The sluggish legal services market has made job seeking all the more difficult even for top performing law school students, so what hope is there for those who simply don’t have the best grades? The bad news is that if you do not happen to be one of the lucky few who manage to rise to the top of the class, you are not likely to be successful in securing on-campus interviews with so-called “BigLaw” firms. The good news is that many students who do obsess over grades and other resume-boosting extracurricular activities often fail to distinguish themselves by developing practical legal skills.
When it comes to those coveted BigLaw jobs, grades and class rank are really the only proxy for ability, because these types of firms base their hiring decisions almost entirely on first-year grades. Such firms are not really interested in the kind of legal skills a student might have acquired, largely because the firm will provide the new associates with the kind of training required for that particular law practice.
Tip #1: Aim for the Middle
Mid-sized and smaller firms typically do not have the time or resources to spend on training green attorneys, so they are less interested in class rank and more interested in the tangible skills an applicant possesses. While still in law school, seek out clerkships in the type of firm where you would ultimately like to land a job after law school graduation. Don’t set your heart on getting an offer at that particular firm, as most smaller firms simply don’t have the budget to hire new associates every year. But, make the most of the time you have at the firm by seeking out attorneys to provide mentoring, and by learning all you can about that type of law practice. Keep asking for new and more complicated tasks so that you will be able to set yourself apart from other former law clerks.
Tip #2: If Government Work is What You Seek—Volunteer
Lots of new law students dream of being a prosecutor or public defender, but with budget cuts and hiring freezes, these positions are increasingly hard to come by. The only way to have a shot at this kind of job is to intern at a public office and “put in your time.” Almost all of these positions go to applicants who have volunteered their time throughout law school, so don’t wait to seek out this kind of internship. If your state permits it, you would also be well served to secure a pro bono license to practice law under supervision (for example, an Illinois 7/11 license). These offices have specific application cycles for interns, so keep track of deadlines for different offices.
Tip #3: Be Realistic
Above all, be honest with yourself about what kind of work you will actually be able to obtain. It’s fine to be ambitious and shoot for the stars, but you have to be realistic about the career goals you can actually achieve when you are working with less-than-stellar credentials. Don’t waste your time or money on mass mailing resumes to firms that may or may not be hiring. Only apply for jobs in firms where you have some exposure to that area of law. And focus your efforts wisely. The time to apply to the small and mid-sized firms is in the spring, when they have a handle on their budgets and hiring needs.
Though it’s hard to believe while you’re still toiling away in law school, grades really aren’t everything, and with a solid strategy for building up your legal skills and professional network before graduation, you will be able to overcome a bad GPA.