Rebound from Bad First Semester Grades

By far, the worst part about the second semester of 1L year of law school is getting grades from first semester. Second semester feels like a fresh start, until you see that C from first semester property.

If you thought you got straight A’s, but ended up with something less than that, here are some tips.

Take a deep breath

Getting bad first semester grades can be traumatic, but they are not the end of the world. Frankly, I did okay my first semester—nothing special—but still ended up transferring and graduating with honors from a highly ranked school.

In other words, there is plenty of time to change things and rebound. By the time you graduate, you will not remember how you did first semester of your 1L year.

Be honest with yourself

Did you routinely blow off reading for Friday classes to attend law review? Were you convinced that your immense intellect would get you through finals without studying as much as everyone else?

Most law students work hard—not putting in that extra effort can make a big difference. If you do an honest self-assessment, chances are good you will recognize some areas of improvement.

Get smart about studying

If study guides and wikipedia help you understand cases better—use them. Taking the time to get a 2L or 3L to hand over their outlines is worth the time lost studying. You still need to learn the material, but if you can figure out ways to learn it faster, you will have a leg up.

Studying smarter means you have more time to focus on classes are topics you do not understand. Saving twenty minutes here and there adds up quickly and can make a big difference.

Talk to your professors

If you ended up with a disappointing grade in a class, meet with your professor. Hopefully, they can explain to you where you came up short and what to work on. Chances are, they will point out some flaws in the way you wrote your exam that can be corrected. You would be surprised how many students do not take this simple step and repeat their mistakes.

At a bare minimum, getting an explanation for your grade should help you put it behind you and focus on spring semester.



  1. Avatar t_lhrh says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve been tossing and turning all night (worrying about this is a great way to begin a non-existent insomnia problem), thinking about my first semester GPA results, which I believe put me at the bottom 1/3 to 1/4 of my class. The T-14 school I attend does not rank, so I’ve been guesstimating where I’ve ended up. I’ve even seriously considered dropping out a few times during these past few hours. But alas I regain my gumption and recite the reasons why I wanted to go to law school. If I can learn and effectively overcome this major bump in the road second semester, I know this pain will be worth it. Hope springs eternal after all…

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    t_lhrh, take heart – I was in the bottom quarter of my class at the end of my first year – and average after that, but I found a job at a small firm in out-state MN, learned how to market myself and practice law (which is a lot different than taking law school exams), and now, after three years, I’m a partner with the firm. What I can tell you is network, you’ll meet attorneys who only care about what you can produce, not your grades. If you went to law school to be a lawyer (not because you didn’t have anything better to do) and are open to different options besides a Biglaw firm, you’ll be O.K.

  3. Avatar A says:

    My boyfriend is in his first year at a tier 3 law school and although he hasn’t gotten all his grades back his first two grades were not that great (Cs). He is so depressed and upset over his grades. I don’t know what to tell him for encouragement!

    I’m a 2L myself with average grades at a T-14 law school, and when I try to tell him that I understand how he feels he says how can I possibly relate to him? He wrote excellent memos for his writing class and received good comments back. This makes me think part of the problem might be that while he is good at research and writing, he is not a good test-taker in substantive law classes. I also think he needs to change some of his study habits (like reading with the tv on!), but I am worried that he might get angry with me if I try to suggest anything.

    The school he goes to seems to have a low grading curve from what I could find on its website. All of his exams were closed book too. Would these factors have anything to do with it?

    Does anyone have any advice, suggestions, or similar stories with uplifting endings? I would greatly appreciate it!

  4. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    There is one other option: quit. Let’s face it, going to law school was a bad idea anyway. Even if you graduate at the top of your class, you will be hard-pressed to find a job, and let’s face it, if your first semester grades aren’t good, that isn’t very likely.

    So stop and consider where you’re going with this. If you are serious about starting your own firm, your grades don’t matter, anyway, so stick with it. If you’re hoping to land a job, whether at a big firm or a Legal Aid office, cut and run.

    Quitting may be the best financial decision you’ll ever make.

