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THE TRUTH ABOUT EXAMS AND GRADES: A Professional Development Perspective

By Rebekah Hanley
Assistant Dean for Career Planning and Professional Development

Published in the November 15, 2011, Advisor

Grades do not necessarily predict whether you will be an effective, successful, or satisfied lawyer; many C students go on to become prominent attorneys with lucrative practices. But grades can influence which professional opportunities are available to you, especially as a law student and new lawyer. Thus, whether you are approaching your first set of law school finals or your last, I strongly encourage you to focus during the next few weeks on thorough and efficient exam preparation.

Some employers place great weight on applicants’ transcripts, using law school GPA and class rank as a gauge for intelligence and motivation when deciding which applicants to interview. Grades are especially important for summer associate and associate positions with national and international law firms; post-graduate clerkships with federal judges; and teaching positions with law schools. And in a tight job market, the already high bar for academic superiority rises even higher. If you hope to pursue one of these paths, invest extra time and energy in your studies.

Further, second-year and third-year students: beware of burnout. Employers that prioritize academic performance often want to know more than your cumulative GPA; they want to see a grade trend that indicates commitment to academic excellence throughout your law school career. Employers often use a declining GPA to draw a negative inference about your dedication over time: if you can’t stay excited about studying for three years, you’re not likely to stay excited about representing clients for long either.

Remember, also, that preparing for final exams yields more than just credit towards graduation and a grade on your transcript. Studying helps you learn, and learning now will help you in your professional activities later.

Best wishes for a successful exam season. We look forward to continuing to assist you with your career planning during and after your well-earned semester break.

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