As a general rule, there is significant apprehension among the first-year students today. If all goes as planned, first semester grades will be released to the 1L class this afternoon. Some will be very pleased, some will be very disappointed, and the large group in the middle will not know exactly what to think. The very nature of law school guarantees that many students will see letter grades today that they have not seen in their academic careers.
No one says with a straight face that grades are completely unimportant in law school. We do have GPA standards for graduation, and beyond that, there is a correlation between grades and bar exam performance. However. There is a natural tendency to overestimate the importance of grades. We have pictures hanging in our law school of some of our most distinguished alums that openly share they they squeaked through law school. I have been told (and shown) repeatedly that success in the legal profession is not directly tied to academic rankings. There is a popular joke among law students that claims that those who get A’s become professors, those who get B’s become judges, and those who get C’s become rich! Sure, it is a joke, but it is meant to be a reminder of the maxim that grades do not reflect eventual success in the profession.
It is hard to convince disappointed students of this, however. So, I meet today with apprehension, too.
One of my favorite sayings is that grades do not reflect who you are as a person, but how you react to the celebrations and disappointments in life does reflect who you are as a person. After an appropriate period of “rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep,” that is the message I hope to communicate.