The Importance of Law School Grades
The LSAT, in all its torturous glory, is over. You have perfected your personal statement about the life-altering revelations you experienced watching Glenn Close in "Damages." You have sent your applications, and Erwin Chemerinsky personally invited you to join UC Irvine School of Law's first graduating class. The hard part is over, right?
The sad truth is, the hard part has just begun.
Regardless of which institute of higher learning enjoys the privilege of laundering your student loan cash, admission is just the first part of more incredible competition. The real race to be the first of your friends to collect a set of Porsche Cayman keys begins with your grades at the end of the first year of law school. The importance of the first year cannot be overstated: a string of A's maximizes every opportunity your law school has to offer.
This is because top-paying, national law firms recruit students in the fall of the second year. The firms' selection process is as cruel as calculus. Three lines of your resume matter: school, class rank and GPA. Recruiters rarely even read resumes from candidates below the top 30%, and the majority of the jobs earned during law school go to top 10% students. If you fail to be in the top 10% at the end of the first year, you will not have another opportunity as a law student to interview with such a large number of firms again.
In addition, mid to large size firms rarely recruit first-year attorneys outside of their summer associate programs, i.e. if you do not summer with a firm, expect a string of polite rejection letters in response to the resumes you post after graduation. Oh, and if that's not enough, those summer jobs are not altogether demanding, pay great money ($30,000 and more) and often include firm-sponsored lunches and dinners at the finest eating establishments.
Being in the top 10% also helps to minimize your student loan borrowing. Law schools typically award merit scholarships to the top 10%-ranging from a few grand to a full ride for the uberest nerds. If you can maintain your focus through your second year, then you can duplicate your first year's take by getting the scholarships renewed.
Then there's law review and the other honors societies. Participation in your second year serves to pad your resume and create the potential to compete for a third-year board position. Schools pay student board members from $5-10,000 for the year. Admittedly, there is work involved, but schools pay cash and school credits so it's a double savings. It's also not all about money-being a law review editor gives you the chance to greenlight the publication of your article defending Borat's First Amendment right to skewer Kazakhstan. An additional bonus of such cliques is that honor students tend to be fairly amenable to sharing their study materials with each other&so you'll end up doing less work over the course of your education.
Of course, failing to get into the upper echelons at the end of the first year doesn't guarantee that you'll wind up begging for change to repay your student loans. It just means that you're going to have to compete for a job against all of the other people from all of the other law schools who graduate at the same time as you. Compete now, or compete later-the choice is yours.
Article by Simon Lamb who graduated magna cum laude from Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. Edited by Jodi Triplett and Trent Teti, founders of Blueprint Test Preparation.