I’m a Cool Guy with Crap First-Semester Grades


QFirst, let me say that I enjoy reading your column.  Your advice to others and the candor of your responses help me justify the disinterested malevolence that is quickly hardening my heart.

My situation is this: I have two interviews with prospective employers scheduled this month.  One is with a branch of the federal government, and the other is at a legal aid office. The problem is that I have a terrible first semester GPA. Like absolutely terrible.  It’s embarrassingly bad. Right now, I am sporting a 2.0 (A fucking 2.0!). I could have traced my hand and made hand turkeys with googly eyes, pipe cleaners and construction paper feathers and received better marks.

Here is some quick, personal background on me: I graduated from a good undergraduate university, was a four-year D1 athlete, had a decent GPA in my major, a mediocre overall GPA. I am an experienced paralegal from Philly, and I am still working part-time for my old firm while currently a 1L at regional third-tier law school. I will have zero debt when I graduate, a reality that few law students face and one that I do not take for granted (despite my hardening heart and what my GPA might reflect).

So, how can I possibly explain my terrible GPA and prove to hiring committees that I am actually capable of rational thought?  My current plan is to just own up to the fact that I haven’t yet figured out how to answer an exam question and then highlight my work experience, non-exam writing ability, and professional references.

I know appealing to the counter-factual is not always a great way to prove a point, but right now, I’m not sure if there is much else I can do. Should I craft some kind of Tim Tebow-like “promise,” and pledge that, if given an opportunity, I would prostrate myself this summer to further the goals of X organization and prove that I am worth the risk?  Should I even interview?

My fallback plan is to take summer classes, improve my GPA and accelerate my degree if I cannot find a job. Any advice would be appreciated.

AMy advice: Put as much effort into studying for finals as you put into this email. If I were grading this, you’d get a B, maybe even a B+.

In all seriousness, study harder and learn how to take law school exams. It’s more of an art than a science. Or vice versa, I’m not sure. In any event, you need to learn how to prepare for finals better. Ask a few smart and cool 3Ls for advice about this. It will help.

Beyond that, chill out. There is plenty of time to get your grades up.

As for your job interviews, your suggestion is spot on. Be honest and self-effacing. These are temporary gigs, so I wouldn’t freak out too much. As long as you find someplace to work this summer, you’ll be fine.

My last bit of advice is to figure out what aspect of law you want to practice and try to get some practical experience in that field as soon as possible. Given your grades and resume, BigLaw is probably a long shot. Okay, an impossibility. So don’t waste any time sweating it.

Your personality, D1 jock swagger, and strong writing skills (yes, it was a legitimately well-written, entertaining question) are plenty of ammunition for a great legal—or non-legal—career.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

18 Comments

  1. Alma Federer

    February 1, 2010 at 3:38 am

    I agree.  You are not as dumb as your first semester grades.  I also had a 2.75 after my first semester, but I learned to take tests, and also consulted with an upperclasswoman who went through the same thing the year earlier.  She is now an ADA in Manhattan.  You will be surprised how many people with high GPAs are really dumb, so it’s not the GPA that counts.  I agree that you are best suited for the smaller firm or government jobs out of the big cities, which will almost certainly be overrun by egotistical slobs from big name schools who believe they are God’s gift to women.  You need to be careful here too.  You may have been a jock in college, but you also have to be in a Tier 1 or 2 school to do well in New York City.  So good luck to you, and do not use 4 letter words in your writing samples.  It is not professional.

  2. Pacific Reporter

    February 1, 2010 at 6:31 am

    Drop out now. You’re unemployable with a 2.0 from a TTT.

  3. Bitter Guy

    February 1, 2010 at 7:45 am

    PA is right.  Drop out now – in this market, you’re burnt.

  4. BL1Y

    February 1, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Not entirely unemployable as a TTT with a 2.0.  But, don’t expect to get a decent job without some sort of inside track at the place.

