Dear Ann:

I am a third year evening student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Although not a top tier school, Loyola has a good reputation regionally. I am currently working full time as an Environmental Engineer with a big name consulting firm and intend to practice environmental law. My grades are decent (top 36% officially, top 1/3 counting last summer), yet I understand that many of the better firms weed out students based solely on grades (top 25%). Do you have any advice on how to get some of these firms to realize that top 1/3 while working 50 hours per week in the field I intend to practice may be more impressive than top 25% doing nothing but school?

Dear Impressed:

I was hoping for a question today that would be in keeping with this beautiful weather. Unfortunately, we can't always get what we want, as Mick might say.

I hate to burst your bubble because clearly you are working hard during the day and then taking on the extra burden of going to law school in the evening. This is not an easy task and I commend you on your great work ethic and future goals. But I don't think you are going to get any sympathy from the law firm partners or any change in their standards because you work in the field (as an engineer) in which you intend to practice (as a lawyer).

Although it is great that you will have a strong knowledge of the environmental field once you start your legal career, this doesn't really impact the practice of law. For example, I know a general commercial litigator who took on a carpet manufacturer as client in a conflict of interest litigation. He didn't know anything at all about how to manufacture carpets but that didn't stop him from successfully representing his client. He did research on the important points of the carpet manufacturing industry but the real issue was that he understood the legal points involved in conflict of interest.

Working as an environmental engineer will add to your knowledge of the field but what will really matter is your understanding of the legal issues which will come with your law school education followed by practical experience.

Your grades may be decent but they are not going to meet the grade standards of the "better firms." Top 36% of your class (even top 1/3 of the class) tells me that, more than likely, you have Cs on your transcript. Even one C would be a red flag if you are interested in the BigLaw firms as you have indicated.

Here's the real kicker: the top 25% probably don't meet the grade standards of the "better firms" either. And I don't see the hiring powers deciding that top 36% is better than top 25% just because you have a full-time job. I can't begin to tell you how many attorneys I have met over the years who attending evening law school while working during the day and still managed to graduate with top honors. Holding down a job is simple not a good rationalization for not having top grades, at least not to the partners who will be making the hiring decisions.

Also, whether you are attending full-time during the day or during the evening, your school—while enjoying a decent regional reputation—is going to have a different grading standard at the law firms than someone coming from one of the top ten law schools in your area. Top 1/3 of the class is going to be difficult to overcome.

My advice to you is to scale back your expectations for the time being and to look for regional firms and/or firms that specialize in environmental law where your practical work experience might carry some weight. After a few years of practice as an attorney building a reputation in this field might aid you in lateraling over to one of those "better firms." Best wishes!

Ann M. Israel

Have a question for Ann? Click here.