As a starting point, it is important to realize your grades will not determine your entire life trajectory or worth as an individual.
While you may have laudable goals of achieving a certain GPA or excelling in a particular class, there is always a need to separate students from one another in some way, shape, or form. You may be the beneficiary of such distinction or you may end up where you had not expected to end up.
What is more important than some raw grade or ranking is the understanding and knowledge that comes with the tutelage you have received. You should do your best to achieve the best grades you can, but don’t let your marks (or your obsession with them) overshadow the instruction that you will be benefiting from for the rest of your life.
That being said, becoming an elite student may lead to scholarship or bursary eligibility, as well as the opportunity to apply for clerkship programs. Clerkships are seen by many in the legal community as prestigious, and law clerks at any level of court may find themselves more marketable for government or public sector employment.
Good grades may also make it more likely that you become a research assistant for a teacher and/or partake in a directed research project as a for-credit course. It may even make it more likely that you are accepted for a semester abroad. As one might imagine, there are very few downsides to getting good grades.
Without pulling any punches, marks are very important as they pertain to the recruiting process that begins for students at the start of their second year. Most students come to school with the quite reasonable goal of actually becoming a lawyer. Law firm recruitment thereby serves as a chance to actually achieve your dream of finding employment well before you have graduated.
With many of these jobs come perks such as securing second-year summer work, hopefully securing articles, and having various fees paid for, and generally not having to worry about the rather arduous prospect of job hunting.
Thankfully, the truth is that grades serve mostly as a threshold to entry. Once past the threshold, it is your skills, personality, knowledge, and fashion sense that will get you the job. While every firm has differing grade thresholds it would like candidates to pass, you do not need to be a straight-A student to get a job interview.
If you do reasonably well in all your classes and do particularly well in subject areas in which the firm practices, your chances of getting an interview are quite good. Most firms will also take your past work and volunteer experience into account, thereby alleviating some of the stress of having certain grades or meeting the unknown threshold.
Every year is a moving target, so there is no merit in attempting to aim for a certain GPA or grade in a particular class. Your goal is simple: Do your best and let the chips fall where they may.
It must be said that the process of going through interviews and putting together application packages will benefit you regardless of whether you succeed or not. The vast majority of people do not find jobs during the early recruiting process and it is not disadvantageous to strategize for the long term. Many law students conceptualize their education solely as “learning the law,” but the tertiary skills that come along the way can be just as important.
However, if you are fortunate, you may find yourself securing gainful employment. In so doing, you will feel as if a giant weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You put so much time and effort into your studies, so much time and effort into impressing people and making the right connections. Once you land the job, you get that “victory moment” and there is no doubt that it is a sweet moment indeed.
Of course, the satisfaction doesn’t last long as you now have to catch up on the classes you missed and the readings you sacrificed in order to do mock interviews and other prep. This is in addition to the fact you will now work even harder, given that you are probably feeling insecure about the people you are soon going to work with (as they may be smarter and more talented than you are). Whether they are or not remains to be seen.
In closing, the reality of the situation is that nothing is guaranteed. In essence, all of your work is you fighting for a chance. You are fighting solely for the small chance to land a job while still in school. You are fighting for that extra bit of consideration that might get you a clerkship or award.
It may be disheartening to know that there is no guarantee of success, but it is always those who are not afraid to fail who reap the biggest rewards. Whether or not you achieve the level of success you desire will not end up mattering at the end of the day; you will become a lawyer. You will (one day) escape from the calamitous mountain of debt under which you now find yourself.
The first year of law school is an opportunity like no other. Don’t be afraid to seize the moment. Don’t be afraid to succeed.
Cole Rodocker is a third-year student at the Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law and will be completing his articling year at Blake Cassels and Graydon LLP. He can be reached at ColeDanielRodocker@gmail.com