  5. KateLaw

    February 1, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Don’t drop out… if this is what you really want to do (esp if you’re damn lucky enough not to accumulate debt while doing it).  Do learn how to take a law school exam -seriously, it’s not hard.  You need to practice and/or perhaps you just need to make your own outlines (as horribly boring and laborious as it may be, it does help).  I think you’ll find a job b/c it sounds like you have what so many of those other law school losers lack -a casual coolness and sharpness.  Hell, you’re exactly the type I hire (T3 or not).  I say be honest in your interviews & if all else fails, take classes this summer (do well in them) and be a research assistant for a professor you like/respect.  Ask if he’ll let you co-author something with him so you can add that to the old rez as well.

  6. D Guy

    February 1, 2010 at 9:22 am

    I agree with KL

  7. Craig

    February 1, 2010 at 9:26 am

    I agree with Ex-Bitter that this is one of the best Bitter Lawyer questions.  It seems like to me you will just fine.  Grades don’t mean everything in life.  You obviously have a hard time taking tests.  My advice would be to avoid classes where there is only one three or four hour final at the end.  Take the classes where there is a take home, or a paper, and where hard work, class participation and the teacher liking you counts.  If you can find grade distributions from past classes, take the classes where the teacher consistently gives out A’s or is a generous grader.  Good luck.

  8. Frat Guy Law Type

    February 1, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Two word: Small Firm.  If you were a 4 year D1 athlete, you would be bored to tears in a Biglaw firm doing someone else’s homework anyway.  Hey, if you have no debt, your options are wide open.  I just took the bar in July and I have a few of my own cases and a few cases in the small firm I’m working in.  But, if you wanna do that, Don’t Take On Debt. 
    And don’t let any of these T1 geniuses on here who have been practicing for 10 years but still haven’t seen the inside of a courtroom tell you what you can and can’t do.

  9. Carl

    February 1, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Quit. Quit. Quit.

  10. Guano Dubango

    February 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Stick it out, man.  After all, what are you now?  It appears that you have nothing to loose.  After all, you will not have debt, this is important.  More imporantly, once you have a law degree, you will be better able to find women interested in you.  If you are already an athlete, this will be helpful to get access to a higher class of women than you have even in law school.  Even if you wind up at the bottom of the class, you can still call yourself a lawyer, and that is good for something.  I might answer differently if you had to pay much money, and you were giving up something good.  But you are clearly not going anywhere right now.  So go for it, dude.

  11. Recent Grad

    February 2, 2010 at 6:34 am

    Don’t give up! You have plenty of time to improve your grades (and this will be easier to do once you start choosing classes you actually enjoy taking). Sure it stinks that so much emphasis is placed on your 1L GPA/rank. If asked in an interview, be forthright, but don’t be apologetic. Instead, like you said, focus on your strengths and experience. Self-confidence and ambition can go a long way. Good luck!

  12. Evil Lawyer

    February 2, 2010 at 9:06 am

    The Answer is simple: if you want to be a lawyer, really want to be, don’t quit. Do what you plan to do, talk to an upperclassman (or woman if they look like Alma says she looks) who did well and get their advice on taking exams.  Stop screwing around and throw out any TV, and work.  Two of my classmates at a great West Coast School that shall remain nameless did poorly. One failed the bar. Classmate #1 (the bar failure) comes to fund raisers and reunions in the biggest Ferrari and makes obscene amounts of money in criminal law. I mean obscene.  The other went on 19 callbacks, got 19 rejections till he met his dream firm–the best one of the 20 he had seen: they did corporate work and hired him the day of the callback. If you want in, stay in.

  13. TaxxxGirl

    February 2, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Don’t you dare quit. This is career that you want and have geared yourself for, and you are probably going to get a great rec from your old firm. My first semester grades weren’t what I wanted and I knew exactly what I wanted to do, so I started working at a free tax clinic as soon as those grades were out. It wasn’t my dream, by any means, but by the time I graduated I had essentially been practicing in my field for two years, which is a distinction that got me in to a great LLM. You’ll recover. Chin up.

