career."

No, it won't. After practicing for a number of years, your experience and performance will be far, far more important. In all likelihood, your class rank will mean nothing.
posted by mikeand1 at 7:41 PM on December 7, 2010

2L and 3L grades are increasingly important in this economy. Here's the other thing to consider-- shit happens. If for some reason you don't get an offer from your firm, or if you get cut within the first couple years when your resume is still pretty light, you're going to much prefer to have rockstar grades than grades that trended mediocre over years two and three.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:54 PM on December 7, 2010

As for the debate on whether grades continue to matter for the rest of your career... they don't, obviously. When you have a book of business, your grades don't matter. When you have an established reputation in the relevant legal community, grades don't matter. But in addition to grades arguably helping you to get to that point, it simply takes a long time to get to that point.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:58 PM on December 7, 2010

If biglaw is important to you work hard, and then some. Otherwise you may well end up in hatches, matches and dispatches law, cooped up in a 3 person law firm with offices above a kebab shop.

And whilst you will not be stuck there forever, law is a hard industry to move up in.
posted by jannw at 4:55 AM on December 8, 2010

What matters most is an ability to create well written material in a timely manner. Grok how to do the job accurately and in an effective amount of time. I've heard no end of complaints about new associates that do not understand how to balance between getting to the right answers and not pissing away a ton of hours doing it, and then creating poorly written material. Create materials that can qualify as 'client ready' right away. It's annoying having to totally rewrite something an associate botched. Or worse, got wrong and wasted a lot of hours getting there.

Yes, grades will affect getting into the door, but staying there (let alone advancing) will depend upon skills. The ability to apply those skills consistently and productively is what will be important when it comes time for partnership consideration, not your grades or class rank.
posted by wkearney99 at 6:00 AM on December 8, 2010

No, it won't. After practicing for a number of years, your experience and performance will be far, far more important. In all likelihood, your class rank will mean nothing.

But class rank will affect that first 'number of years' of practice, including the firm you work for and the kind of work you get there. That will in turn affect the rest of your career, even if no one directly asks for your class rank any more.
posted by jedicus at 9:29 AM on December 8, 2010

I don't directly hire, but am involved in the summer program and associate reviews at a mid-sized New England law firm.

If you slack between 1L and 2L, I will call you on it. It suggests a possible lack of focus or that your work product will "slip" as you get comfortable. 3L grades, on the other hand, won't matter as much.

I agree that, years into practice, your specific grades and class rank won't matter as much as your actual work product. But then again, where you started will be more important for your lateral opportunities - if you let your 2L grades slip, you won't get back into BIGLAW and then your future moves will be similarly limited... get the picture?

Similarly, as much as it behooves you, your grades in law school do not necessarily reflect the quality (or type) of your work as a lawyer (but in my opinion, grades do speak to the quality of your reasoning and study skills).
posted by polyhistoric at 10:05 AM on December 8, 2010

« Older Loestrin: was it good for you?   |   How screwed are we? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.