Law School

Make the Grade: How to Improve Law School GPA

One of the reasons breaks aren’t so fun during law school is because you’re often waiting for grades to drop. By now, most of those in school have received at least most of your grades for first semester. And the reaction is either a stomach-churning YAY! Or a stomach-churning oh no.

Both responses require further action because regardless of how your grades shake out, law school is not a beast that lets you rest on your laurels.

But, today I want to focus on those that had the “oh no,” response.  You may not be super pleased with your grades because they seem average. Maybe you’re used to rocking it and getting As and now there are a lot of Bs on your transcript. Welcome to law school, where super-smart students make “average” grades. There are a lot of factors for this, but the main one is that most schools still require professors to grade on a curve and the curve sucks. It’s really hard to ascertain just why you got a B+ and not an A- in a class because often it came down to the professor grading and the style and elements they were looking for in the answers. Totally sucks but that is the nature of law school. So don’t be hard on yourself if your grades are still good, if just not what you’re used to receiving. Keep going and perfecting your style because the more you practice the stronger you will be come next semester.

Now, for those that didn’t receive the best grades and it’s not just because you’re used to getting As, the rest of the post is for you. First, I’ve been there. I make no secret of the fact that I sucked in law school. Any inkling I had that I was a smart person immediately was erased because it seemed like I did so bad all the time.  So I get it. I get seeing a grade that you not only “aren’t use to,” but absolutely should not have on a transcript. I say this not just in solidarity but to also let you know that you can do better–it’s just a matter of mastering the technique.

To figure out how to improve you have to determine where you failed. Was it the material or how you communicated?

During the semester did you understand the material? Where you grasping the elements, applying precedent correctly, following along somewhat with your professor in class? If not, what do you think is missing from being able to comprehend what’s being taught? You should try to review your answers, if it’s an option, to see where you need to focus on while you study. Did you forget elements? Apply it incorrectly? Get to the bottom of why comprehension was your issue then double down this semester in your reading. My two main tips: buy supplementals to help you comprehend the more difficult concepts and HAND WRITE YOUR LECTURE NOTES. Yes, it requires all caps. Yes, that means you’re not just transcribing on a laptop and you’ll look like you’re straight from the 80s or whenever it was that people didn’t use laptops in law school. But I swear by this strategy because it absolutely worked for me. No internet distraction and I actually listened during class. Try it!

Now, if you understood the material, which is likely the case, the big obstacle came in communicating your answer. I’m not exaggerating when I say that IRAC is the real deal. I know it seems silly to need to have you essay formatting in a certain way, but law school (and the legal profession) is nothing if not a bunch of odd rules and procedures imposed on us. My big mess-up when it came to finals was not understanding how important an organized and succinct answers were to finals. When I got a better handle on IRAC and formatting, I was able to provide stronger answers during finals that resulted in better grades.
So, if you weren’t able to master this part of finals yet, then you need to practice during mid-terms so that you get a better handle on it. In fact, schedule it now and organize your study schedule so that you have enough time, come finals, to really practice essay answers. Finally, a lot of people pull away from briefing cases and discourage students from doing it. I’m not a You-Must-Brief-Cases-Or-Else type person. I rarely did it and definitely didn’t do it once I was a 3L, but try briefing to see if it helps you organize your thoughts and answers. I think it’s worth a shot–and I’ll always remember being shocked to overhear a classmate of mine  (who was a lovely person!) in the last semester of law school mention that she hadn’t had time of brief one of our cases. “Who still briefs cases?!” I thought. Well, the person who graduated at the top of my class, that’s who.


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