No doubt you are currently awaiting your Fall semester grades. I remember the anxiety, the pain, the waiting and the relative suffering involved in that seemingly century of time between the end of final exams and the release of grades. Now, every school releases grades on slightly different schedules but the pain suffered by law students across the country is the same. Some schools will release grades as they come in from the professors and some will release them all at once on a particular date. I’m not sure which is worse but both leave for an anxiety-soaked winter break.
Back in 2004, my law school had this system called Voice Grades. Basically, you called a designated phone number, keyed in your student identification number, and a robotic voice would tell you your grades. The voice was not dissimilar from what you would anticipate robotic/computer voices would sound like. Painfully, as the computer would process the grade before repeating to you, there was always a pause between, for example, “Your grade for Contracts 1” and “A.” That pause must have been a half second as the computer processed but it felt like an eternity. Nobody could ever breathe during that pause.
Even more disturbing than the pause, however, was the tone of the computer’s voice. Though not possible, I swear the robotic computer voice had some inflection. There was an air of surprise when it would report a good grade and some disappointment when the grade was a ‘C’ or below. You felt as though the robot was judging you while simultaneously rooting for your sadness.
This is what waiting for grades can do. I remember the waiting, the pause before the grade and the fictional voice inflection to this day and yet I couldn’t tell you any grade for any of my classes. I know you’ve heard this from your professors but let me tell you from the perspective of someone who has been out of law school for over a decade, your first semester grades are not the entirety of your legal career. Nor are they the reason you are going to law school. You are going to law school because you are curious about the law and you’d like to practice or make use of your law degree in a way that is impactful to others.
So, the key to handling first semester grades is to do so with some perspective. If you do poorly, your legal career is not over. If you are successful, you’re not done trying to improve. Your first semester 1L grades are merely guided posts on the path towards graduation and your first job and after that, and then they disappear forever. Use them as that. Use them as an opportunity to help you understand where you were strong and what weaknesses you have that need to be addressed.
For many of you, this will be the first time you receive mediocre grades. Perhaps you did well but there were some people who did better than you pushing your grade down further than you would have received in, say, undergrad where there isn’t a curve. Make sure you understand your law school’s curve to help you understand your grade.
But most of all use these grades, your first semester studies and your exam performance as opportunities to diagnose your performance. Because, whatever the grades may be, that is out of your hands. Focus on building your strategy for next semester and how you can make it your best semester yet.
Check out these other helpful posts and podcasts from Law School Toolbox:
- Podcast – Making the Most of Your Law School Winter Break
- Post – How to Right the Ship if You are Struggling in Law School
- Podcast – Dealing with Bad Law School Grades
- Post – How to Cope with Bad Law School Grades
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