  14. Louisiana Lawyer

    February 3, 2010 at 8:00 am

    You have no school loans, so don’t give up.
    I graduated with a 2.5, I’m sure big law uses my resume to wipe their asses with but oh well, I still send them.
    You prob have a good shot going with the government (that’s where I’m at).  You’ll prob make better money going solo….lay people don’t give a damn about GPA’s or tier schools, they just want their problems fixed and gone.
    It’s a snobbish, snobbish field, that’s just the deal.
    And they NEVER, EVER lay off the GPA, it’s their (the law snobs) sure fire way of eliminating folks.  My husband’s been practicing for 15 years, although he has his own practice he wants to get with an agency (govt) for the benefits….them bastards still ask for his transcript!!!
    You have 2 years left to bust it out so just do your best.
    My problem…I studied hard not smart.  I didn’t know the right people who had the holy grail outlines passed down through generations of law classes.
    Writting for an exam is “art”, for sure.  I knew the law, but couldn’t give it to them how they wanted it.  Get with a legal writing professor and bother the hell out of them.
    You know as much as the #1 person in the class…you just have to give to the profs the way they want it.
    Hell, I didn’t learn how to write for an exam til the bar rolled around.  I passed the irst time….no problem.  If only my three years went as well….it’s a bunch of bullshit.  Honestly.

  15. prog

    February 3, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Part of the trick to law school exams if figuring out what each specific professor is looking for.  Another issue that a lot of people have trouble with is spelling everything out in a final exam like you were explaining it to a five year old.  Your paralegal experience is probably holding you back in some regards in this.  You are likely trying to apply your skills as a paralegal to law school writing, either consciously or subconsciously.  Try to avoid that at all costs.  You need to write everything out in excruciatingly simple terms.  Every element and every threshhold requirement needs to be discussed.  If there are two or more possible outcomes – address all of them.  Whether or not that jives with your practical experience is irrelevant.  You are there to give your professors exactly what they are asking for.

  16. anon

    February 5, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    drop out now. you are unemployable in the law.
    the trick is to realize that you would be equally unemployable with a 3.0, or in this economy, perhaps a 4.0.  there are too many lawyers and the profession is shrinking.  nothing wrong with practicing law, if you’re into that kind of thing. but be realistic about anyone’s odds these days.
    the 2.0 is a blessing.  it forces you to consider the correct choice, which many of your classmate won’t until it is too late.

  17. justme

    February 15, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I feel your pain. I, too, did the D1 jock stint at a highly competitive program in the SEC, and my grades aren’t the greatest now. Fortunately, I managed to get into a Top 20 school, probably because of my work history, undergrad grades, and score. So yeah, the ranking helps a little in interviewing but not by much.
    Nevertheless, if Big Law fails for me, I plan to just practice solo with professional athletes. I have an “in” because many ex-teammates/friends are playing professionally now. Depending on your sport, this opportunity may be available for you as well. As you may know, professional athletes spend a good bit of time training, meeting, and watching videotape. Guess how much time they spend actually managing finances, investments and deals.  I know for a fact it is very little. If they do, they don’t like doing it. Many pitches, business plans, and proposals come from “friends” and often times there are many questions that go unasked when presented to an athlete. I currently help out friends, by means of another professional license, and I eventually want to expand to legal services, i.e. reviewing deals/investments, providing advice, and keeping them out of trouble. They have agents, but those agents don’t do much on the managing of personal investments, deals, and finances, aside from that initial contract with a team. I have a few buddies who are clients of Rosenhaus, and the latter doesn’t, or won’t, have the time to go through each proposal or idea that comes across each buddy’s plate.  Now take that and extrapolate that to a population of professional athletes, and you have a lot of potential bad, and good, ideas that need a trained eye. Be honest and show them you care and that you aren’t looking just for a meal ticket, and you can write your own way. (Jerry MaGuire had some truth in it.) Also, if you’re concerned about the competition in this niche, there are too many douchebags in the legal profession for a professional athlete to really want them to be around. So even if they are good, their personality will keep them out of that society. I see these types every time I go to class. Plus, there aren’t many athletes in law school at all. I know 2 of us out of 600+ people in my program. You’ll immediately have a valuable connection over a law student who wasn’t a NCAA student athlete.
    Note: The only reason I even desire Big Law is because of the free training.

  18. that dude

    February 16, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Go to class and do your homework, write legibly and coherently and you should get at least a B.

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