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Q: I attend a top-tier school, and my first-year grades were bad. I was able to get some legal experience this summer, but I have avoided all job searches for next summer because of my grades. What should I do? A: Dear Ostrich: Get your head out of the sand and start to develop a strategy. Your inquiry focuses on only your grades. You give no indication of the type of firm or practice in which you have an interest, or the nature of the legal experience that you obtained during the summer. Nevertheless, since this is the season for large law firm recruitment and you “have avoided all job searches,” it appears that you had an interest in pursuing positions with those firms. Reading further into your inquiry, one can surmise that either you were so disappointed with your academic performance that you removed yourself from the fall recruitment process without considering whether any firms would look beyond your grades, or you performed so poorly that you did not meet the qualifications required by any of the large firms, even for candidates from a “top tier school.” The first step is to examine your grades issue. How “bad” were they? Were they “bad” on an objective scale, or just worse than you expected? Do they preclude you from all large firms, or just the firms on which you had your heart set? What caused your grades to suffer? What are you doing to improve your grades? Did you obtain a good grade in any course? Once you have answered those questions, then you can determine how to discuss your grades in an interview, with firms of any size. The key is to stay away from defensiveness or excuse-making, and to find something positive to say. Many students find that their grades improve during their second and third years, after they have a better understanding of how to approach legal issues and law school exams. They also have an opportunity to pursue courses in areas of particular interest. Sometimes students perform better in clinical courses where they can apply their legal skills to practical problems, or research and writing courses where they have more time to consider a legal issue and fashion a response. Next, determine the type of employer that will be the best fit for you. Consider the size of the firm. If you prefer large firms, evaluate whether your grades preclude you from all of them. In the event that they are not of interest or are out of the question, focus on medium-sized or smaller firms. Determine the practice areas that interest you. The timing for applying to medium-sized and smaller firms is later, usually in the spring when they have a better idea of their hiring needs and budgets for the summer. There are advantages to conducting your job search in the spring. You may be able to improve your grades this semester. Then, you can point to an uptrend. If your coursework is in practice areas that you wish to pursue at those firms, you demonstrate an interest that corresponds to the firms’ practice. In addition, you have a few months in which to research firms and perhaps contact graduates of your law school who work there. Networking is an effective way to break into a firm. You must remain positive about your law school experience, including your grades. For all you know, some of the alumni may have had a similar slow start in law school, with a less than stellar first year transcript. They may be able to overlook poor grades, but not a negative attitude. When talking to alumni, and other contacts, you must never ask for a job. If they do not have an available position, they are likely to feel uncomfortable about referring you to other contacts. They may be unwilling to subject their network to the same discomfort. In addition, a conversation has nowhere to go once someone says “no” to a request for a job. It becomes worse if you ask a follow-up question of whether the contact knows of anyone who is looking. Then, the contact has to say “no” again. At that point, the conversation is at a dead end. As you network, remember that you are looking for AIR — advice, information and referrals — to breathe life into your job search. You are engaged in informational interviews, not job interviews. Occasionally, an informational interview can turn into a job interview, but do not expect it and do not regard it as a failure if it does not happen. An informational interview is a success if you obtain at least one referral to a new contact. Another strategy is targeted mailings to firms in which you have an interest. You can write to the recruitment coordinator, if the firm has one, or the hiring partner, or a graduate of your law school, or an attorney with whom you have something else in common. Follow up with a telephone call. As the spring progresses, many law schools receive job postings from law firms. At times, these listings appear quite late in the season. Consult the counselors in your law school’s career services office. They can probably offer specific suggestions to help you deal with these issues. They may also be aware of certain law firms that hire 2Ls from your law school, regardless of grades. There are many successful attorneys who had poor grades and developed excellent practical skills. Your first step is to look up, wipe the sand from your eyes, and see what opportunities are available to you. Sincerely, Linda E. Laufer Linda E. Laufer is a former practicing attorney and a career consultant. You can submit a question to Ms. Laufer by clicking here.

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