“An old joke tells of two drunks walking the rails. One of them says, “Man, will these stairs ever end?” The other drunk says, “The stairs, I can handle, it is the railings that are killing me! Perceptions. . . .
You graduated at the top of your class. Congratulations!
Now, let’s see how well you do in practice? Because you were successful academically doesn’t mean that you will succeed in practice. Nor, if you didn’t do well academically, are you destined to fail in practice.
You graduated at the bottom of your class. Congratulations!
Some of the best students in my clinical program are not the ones with the highest GPAs. One of my students who was at the bottom of her class by rank, was one of the best practitioners I ever observed. How could that be? She knew the law, she just didn’t perform well on timed exams. Also, she was able to break down concepts and simplify them for her client in a way that some of the brighter students couldn’t understand.
If you think about it, law school exams are the polar opposite of practice principles. If an attorney relied solely upon the law from memory alone and applied that knowledge to a client’s facts allowing a restricted time to come up with an answer, we might characterize that as malpractice. Students who don’t perform well on exams don’t necessarily perform poorly in practice.
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. – Calvin Coolidge
But Genius is how you get jobs in Big Law
GPAs are great sorting devices for law firms seeking new associates as the pile of resumes grows, it is imperative that that pile be reduced to a manageable level. Assumptions are made that to hire someone with a high GPA will increase the odds that that person will be a “quick study” and be able to operate with minimal oversight. You see, you are a “loss center” until you can produce, and the higher your GPA, the more likely you will be producing faster than someone who has demonstrated lesser skills in school at grasping legal concepts and reciting them to the professor’s highest standards.
The bad news for those of you in the bottom of your class is that it is increasingly more difficult to find employment as many law firms reduced some of their staff during the downturn in the economy in the recent past. As a result, there are unemployed experienced attorneys available in the pool of applicants as well as higher performing students. This makes it more difficult to compete for those jobs.
But Big Law may not be your Best Job
The good news is that if you put together a good and substantially viable business plan and pass the Bar, you have a job! And a great job at that.
What you will soon discover is that your class rank has nothing to do with your success as an attorney. (See quote above.) Success in practice is not about blinding the judge with your brilliance. Rather, it is about being well organized and doing the hard work so that you are prepared when engaging others when representing your clients. If you are willing to get up everyday before the competition and work later to foster your client’s goals, if you keep at the forefront your client’s objectives and communicate effectively with all of your clients, they will be knocking on your door and you will succeed.