Just in the nick of time, Kate McGuinness returns with some words of hard-earned wisdom about law school exams & your future career!
In an astonishing display of clairvoyance, I will correctly predict the emotional state of each of the nation’s law students. Ta-da, it’s anxiety.
Exams are coming, and no matter how hard you worked over Thanksgiving break, you’re certain you didn’t work hard enough. You finished reviewing your class notes, but you’ve given up creating your own outline. Gilberts and E&Es sit unopened on your desk. You haven’t taken a single practice exam yet.
Here’s my advice:
- Schedule your time carefully
- Eat right
- Sleep enough
- Manage your stress level
No, I’m not being facetious. Yes, I understand that exams loom like a lethal gauntlet. But let’s be realistic.
Grades and class standing matter most if your goal is BigLaw. Unless you’re in a top tier law school, only a small segment of your class will be considered for jobs in BigLaw.
But — you respond confidently — you can make the cut if you work hard enough before exam time! You’re bright, ambitious and hard-working. Of course, so are your classmates. Most likely, the test scores and undergraduate GPAs of your class are closely clustered. That’s why you all ended up within the same ivy-covered halls.
Are Grades All That?
You are certain — absolutely certain — you’ll place in the top ten percent. Think again. A survey of incoming law students evidenced their inflated expectations of success. Over 25 percent thought they’d land in the top ten percent and over 75 percent thought they’d finish in the top thirty percent. Less than one percent of the students questioned thought they’d be in the bottom half of the class.
Everyone can’t be a special snowflake. I’m not saying that to discourage you, but rather to sound a note of rationality.
Your legal career will not be doomed if you don’t finish in the top twenty percent. Your mouth-breathing panic about exams is unnecessary.
Exams are not about your inherent worth. You are much more than a number scrawled on the top of a blue book.
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
If that philosophical tidbit doesn’t calm your nerves, remember that the majority of lawyers are employed outside of BigLaw. (I’ll save my screed on why their hallowed ranks are wildly overrated for next year.) In addition to private practice, there are positions for lawyers in government, corporations, academia and public interest institutions. Also, there are literally hundreds of jobs where legal training can be an asset. (Whether your salary will be sufficient to repay your student loans is a separate issue.)
Regardless of your class standing, you will leave law school with sharper analytical and research abilities. Your writing and speaking skills will be improved, too. And a law degree is a credential that will enhance your credibility — if not your likability.
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Thanks, Kate! Excellent advice to keep in mind when the going gets tough.
Did you miss Kate’s first column? Kate’s Counsel: Finding Your Way in the Legal Profession. And if you missed our initial interview with Kate, check it out here: The More Things Change…
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More about Kate: Kate McGuinness is a lawyer who spent 17 years in BigLaw before becoming the general counsel of a Fortune 300 corporation. She is an advocate for women and tweets as @K8McGuinness. Her blogs about women’s rights have appeared in Forbes Woman, Women’s Media Center, Jezebel, The Frisky, Role/Reboot, Fem2pt0 and Ms. JD. (These essays are collected on her website.)
She has created Pinterest boards illustrating issues of concern such as advertisements objectifying women. You can find her on Pinterest and LinkedIn as Kate McGuinness and on Facebook as Women’s Rights Writer. After leaving the corporate world, she studied creative writing and is the author of a legal thriller Terminal Ambition, which is available on Amazon. Information about the firms, characters and locales in the novel can be found at Terminal-Ambition.com.
Looking for more exam advice? Go to Law School Exams 101.
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