Poor 1L Grades? Consider Walking Away. Now.
If you are a 1L, you are probably waiting impatiently for your first semester grades. If they are poor, and you are attending a non-prestige law school, you should seriously consider getting out of a losing game, now.
There is plenty of “hey, you can make a comeback from poor grades” advice out there, all of it worth reading, if you already know that you simply must get a law degree or you will be throwing away your dream of practicing law. If you cannot imagine yourself not becoming a lawyer, keep on stepping up to the plate. And good luck.
A Numbers Game Most People Lose
But maybe you went to law school because you didn’t quite know what else to do, or because you thought it was a path to financial security, or because you loved Legally Blonde, or whatever. Whatever your reasons for being in law school, you might get your grades back and find yourself freaking out. That’s when you should calm down and reassess whether you should continue in law school.
The real question is this: do you want to be a hundred thousand dollars (or more) in debt and not be able to find a law job? Yes, you can give yourself a better shot at it than others. You can hang out a shingle. But do you really want to? As Sam Glover pointed out, way too many new lawyers are doing that when they just don’t have the drive to be successful at it.
Just as 90 out of every 100 of your law school classmates will not be in the top 10 percent of your class, many, many members of your class will not find law jobs. Poor grades at a non-prestige law school make finding a job that much tougher. And your legal education will not get you a shot at many non-law jobs that will pay enough to cover your loans in addition to other expenses. That’s just a fact—you will be “underqualified” for law jobs because of your grades and school, but a law degree isn’t really worth much to employers not looking to hire a lawyer. Most potential employers will suspect that if they do hire you, you will always be looking for a law job.
Smart Law Students Do the Math
Yes, you worked hard first semester. You don’t want to disappoint your family or significant other. Yes, grades don’t measure the ability to be a good lawyer. Yes, lots of successful lawyers didn’t get top grades. And, yes, if you decide to walk away now you will be in the hole for a semester of tuition, room, board, etc. That’s a lot better than being in the hole for a six figure sum that is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. A debt that large that you cannot (or struggle desperately to) pay off can cripple your financial future and make it impossible for you to buy a home, raise a family, or even retire some day. Call it the the dark side of the power of compounding interest.
The toughest question is about your level of commitment to doing work that only lawyers can do. Here’s part of a very wise comment from Eric Cooperstein in response to Randall Ryder’s post on overcoming poor grades:
I don’t think someone has to “hate” law school to decide to stop going. The day-to-day practice of law may not bear very much resemblance to law school, but if you find you don’t enjoy reading cases, picking them apart, or writing about them, then you really have to think about whether you have sufficient passion about the law to overcome the struggle of earning an income sufficient to repay the $100k+ in debt that you’ve incurred.
So seriously consider withdrawing from school. Check with your school—the law school I attended allows withdrawal “without notation on record or financial penalty” until January 30. Your school might not send out grades until it’s too late for penalty-free withdrawal.
Even if all you’ve learned in law school so far is that you hate studying law, that’s a positive, if you realize that you don’t want to continue. (This may be true even if you got good grades.) Leave school. Go pursue something you love. But start thinking about this, now. Before it’s too late.