Everyone within the legal industry understands how law school grades are extremely important. In fact, law school grades are perhaps the biggest factor in determining the type of job that an individual will be offered after earning their law degree. However, law school grades can also affect someone years after they graduate from law school, and can have a recurring impact on someone’s legal career.
When I was in law school, everyone freaked out after first semester grades were posted early in our second semester of school. Pretty much every professor told us that law school grades would not affect us after we had practiced law for a while. Most professionals at my law school told us that grades would only have a substantial impact on the first jobs we were offered after graduating. This feedback helped ease our stress, since it was beneficial to think that law school grades wouldn’t haunt us for the rest of our careers.
It makes sense that law school grades should only matter right after someone
graduates from law school. Law school grades are supposed to help determine if someone will succeed in practicing law. Most people believe that students who succeed in law school classes will also succeed when testing out the principles they learned in practice. In addition, if a person has the drive and dedication to earn good grades in law school, they should be able to apply that same energy to succeed in the practice of law.
Of course, after you have practiced law for a while, there is no longer any need to rely on law school grades to determine how an individual will perform as a practicing attorney. Surely a person’s record as a practicing lawyer is a better indicator of someone’s legal acumen than the marks that person scored in law school. This is especially true given that law school classes do not normally teach legal rules that are particularly useful in practice.
However, it seems that some employers still consider an applicant’s law school grades many years after they graduated from law school. Indeed, I recently heard a story of someone who graduated law school years ago who was asked for a law school transcript at a few different firms to which this person applied. This individual struggled in law school, but after graduating has had a respectable career at increasingly more prestigious firms. My friend is an extremely talented litigator who
has more practical experience than people many years more removed from law school.
After reviewing this person’s transcript, one firm declined to extend an offer of employment, even though it appeared as though this person would receive an offer at this firm. In addition, another firm decided to lower their salary offer after reviewing this person’s transcript! Clearly firms were still considering this person’s law school grades even though this person had substantial experience as a practicing attorney.
Perhaps these firms were using law school grades as a means to pick between two equally-qualified candidates. However, even if this were the case, there are other more useful considerations to evaluate than law school grades when making this choice. In addition, the firm that lowered this person’s salary offer could have used law school grades as a bargaining chip in order to save money. However, perhaps the biggest reason why firms continue to consider law school grades is that some hiring partners are addicted to prestige.
Some firms do not want to accept candidates who have any problems with their backgrounds. As mentioned in a few prior articles, it seems as if some firms want to see candidates who have excelled at each part of their lives and who are on an upward trajectory in their careers. Performing poorly in law school can be seen as a dark spot on one’s record, especially when compared to other candidates who did not perform so poorly as a student.
Another reason why firms might be unwilling to accept candidates who performed poorly in law school is because clients also want lawyers who have excelled in each
part of their careers. Indeed, I once worked at a firm at which attorneys needed to be individually approved by some clients in order to perform work on their matters. In order to have an attorney approved by some clients, the partners would write glowing summaries of each attorney’s credentials, and this invariably included a discussion of an attorney’s educational background. This demonstrates that some clients, as well as firm management, may also be focused on prestige, and this can also drive a firm’s decision to consider law school grades years after a candidate earned their degree.
All told, law students are under enough pressure as it is, and performing poorly in law school should not impact a lawyer years after they graduated from law school. One’s performance as an attorney is a far better indicator of success at a firm, and decision-makers shouldn’t really care how well a 20-something did in classes that have little connection to the real world. What should really matter is how proficient that individual is at practicing law based on their background as an attorney.
Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy, the 2018 Repub