Next Steps After Getting Bad Grades
Q: I just went through my first semester of law school at a top-12 law school, and my first semester grades were bad. I got two C's, a B- and a B. My question is whether I will be able to get a job with grades like this, and if you have advice for improving my performance in the future or if you would advise me to leave law school. I worked very hard last semester, but have been experiencing serious stress from a family illness that has made it hard for me to focus on school. I have always performed well in even the hardest schools prior to this, and I'm at a loss for what to do in this situation. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
A: I would not encourage you to leave law school, especially since you are enrolled in such a good one. However, you may wish to consider taking a leave of absence until you have been able to manage your stress and can focus more effectively on studies. You may wish to consult a skilled counselor (psychotherapist) in your area, to begin a course of treatment to address the underlying causes of your stress and discuss coping mechanisms. Legal study and practice are highly stressful, even without the added burden of family illness. You should feel no shame in seeking emotional support from a trained professional in order to deal with the added burden of the family illness at this time. If you take good emotional care of yourself, you should again be able to perform at your highest level. I wish you the best.
How Can I Market Myself with a Poor GPA?
Q: Ever since my last year of undergraduate study, I've been overwhelmed with health and family problems. I went through my first two years of law school just barely getting by because of these problems. I took a year off to handle my problems and now that I'm back, I've been doing better than ever. My concern is with how my potential employers will view my grades prior to my medical leave and also, will they think that I can't "handle" working for them because of my previous problems. I have an excellent working history (I currently run my own family law clinic) with glowing references and very strong work ethics. I am scared that I've doomed myself because of my first two years in law school. What do you advise that I do?
A: Though your GPA in the first two years may prove a challenge in approaching some employers, I encourage you to build on your strengths. Minimize all communication regarding your personal circumstances in the first two years, and pursue employment with the knowledge that your competence is best demonstrated by your more recent performance. If your law school is highly ranked, your GPA will not matter much in the long run. If the law school is less highly ranked, you will want to build on personal contacts that you may already have or can develop in your intended field or specialty area. For more specific practical advice on job seeking, I recommend you read Kim Walton's book, Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of your Dreams.
Is a 5 Month Job Search a Sign that Grades are a Limiting Factor?
Q: For the past 4+ years, I have been employed as a Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division, Western Criminal Enforcement Section. I also have 5 years experience in civil litigation with the Office of District Counsel, Internal Revenue Service. I have gained extensive trial experience through these positions. In addition, I am a certified public accountant with two years experience at a Big 8 accounting firm. For the past five months, I have been seeking employment in the private sector using both a head-hunter and personal mailings. All to no avail. I haven't even received one interview. I believe that my law school GPA may be the reason. I graduated from Rutgers University School of Law in 1991 with a 3.1 GPA. Is it possible to get around this "obstacle" so that reputable firms will show at least some interest in my credentials?
A: I wish I could advise you otherwise, but in today's job market, a five-month job search is often just the opening round in a job campaign. Your law school credentials may be a factor, though at this stage in your career, I would encourage you not to list your GPA. I assume your headhunter has reviewed and critiqued your resume; I often find clients with good legal backgrounds whose resumes are old-fashioned and poorly focused. Your litigation, tax and public accountant experience should be a major plus. To maximize your strengths, you will need to wage an aggressive and persistent job campaign. I would encourage you not to rely too heavily on the assistance of a headhunter, or on mailings. Instead, you will need to network through the phones, in visits to firms, bar association gatherings, and in a myriad of other ways. Set aside a minimum of one daytime hour for job campaign activities every day, and persist. I often tell clients that looking for a job is like hitchhiking (if you're old enough to remember the days when it was more or less safe to do): you may feel terrible waving your thumb at cars passing you on the road, but all you need is one good ride to pick you up. Then you feel like a million bucks. Keep up the good work.