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I’m in the Middle of My Law School Class – Can I Work for a Medium-Sized Firm?

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Summary: I know many wonderful attorneys with spectacular legal careers who did not graduate in the top half of their law school class.

Question: I attend a Top 15 school, and was in the bottom 20 percent of my class during my first year. Since then, I've been right about in the middle of my class. I'm a summer associate about to start my third year of law school. How do you think I'll fare interviewing for a permanent position during the on-campus recruiting season? I'd like to work for a medium-sized law firm in an East Coast city.

 
I'm in the Middle of My Law School Class Can I Work for a Medium-Sized Firm?
 
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Answer: While your grades are not something to brag about, I know many wonderful attorneys with spectacular legal careers who did not graduate in the top half of their law school class.

Grades are important because they are a benchmark. There isn't much else to base hiring decisions on after a first year of law school, when the firms are interviewing for 2L summer jobs. Many firms have a minimum grade point threshold, which varies depending on the law school you are attending. For example, if you are attending a first-tier law school - which you are -students with a lower GPA are cut some slack. On the other hand, if you are at a lesser-ranked school, you will need a higher GPA to interview with these same firms.
 
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Once you have a couple of years of practice behind you, there are other benchmarks that can be measured besides your GPA. Even so, your transcript will follow you for many years, so please try to get some better grades in your third year of law school.

I do think that you will be able to secure interviews during the 3L interviewing cycle, particularly because you are interested in the mid-sized firms. However, you need to be prepared to discuss why you are in the middle of the class. As I always advise, don't be defensive in your answer -just tell the truth. Everything is in the phrasing. For example, one person wrote me to say that he had a wife and family and he just couldn't see the point of putting in the extra hours needed to outshine all the other overachievers in his law school class. He knew he would get by and get a good position based on his skills, not on some arbitrary grades. Although I appreciate his candor, I don't think that kind of an answer would go over too well with an interviewer.

Instead I might say, "... with the added responsibility of being a husband and a father of young children, I found the best way to deal with law school was not to put the major emphasis on class standing, but rather on understanding the law and finding ways to sharpen my skills. Although my grades might not reflect the fact that I achieved my goal, let me tell you what I have accomplished ..."

So, what's the bottom line here? Not everyone can be in the top of the class. This doesn't mean that you can't have a great life in the law. Try to figure out why your grades are so low and then try to do better in your third year. If you try your best, no one can ask for anything more. Hunker down and be the best you can be. I have a feeling that you are very tenacious and will end up doing just fine after graduation. I hope this advice helps.
 
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Summary: I know many wonderful attorneys with spectacular legal careers who did not graduate in the top half of their law school class.

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