Law School Grades
Are law school grades important?
Each entering class of 1L students is placed in a section. There may be 3 or 4 sections for each entering class depending on the number of students admitted. Typically there are three sections that can consist of about 70 students or so and all the students in each section will be in that particular section for their entire 1L year.
Each law school has different grading curves. Most law schools only grade students based on one exam for the entire course and then a mean grade is established. A distribution of grades is established by each law school and only a certain percentage of students can receive A's, B's, etc.
Some law schools do not rank students. Instead, these schools offer prospective employers a grade distribution chart that shows a student's percentile range based on his or her grade point average.
Grades are important in law school but if you do not do well and/or are not in the top 10% of your class, you can still find a job when you graduate. Typically, high GPAs are important if you want to work at a large law firm. Large law firms select potential interview candidates for their 2L summer internships based on their GPA Below you will find more information for on campus recruiting known as OCI. However, because you do not have a high GPA does not mean you cannot interview with a large law firm if that is your goal; it only means you will have to find another way to get your foot in the door (this is where networking comes into play). Also, high grades are important if you are interested in law review. Law review candidates are selected based on their GPA's More information on law review can be found below. However, a law student is not automatically guaranteed a job because he or she is at the top of their class. Various employers and law firms want job candidates that are well rounded and have skills that are needed for a particular industry. Overall, grades do not accurately reflect a law student's job potential. It's OK if you are not at the top of your class as long as you have other strengths that differentiate you and highlight your abilities.
How do you distinguish yourself in law school?
Is a scholarly journal that focuses on legal issues and is written by law students and published by a law school. Law review consists of intense writing, research and editing. Some employers seek students that write for their school's law review and therefore is sought after by students. There is one general law review journal for each law school and a student must grade on. In other words, students are selected for law review based on their 1L grades. However, each law school also has several other specialty journals that students can write for and students do not have to grade on. Instead, law schools will have a writing competition and select students based on their writing samples. These specialty journals are also prestigious and provide students with significant writing experience.
Each law school has different clinics and strengths. Depending on the law school, only 2 or 3Ls may be eligible to take a clinic and sometimes there are even weight lists for certain clinics. Clinics include different practice areas that enable students to perform, and focus on, legal work in civil litigation, criminal justice, juvenile rights, immigration law, issues affecting women, government practice, community development, the prevention of homelessness, the role of the judiciary, and many other individually selected areas. Overall, clinics offer real hands-on experience and provide valuable insight that can be very beneficial in helping a law student see what practice area he or she may be interested in.
Law Student Division of the State Bar
Joining the law student division of the state bar offers current law students a plethora of benefits. Such benefits include: networking abilities, information on particular areas of law depending on what a student's particular interest may be (Business Law, Criminal Justice, Family Law, etc.), mentoring opportunities with practicing attorneys, free Continuing Law Education (CLE) courses, etc. All these resources are extremely helpful in helping law students look for summer internships and job after law school.
Provide 1 and 2L students with experience in a particular area. Students can find either paid or unpaid internships that will help them narrow their interests and see what type of law they want to pursue or in the alternative, what type of law they do not want to practice. Internships, like clinics, are a great way to get real world experience.
Pro bono opportunities
Pro bono opportunities allow students to provide legal assistance to disadvantaged individuals unable to access adequate legal representation. These opportunities are a great way to develop your leadership skills, give back to the community and provide career preparation. Also, depending on the law school, students may receive academic credit.
What To Do After Law School
When do I need to start thinking about what I want to do after law school?
It's never too early to think about what you want to do after law school. As a 1L, it's a good idea to know what areas of law interest so you can try and get internships in that particular area and see if that is a right fit for you. The sooner you figure out that you do not like something, the more energy you have to focus on what you do like. However, if you do not know what type of law you want to practice, you may want to explore a variety of courses and internships. Also, you will want to start thinking about networking and visiting your career service office to see what opportunities are available. If you are seeking the help of your career service office as a 1L, you should wait till they are done with OCI so a counselor can devote more time to your questions. In the meantime, explore your law school's resources such as their alumni network. Look at the alumni directory and see if you can reach out to an attorney that would be willing to mentor you and provide you with some guidance on job searching strategies. Target alumni in the location you plan on practicing in and with the same practice focus that you have an interest in.
Preparing for the Bar
How do I prepare for the bar exam?
If you plan to practice law in the conventional sense, then you will have to pass a bar exam in the jurisdiction where you want to live and practice. The bar exam is a multi-day exam composed of various parts (state essay questions and multiple choice questions known as the Multistate Bar Examination, MBE) that usually consists of 2 days minimum depending on the state. The first day of the bar exam usually consists of 200 multiple choice questions that tests a law student on Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. The second day will consists of essay questions that focus that state's particular laws. The bar exam is administered usually by a state agency and is offered only twice per year (July and February). Most states also require students to take and pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) before they can sit for the bar exam. The MPRE is administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners nationally three times per year (March, August and November). The purpose of the MPRE is to test a law student's knowledge and understanding of established standards related to a lawyer's professional conduct; the MPRE is not a test to determine an individual's personal ethical values.
Take bar courses in law school
Most law schools require 1L students to take the basic law courses that cover the MBE topics (Constitutional law, Torts, etc.). However, because the bar exam essays questions vary from state to state, you may want to take courses that familiarize you with a state's particular laws. For example, you may want to take a course in oil and gas because that area is tested on the Texas bar exam. However, do not feel that you have to take all bar related courses. There are other options available if you do not want to take a course solely because it is on the bar exam. For more information on each state's bar exam, visit http://www.barexam.org.
