OMG, my law school grades are really bad! I didn’t get all As like I did in undergrad. Waaaaaaahhhhh!
Look, I get it. You’re smart, you worked hard, and you’ve always done well. The economy is crap, you need to keep your scholarship (or have some shot at a paying job when you graduate). You NEED to be at the top of the curve.
Let’s get real for a second.
Consider Your Competition
Law schools do an excellent job sorting applicants into groups of very closely matched competency. If you have excellent undergraduate grades and an impressive LSAT, you go to a top school. If not, well, not so much.
So what does this mean? It means that all of your classmates are approximately as smart (LSAT) and dedicated (UGPA) as you are. You wouldn’t be classmates otherwise.
The logical implication is clear: If you’re going to be at the top of the curve in a group of roughly equally qualified people, you’ve got to do more than at least some other people.
What Does it Mean to “Do More”?
Let’s accept that there are a few freaks of nature who actually are naturally good at the tasks law school rewards. (If you were one of these people, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article, because you did very well first semester of your 1L year.)
If you’re not a naturally gifted freak of nature, what can you do? Your options are pretty simple:
- Work harder than everyone else
- Work smarter than everyone else
- Do both of the above
On some level, law school really is a brute force game. If you do more work than most of your classmates — in terms of hours legitimately invested in reading cases, studying the law, and practicing your exam writing — you’re probably going to be an above-average student.
The correlation isn’t perfect, and you have to be working on the right things (read on), but if your first semester grades were disappointing, you need to spend more time studying. There, I said it. Cry if you want to.
How can you possibly do this? Think about easy wins:
- Are you spending a lot of time commuting? Start using this time productively by listening to substantive law study aids.
- Are you wasting time on the internet pretending to study? Delete Facebook and install an app that bans you from distractions.
- Are you sure you’re really working? Try tracking all of your time for a week (better get used to it), and you’ll probably identify areas where you’re not being as effective as you could be.
- How’s your life organization? If you’re spending a ton of time each week trying to deal with basic life tasks (eating, laundry, cleaning, etc.), it’s time to get organized. Cook meals in advance, plan your laundry time (or outsource it), and so on. Investing a bit of upfront time to gain efficiency later is well worth it.
It’s not enough just to work a lot in law school, however. You also need to work smart.
We’ve got a lot to say about this, but here’s the one post-exam piece of advice I’d like you to take seriously:
You MUST get feedback.
You must read your exam answers, painful though it may be. You must carefully compare them to the sample answers to see what you missed or did poorly. You must go talk to your professors about what you need to improve.
Why? Because law school is an iterative process. You’re clearly not a law savant (see above), so the only way you’re going to improve your grades in the future is by figuring out what you did wrong and correcting it in the future.
If you don’t get feedback on what needs improvement (directly from someone who’s more experienced or indirectly using your powers of observation), why would anything change? You’ll be outsmarted, again, by the classmates who are willing to ask for help and improve their skills.
Remember, everyone in your law school class started from roughly the same baseline. Getting more feedback, and acting on it, is one very effective way to set yourself apart from the pack — which is exactly what you need to do to end up closer to the top of the heap.
If you need some extra help, try out our Second Semester Reboot Course!
Best of luck!
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