    • Avatar law student says:

      Sam Glover,

      You are just a bitter man because you either;

      1. Never got into a law school or
      2. Got in and failed out.

      I can’t stand people like you always trying to attack law students and discourage them/ try to make them feel stupid for choosing to get a higher education. How Sam, HOW can you say getting smarter and having a law degree is a BAD IDEA ? Do you honestly think that way? Are you really that ignorant? I doubt it but what you really are is JEALOUS!

  5. I wouldn’t quit after the first semester, but if things follow the same pattern after the spring, then I agree with Sam. The way you can help your boyfriend is to let him know you won’t think less of him if he quits. Don’t let him torture himself for another 2 1/2 years, only to be unemployed or hating a job that is far from his first choice. Help him find what he is really good at and enjoys doing.

  6. Avatar Adam Oliver says:

    Randall, what do you think of dropping out and cutting your loses? Might sound a bit drastic, but considering the importance of first year grades, perhaps it is a rational option.

    • Avatar Randall R. says:

      Bad first semester grades are a wake up call to any law student and an indication that they need to reevaluate where things are at. At the same time, dropping out based solely on bad grades is a rash decision. Anyone who wants to attend law school should painstakingly consider why they want to go, what they want to do, and what the job market looks like. Anyone who wants to drop out should go through the same process.

      Depending on the circumstances, dropping out and cutting your losses could be the best option. There are a number of posts on Lawyerist (by other authors) that suggest that route.

      For the majority of people, law school grades are extremely important. For some jobs and career paths (as Sam notes above), grades are less important.

  7. Avatar worried law student says:

    Hi. I am a 1L who just received two C+s and a B- (A in writing if that means anything). I’m still in shock. I attended every class, thought I understood the material and felt okay coming out of the exam. I plan to meet with professors next week and change some study habits, but I can’t help thinking that I jeopardized my career. I plan to pursue public interest law, but I hear these jobs emphasize grades too. If I manage to pull up my gpa by the time I graduate, can I land a job? I don’t care about salary (don’t have too much debt, just opportunity cost of not working these years). Oh and I attend a T20 school.

    • Avatar Chris Huether says:

      Honestly, I graduated in 2007, and since then I’ve know of people in this job market in the top quarter of their class who can’t land a job, and people at the bottoms of their classes who are doing fine. I think a lot of it depends on what you want to do. You indicate public interest law, you might need to be more specific than that. Even the legal services programs look pretty hard at grades.

      Are you willing to move out of the Cities, live in rural Minnesota? If so, and you’ll have better luck finding a job. Are you a social person who enjoys working with clients, or do who enjoy the research and writing the most? Small-town practice, even in public interest areas, is all about meeting people and being sociable. I knew plenty of law school colleagues who were smart as heck, but completely uncomfortable dealing with people. Writing and researching at a big firm was clearly their calling.

      The best thing you can do, as other posted above have noted, is figure out what your goal is when you finish law school – it can’t just be “will I have a job?” – it must be “Can I have a job as a public defender/IT lawyer/Small-firm jack-of-all trades, etc?” Then talk to lawyers in those fields. Since you want to do public interest law, go talk to public interest lawyers, see whether you can shadow some, go to some of their bar association meetings or CLEs (most are open to law students, some are even free or reduced cost for law students). Getting known as a good person who busts their tail can overcome some of the stigma of poor grades. Whether you continue is only a decision you can make, and honestly depends on how much you really want to be a lawyer, and whether you can financially afford to be job-hunting for a while after graduation.

      • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

        For what it’s worth, worried law student probably doesn’t live in Minnesota.

        • Avatar Chris Huether says:

          Good point, I realized that after I posted. Nonetheless, I think the point is still valid, working in a big firm may be out for worried law student. If he is willing to broaden his view and push alternate means for finding work, and he really wants to practice law, he can probably find work. He might be hunting for a while, though.

          I wonder at this point in the legal economy whether being at the lower end of a T-20 law school is better than being in the top 10% of one’s class, no matter what law school, even a Tier 3 or 4 school. Any thoughts?

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