I am unhappy with my grades. What now?

NDLS students are not used to being in the bottom half of, well, anything! But statistical reality dictates that half of each law school class is in the bottom half and probably unhappy with their grades. So if you’re unhappy with your grades, you are not alone. And you still have plenty of great employment opportunities!

While there is no doubt that good grades can make the job search easier, students who are unhappy with their grades get great jobs every single year. If only students in the top half of each class got jobs, employment would be 50%. It’s not! It is much higher. Everyone in the CDO works with students of all GPAs and backgrounds to craft winning job search strategies.

What should you do if you are not loving your grades? Let’s start with what not to do.

1. Don’t randomly apply to jobs without doing anything else.

If you came straight to law school from undergrad, the sole method by which you have moved on to the next level of life is likely by applying and then getting accepted. Like a transaction. But that is not how the vast majority of legal hiring works. Vinny, the Director of the CDO, always says that “people hire people and not paper.” That is absolutely true. People want to work with other people that they like. You’re going to spend a lot of time with your co-workers, so it’s better if you like them.

Meet lawyers who would potentially hire you someday by engaging with alumni, attending meetings and conferences and volunteering. Then, when they see your resume, they know that you are someone they would like to have around the office because they remember having a pleasant meeting with you before.

2. Don’t listen only to fellow law students and online forums that law students frequent.

There is always plenty of chatter, anxiety and freaking out over grades. Everyone’s always whipping each other into a frenzy over something. Distance yourself from it. It is not productive, and it is not based on reality. Instead, talk to your fellow students (IRL not in a forum) about your job search. Check out the SBA spreadsheet to see what current students and recent alumni have gone to your target market or worked with desired employers. Make sure you seek input from other sources as well to clarify fact from fiction and to get additional perspectives.

Talk to the CDO. When you talk to the CDO, you can take comfort in the following three facts:

(1) our full-time job is working with law students and helping you find jobs. We research the job market and talk to employers to learn what they want. We interact with hundreds of law firm, government, and public interest employers. We have years of experience not only in helping students and strategizing but also practicing law. We get it.

(2) We have seen hundreds of students’ job searches play out. Again, our job is to work one-on-one with law students and help you craft job search strategies. We have hundreds of data points for law student job search stories. We know from personal experience how things play out with law students’ job searches. When we tell you that you can overcome your grades to get a job you will love, we are telling you that from experience not wishful thinking.

(3) We can provide perspective. Going to an online forum frequented by law students to get advice about your job search is going to be more toxic than productive. The vast majority of what you read is going to be negative and alarmist. Because we work with all class levels and routinely talk to alumni who are years into their careers, we have a much broader, richer perspective of the job search.

3. Don’t retreat into yourself, get negative, and stop talking.

We know from scientific research that when you’re happy, you are more productive. When you’re positive, you are your best self. You are more open-minded, creative and engaged in life overall. If you start engaging in negative self-talk and convince yourself that no one will hire you, you may determine your own negative outcome. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Negative talk has a way of taking hold and spiraling out of control. 

If you feel that you are retreating into yourself, try to notice that it is happening. Tell yourself to stop. “There I go again.” Evaluate your thought rationally and respond with positivity. Think about things you’re thankful for in your life. Yes, it sounds cheesy, but it works! With a gratitude mindset, your whole outlook will be framed positively and obstacles remain in perspective instead of taking over.

Schedule an appointment with a counselor on IrishLink. We can help restore perspective and set you on the right track. Or contact Stella Miller to talk through your thoughts.

So now that you know what not to do, here are some things you absolutely should do to improve your situation (and your frame of mind).

1. Do spend time thinking about what you’re really looking to get out of your career.

If you came to law school genuinely excited about pursuing a BigLaw career, GPA is undoubtedly important, and you may have to retool your expectations. (Although you can still potentially make progress through strategic networking.) If BigLaw is your main focus and you have concerns about your grades, talk to a CDO counselor so we can strategize some steps for you to take to set yourself up for the best chances of success. If BigLaw is going to be a difficult path for you, we can talk about what inspired you to come to law school in the first place and help you find another path.

So what can you do to make yourself a more desirable candidate overall? Any employer wants a new hire to be as productive as possible from day one. Think about those skills and the courses and experiences that can help you attain them – excellent research and writing abilities, client relationship and management, advocacy skills.

Work toward creating a resume that tells your compelling story. If you’re a 3L and you’re applying for a job as a labor and employment lawyer after graduation, you are more likely to be called for an interview if you have labor and employment experience. So take steps now that will craft that labor and employment story for your resume. Talk to Bob Jones about a Corporate Counsel externship or a placement with the EEOC through the Chicago program. Take the mediation skills class. Apply for a Peggy Browning Fund Fellowship. These are all actions you can take that have nothing to do with grades!

If you have no idea what you want to do, come talk to the CDO. Talking through different options and scenarios is helpful to figure it all out. (Hint: we have a LOT of these conversations. You’re in good company!)

2. Do build a strong professional network.

If people know and like you before they know what your grades are, you are starting off in a strong position. So get out there and meet people working in practice areas that interest you. Always try to find someone (for example, an alum) who works where you want to be so you can talk with them to understand the work environment and culture. When you have spoken with someone working at the place where you’re applying, your cover letter will be stronger because you can reference that conversation and use its contents to tailor your writing. You can dramatically increase the chances that your resume will get read.

Get to know everyone working in the field(s) that interest(s) you. If you want to be a prosecutor, get out there and meet prosecutors. You can do this by reaching out to prosecutors individually and scheduling one-on-one meetings, by going to FPAC events and following-up with speakers, and by joining the criminal law section of the bar association in your target city.

3. Do stay positive.

Endless worry and anxiety over grades will get you nowhere. That time would be better spent doing something more productive. There are always students dissatisfied with their grades, yet every year, NDLS students who were absolutely crushed by their 1L grades graduate with awesome jobs.

Having trouble staying positive in the law school vortex? Talk to someone. Anyone. Stella, CDO, old friends, family. Getting outside your head and talking to non-law school folks almost always helps.

In the CDO, we see this play out year after year. If you maintain a positive attitude, regularly meet with the CDO, and continue to work toward your goals, you will be setting yourself up for success.

Want to talk more? Make an appointment to see us in IrishLink.


(This post was written by Ali Wruble and Katelynn McBride Barbosa)