Faculty Commentary

About Your First Semester Grades: What Ought to Come Next?

Prof. Carpenter speaks to a lecture hall with seated students

So here we are again – it’s the beginning of another Spring semester for America’s law students. This time of year means a lot of different things for a law school; it’s the beginning of the end for some of you who are getting ready to (finally!) graduate, but for 1Ls, it’s the end of the beginning – that bewildering first semester when you have absolutely no idea how you’re doing.

Well, 1Ls: now you know how you were doing.

The question for you now, is this: what ought to come next? As a prof who primarily teaches in the first year and also experienced my own share of law school grades that were sometimes relieving, sometimes disappointing, and frequently confusing, I’d like to offer a few words of advice.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands – and then immediately get back to work.
For those of you who received above-the-curve grades, you’re probably pretty pumped right now, and it’s appropriate that you should be! I’m sure you worked really hard, and I’m sure that you earned it. But remember – law school is a place full of people who work hard and are really smart. And many of those people received at least one grade that either made them feel “meh” or downright disappointed. They’re going to be working harder than ever, so you’ll need to stay on top of your game if you want to stay on top of the curve.

No doom spiraling! You’re going to be ok.
If you received a grade, or even a whole slate of grades, that weren’t what you wished they were, please don’t dive into a dark, dark hole of catastrophizing. You’re NOT doomed to keep getting grades like this, you’re NOT going to fail out of law school and end up working for the rest of your life outside of the legal profession in whatever job you personally consider the Worst Possible Job Ever. Look, I’m a champion at creating worst-case scenarios in my head, and I can tell you that no good has ever come of it. Talk to a friend. Go outside. Do some deep breathing. Pet a puppy. Eat all the cheese. Whatever it takes to get you out of that bad headspace. Then when you’re done, follow the rest of the instructions below.

Make a plan for this semester.
Whether you achieved the grades you wanted or not, you’ll need to think about your game plan for this semester. A few suggestions:

1. Talk to your 1L Fall professors.
You’ll definitely want to talk to your 1L profs about why you got the grades they gave you. I know that if you get a grade that disappoints you, this is really hard. But those are the grades where it’s most important to get a sense of where you have room for improvement, so it’s those professors you need to visit. And I promise you something – we want to talk to you, because we want you to succeed. It’s literally our jobs to help you become lawyers, and we will take the time to sit with you and figure out what’s up. Maybe you need a little help with time management when you take exams. Maybe you’re not showing what you know when you’re writing them. Maybe your memo wasn’t an A paper because your sense of organization never quite clicked. Whatever it is, we’re here to help you identify what your particular challenges are, and help you put a plan together to overcome them. Really!

2. Go to your Spring professors’ office hours!
That’s the time where your professors are contractually obligated to sit around waiting to talk to people, so why not take advantage of the opportunity to ask us questions and clear up concepts that you found confusing in class? You’re really helping us be less lonely.

3. Seek out whatever academic support you need.
Do you think you’ve got some issues with time management or study skills? The Law School has professionals who want to help you sharpen those skills, and programming that will also help you.

4. Remember that you’re still a person, not just a law student.
Remember that law school is not just about grades. It’s about helping you put together a skill set that will help you be a highly competent, highly professional, and happy lawyer. Good self-care habits begin now. This can be as simple as starting a yoga practice, getting better sleep, or setting aside time to talk to friends. It can be as complicated as seeking help for a substance use issue that you know is getting in your way. The point is that you’re a student now, and part of being a student in a professional school is learning how to integrate the profession into your larger life. That’s ultimately some of the most important work you can do here, and we’re here to help.

Questions about this post? Drop us a line at lawcomm@temple.edu.