So now that I'm half finished with law school, I'm starting to wonder about the importance of grades. I've had four-go arounds with exams and three with grades (including summer school) and I still can't figure this thing out.
How is exam performance related to your grade? I have absolutely no idea.
I've taken 11 law school exams. All were brutally difficult, draining and overwhelming. After one exam, I felt like I nailed it. I was wrong. I didn't get a good grade. After two others, I felt adequate, like I probably did OK. I was right. I did OK. After one (Elements!), I felt like I got every single thing wrong except for my blind grading number. I was wrong. I did OK.
I realize one reason I rarely walk out of an exam feeling confident is that in the law, there are rarely black and white answers and the tests don't measure knowledge of blackletter law because it doesn't take any brains to look that stuff up. I've considered the possibility that I am learning but not really realizing that I'm learning which is why overall, I've done OK so far in law school. I don't know how seriouslsy to take that possibility. Learning but not realizing I'm learning? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What's the point of learning if you don't realize you're learning?
I've never read anyone else's exams but mine and I have never had an in-depth discussion with anyone about how they answered the exam questions, so it is difficult to compare my exams to others. How much more do those who get all As know than me? How much less do those who do poorly know than me? Is that even important? I guess it's important because we're graded and ranked and grades and rankingn are important. The arbitrariness of the whole thing is very upsetting.
Speaking of grades and rank, how are grades correlated with intelligence or future success as a lawyer? Do grades have anything to do with your job? I have absolutely no idea.
Logic dictates that grades are mostly important only for your first job. Ultimately, it's your performance as a lawyer (and who you know) that takes you to your final destination in Legal Land. If you're getting Cs and Ds, Big Firm isn't knocking down your door and Prestigious Clerkship isn't happening for you. Does that mean you can't cut it at Big Firm or that you'd make a lousy clerk for a federal court judge? Of course not. But grades and ranking are a quick and easy way for prospective employers to evaluate you. How else could an employer decide whether to interview you without looking at your grades? It's just not practical to do it any other way.
I have a part-time job that I like in a small firm, but it's not an opportunity that could lead to full-time employment. So I need a job. I know plenty of people with grades similar to mine who have jobs. I don't. OCI failed me, but I know only 15 percent of students here get hired through OCI. I have to believe that my grades had something to do with failing in OCI, but did they? Of course I have no idea and I'm not going to turn this into a rant about the problems with the OCI system.
I know how to get a job even with decent-but-not-great grades and without OCI. Network. Pound the pavement. Blah blah blah. It hasn't happened yet, but there's time. I am worried but I also realize it's premature to panic. The point, however, is that if I end up with a job through any method other than OCI, grades are probably going to be less important.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not talking about coasting by for the next year and half, but I am seriously questioning my commitment to the hard work it takes to get good grades. This is not out of laziness. I worked hard this semester but not as hard as I worked last year. Not even close. But I still put in an absurd amount of time, effort and energy. (My wife can attest to that.) Will the time and effort pay off? That's the billion dollar question because it depends what "paying off" means. If it means getting good grades, well, that's nice, but I still don't have a job and that's why I'm in law school--to get a job. (Oh yeah, I'm also here to learn about the law and learn how to be a lawyer, but I can't count the number of times I've heard it said that you learn how to be a lawyer when you get your first lawyer job).
So what do decent grades get me? So far: nothing. So you tell me: Is it worth it?