Supplemental Courses for Bar Exam Prep such as Barbri and other prep courses
There are several bar exam prep courses that will help you study for the bar. The most popular (and expensive) course is Barbri. Barbri, like other test prep courses, condense material that will be covered on the bar exam, provide useful guides and summaries, sample questions and practice tests. These prep courses offer written material and lecture series about two months prior to the bar exam. This is a great alternative if you did not take a course in law school over the material.
Finding a Job in Law School
Job Search FAQ's
Where do I start?
The best way to begin your job search is in your school's career services office. The sole focus these individuals have is finding jobs for you and your classmates, and by cultivating a relationship with your career services staff, you will be sure to get the most out of what they have to offer. The more they know about you, the more tools you will give them to do their job, which is to find you a job.
When should I start looking?
ABA rules prohibit recruitment activities for 1Ls in their first semester. For that reason, you probably will not have much contact with your career services office at that time. As soon as possible after this, though, you should schedule time to sit down with them and begin planning your career search. The earlier you begin your search, the more likely you will be to land the job you're hoping for.
What sort of information should I provide to my career services office?
You don't necessarily need to be able to tell the career services folks the exact job you want in your first meeting. The key at this early stage is to be open-minded. Think about the different areas of the law that interest you, as well as any nonlegal jobs you might be willing to consider. Also think about the cities or geographical regions in which you would be willing to live, and those where you would prefer not to be. This sort of information will help you narrow your search.
Is on-campus interviewing (OCI) my only option?
No. In fact, most of your classmates will not find their jobs through OCI. While it is certainly the most convenient way to find a job, the reality is that most law students find their jobs elsewhere.
I didn't land a job in OCI, now what?
The key to a successful job search is taking ownership of the process. Because OCI will only work out for a fraction of each year's class, most students will have to take a more active role in the job search process in order to obtain a great first job out of law school. Think about the kind of work you'd like to do, and where you'd like to do it, then develop a plan. This means working closely with your career services office, identifying job fairs, contacting potential employers directly, and taking advantage of networking opportunities. More on each of these below.
What job fairs should I attend?
This is another area where your career services office can be enormously helpful. Job fairs are held at various points throughout the year and are held all over the country. Again, think about the practice areas you in which you have an interest. Think about the geographic regions you are willing to consider. Think about whether you are open to government service, including legislative work and regulatory agencies. Job fairs focused on all of these are held every year, and your career services office can help you sign up, or you can seek them out yourself by researching the various fairs online.
Should I consider contacting potential employers directly?
Yes. If there are firms or other employers that you are interested in, but who do not participate in OCI or job fairs, then you will have to contact them directly. Research these employers and compile their information into a spreadsheet or other document. Then prepare cover letters targeted to each employer explaining your interest in the firm and why you would be a great addition to their team. If possible, address the letter to someone at the firm that you know. If you do not know someone at the firm, the next best option is to address your letter to an alumnus of your law school or undergraduate school. This sort of hook makes it more likely that your letter will be considered. At the very least, send a copy of your resume and transcript. You may also consider including a short writing sample and list of references, or note in your letter that you can provide these materials on request.
Everyone says I should be "networking," what does this really mean?
Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly presented with networking opportunities. Every interaction you have, whether it is with a classmate, a professor, a friend, or a person waiting in line with you at the grocery store, is a networking opportunity. Contrary to popular perception, "networking" is not synonymous with "schmoozing." Networking is simply making a meaningful connection with a person and maintaining some level of connection with that person going forward. As a law student, most of your interactions will be with professors, law school staff, and other students. With a little effort, though, you can expand your network beyond the halls of the law school.
- Join student organizations at the law school. These sorts of organizations often offer their members opportunities to interact with attorneys outside of the law school. Consider volunteering with your local bar association. Most cities have young lawyers associations that gladly accept law student participation in their projects. This is a great opportunity to meet lawyers who could put you in touch with potential employers, or at the very least, serve as a mentor to you. Participation in law school internships, externships, and clinics are also a great way to build your legal network.
- The key is to cultivate these connections. Once you meet someone that could be helpful as a mentor or an employment contact, stay in touch with them. Invite them to lunch, meet with them in their office, ask them to introduce you to other lawyers in the area. Effective networking is little more than meeting new people and maintaining contact, something you've done your whole life.
I have not had luck finding a job at a firm, where else should I consider applying?
There are lots of options for you. Governmental employers represent the largest employer of J.D.'s outside of the private sector. Consider applying to federal or state agencies that operate in an area of law that interests you. Governmental agencies are myriad and thus offer numerous employment opportunities. Agencies are also a great first job, as they allow you to gain a level of expertise at an early stage in your career, which will make you very marketable in the private sector should you decide to make that move later on in your career. Legislative offices also frequently hire J.D.'s to serve as policy analysts and committee staff. Legislative positions also give you the opportunity to develop an area of expertise, as well as making great contacts both in the government and in the private sector. You may also consider contacting businesses who operate in an area of law that interests you (e.g., technology, finance, energy, tax). The private sector regularly employs J.D.'s, both in legal and nonlegal roles.
Should I consider applying for a judicial clerkship?
Yes. There are few better ways to spend your first year or two out of law school than working in a judge's chambers. These jobs are often very competitive, so you should focus your search and do your best to identify a "hook" that will grab the judge's attention. Focus on judges who attended the same law school or undergraduate school as you, or judges whose chambers are in your hometown, or any other connection you may have to the judge. These sorts of connections will help grab the judge's attention, regardless of your class rank or GPA.