Not at the Top of Your Class?
April 05, 2011 at 1:03 PM
90% of you should read this
(Spoiler: everything is going to be ok!)
For law students who have been conditioned to the idea that only those in the top of the class can reach their legal aspirations, it is easy to forget the simple math that 90% of us are not in the top 10%. For the majority of law students who are not at the top of their class, there are still many things that they can do to realize their legal aspirations and find career satisfaction. Employment Law attorney Don D. Sessions spoke to students on 3/30 to address this exact point: What to do if you are not in the top 10% of your class.
Mr. Sessions, who was unabashedly a member of the “top 70%” of his law school class (at Loyola of Los Angeles), had advice for students that were not the crème de la crème of their law class. First, he pointed out that the jobs students covet as being the best might not be as good as advertised. Mr. Sessions cited a recent survey of attorneys that found that partners in large firms are close to the bottom of the pack when it comes to job satisfaction. On top: Attorneys working in the social justice field.
So what can you do if you are not the most stellar law student in the class? Mr. Sessions spoke of the need to differentiate oneself from everyone else. He illustrated this point by turning to a book about the study of law dating from the 1840s. The advice it gave was that one must study anything but law, before one can study law. Employers will be on the lookout for diverse ranges of experiences. A student should always be on the lookout for something that would improve their resume.
Sessions also pointed out that even though your grades might not be the best, they are still important. If really good grades are not possible, perhaps focusing all of your energy into a single class and doing well might catch an employer’s eye. He told the story of a friend of his that used all of the tools at his disposal to create better grades form himself. This friend, who did not have a good 1L year, was able to take a summer study abroad course and raise his GPA into the 30th percentile from the 50th. That opened quite a bit of doors. He also stressed the importance of working over the summer, citing that working for professors or judges looks great on a resume. Even if one must work for free, it will pay dividends in the end.
On the matter of employers, Sessions discussed the importance of being perfect in your resume. He said that when he reviews applications, he can almost always find a mistake and a perfect resume can quickly separate you from everyone else.
For 3L’s, Mr. Sessions discussed the importance of keeping your options open. One makes themselves indispensible in a place they may already work; it would be difficult for an employer to not continue the employment. They will not care about grades if students make themselves needed.
Also, Sessions pointed out that there are ways to practice law in California without passing the California bar. There are carve outs for corporate counsel and counsel for non-profits. He also pointed to states like South Dakota, which has a 94% bar passage rate and reciprocity with 36 states.
Finally, Mr. Sessions imparted to the students some advice: always remember to get offers in writing, this can be as easy as responding to emails and keeping a record. Next, for young attorneys, confidence is a major factor in whether or not they are hired. If they look the part, they have a leg up. Do not do any personal web surfing at work, as most employers track their employee’s web surfing to see what is done for work and what is not. Always arrive earlier than your boss and leave after, this can go a long way with seeming indispensible. Speaking of the boss, always say yes to them, if you have higher priorities than what they are handing you, explain to them that you would love to do it but have other things on your plate. Finally, do things like writing articles and letters to the editor to build your credibility and to be used in marketing yourself.