It’s that time of year again: the beginning of the spring semester at American law schools, when 1Ls get their first set of law school grades. By virtue of your presence in law school, it’s fair to assume that you’re used to some measure of academic success; your fall semester grades may feel like a departure from that history. No matter how you fared, as a professor who teaches 1Ls and as a former law student who’s been through this process, I’d like to offer a few words of perspective.
You’re the same student you were before your grades were posted.
Your grades haven’t changed how intelligent or how capable you are; don’t let them change how you see yourself. You were admitted to Temple Law because we saw in you the potential to do great things and to make a meaningful contribution to the practice and profession of law. We believe in you: you should, too.
This first set of grades doesn’t define you or your law school career.
If you take nothing else away from this post, make sure you remember this. I have seen students with strong grades in their first semester struggle to maintain their high GPAs, and I have seen students who struggled in their first semester find their footing – and watched their GPAs climb. In neither case does your GPA define you, your potential as a law student (and eventually as a lawyer), or your character and worth as a member of the Temple Law community.
A small group of you will be excited; a larger group will be relieved or disappointed.
All of these reactions are natural and quite reasonable, but the truth is that none of you has a good sense of why you received the grades you did.
Every lawyer will struggle with an assignment, not understand what a partner (or client) needs, experience failure. That’s part of the job, but it can also become the secret to your success.
The important thing now is not what your grades were but how you respond.
So what do you do if your grades weren’t what you hoped? The same thing you should do if they exceeded your expectations. Go and talk to your first semester professors and figure out what it is you did well, where you can improve, and what this whole grading game is about. Were your exam answers strong on substance, but poorly organized? Did you present the issues clearly but struggle with analysis? Was time management a problem? Your first semester professors are your best resource for understanding what your grades mean (and what you can learn from them moving forward), but it’s up to you to ask.
Spend time with your current professors to figure out what they’re trying to teach you and how best to approach their exams.
I know I speak for every single one of my colleagues when I tell you that we want you to succeed. That’s why we’re here. We want you to take advantage of office hours, to ask questions about the material, to make sure you understand how it relates to the bigger picture. We can also help with strategies for note-taking, outlining, and exam success. But – not unless you take the first step by reaching out. Do it!
Grades are a recipe for action, not inaction; only you can define your own success by getting engaged.
I can’t emphasize this enough, but I will add that there’s also a professionalism lesson here for you. Every lawyer will struggle with an assignment, not understand what a partner (or client) needs, experience failure. That’s part of the job, but it can also become the secret to your success. Develop habits now that give you the tools to turn setbacks into gains; it will benefit everyone touched by your practice (especially you).
And there are jobs for all of you!
A wonderful thing about the legal profession is that there are many different ways to practice law and tremendous opportunities for you to create and define your own success. The good news is that you’re in the driver’s seat; where you go next is up to you!