Think Everything’s Great Because Your Law School Grades are Good? Wrong.

RainbowIf you did well on your first-semester law school exams, congratulations. That’s fantastic, and you can feel justifiably proud. However, I’m here with some bad news — it may not be smooth sailing from here on out.

The problem with having done well is that there’s now intense pressure to keep doing well. And, if you’re like me, this added pressure might just lead to a second-semester meltdown!

First, the Good News

The benefit of receiving excellent first semester grades is pretty obvious — some doors that otherwise would have closed are still open to you. Your chances of getting a summer position at a law firm are higher (although still low, given the economy), you might be asked to be a teaching assistant or research assistant, which enables you to cultivate a mentor, and you probably have a decent shot at being on your school’s Law Review, which can be a useful credential.

Now the Bad News

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, however. If you’re even the least bit neurotic, which you probably are if you’re a high-achieving law student, having done well isn’t going to make you permanently happy and pleased. Sure, there’s a momentary flash of “Cool, I got an A!” but that fades quickly. What shows up next can be more insidious.

For me, it was a sudden inability to force myself to go to class regularly.

(Partly I blame the coldest winter in NYC history for this, but that’s not much of an excuse when I lived a block from school.) One day I’d have a fever, the next day I’d “forget” to set my alarm, whatever. I just didn’t go.

After a few weeks of this, I started to think I might be depressed or something, and went to Student Health. They agreed I had some issues, and I started seeing a therapist to talk about why I was sabotaging my law school career, which was about to be over before it really got started. I’ll spare you the boring details, but the final conclusion was that I thought nothing I did was ever good enough. So, even though my first-semester grades were excellent, by any objective measure, they could have been better, and, even more importantly, I was pretty sure they were a fluke and I’d fail all my classes next time around. Self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?

Anyway, to make a long story short, I eventually went back to class and did fine on my second-semester exams (although not as well as I’d done before), and the world kept on turning.

Having learned very little from this near-meltdown, in true over-achiever fashion I applied for Law Review, which I ended up hating, and took a summer firm job, which was great in a lot of ways, but prevented me from exploring career paths that might have ultimately been more rewarding.

The Bottom Line

Do I wish my first semester grades had been worse? It’s hard to say. In all honesty, I think it might have put me on a better course to be a happy lawyer. As it was, having top grades at a fancy law school made it very easy to slide into the path of least resistance — BigLaw. Once you’re on that path, it’s very hard to get off, and it’s not where I ever intended to be.

Hindsight being 20/20, a B+ or two first semester might not have been the worst thing!

Read On:

Stay tuned for more posts on dealing with your grades (good, bad, and ugly). In the meantime, you might like:

Or check out Surviving Law School 101.

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