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March 21, 2007

Those In The Bottom Half of Their Law School Class Can Rank Tops In Success

I have to say I loved this e-mail from a soon-to-be newly minted attorney.  He exemplifies intelligence, common sense, stick-to-it-tiveness and just plain chutzpah in a profession that marginalizes those soon-to-be-lawyers who don't want to get on the same train as everyone else.  He has asked me to keep his name private but I'm reprinting his e-mail with his full permission.

"In a way, I am a typical graduate. I am a 26 year-old white male from middle-class suburbia with a six figure debt. At the same time, I am very atypical because I graduated at the very bottom (like bottom 15%) of my class. I always knew I wanted to work for myself and I would never want the type of job that required top 10% grades, law review, journal, moot court, etc.. Consequently, I never pushed myself to get those things. Instead I pushed myself to get experience and become self-sufficient.

One of the biggest lies they tell in law school is that you need the status marks above to achieve anything worthwhile in law. Well, I clerked a summer at a Court of Appeals in D.C. and then clerked for an entire year for the senior judge of the largest circuit court in Missouri.

My point is that even though I was at the very bottom of my class, no one else in my graduating class had a combination of such "prestigious" jobs on their resume from their time in law school. And I did not get those jobs by doing what everyone at law school will tell you have to to get them. I got those jobs by networking and hustling to get an introduction, interview, contact, or whatever. I was persistent, and when my one chance came I got those jobs with my personality and making people believe in me.

Actually, when I went in for my interview with the judge, I recognized the person who walked out before I went in as one of the Top 10%, Law Review people from school. At that moment I knew I was golden because in addition to their stats on paper they had the sense of entitlement and know-it-all-ness to match. Sure enough, when the interview started, the first thing the judge did was set my resume aside and we just started talking. A year and a half later that judge will be at my wedding."

I've had other e-mail correspondence with this charming young man and what strikes me most is he recognized even before he went to law school that he wanted to be his own boss.  As such, he understood the coveted brass rings in law school were not a good use of his time.  Others may argue you never know where you are headed and every notch in your belt can only help.  But in my experience when someone is truly committed to being their own boss right out of the chute, they want real hands on experience in the world in which they will be functioning and it is a calculated decision how they are going to best utilize their precious resources. 

This gentleman understood he needed to 'hustle,' network, get in the game early on.  And he suceeded admirably.  Had he been counseled in an entrance interview on the path he wanted to take, going solo, would he have been given the same advice?  If he had told the CCSO he didn't care about his ranking in law school because it was irrelevant to his goals would they have helped him get the positions he did?  I think not.  No, he got them himself against the odds.  And it is an interesting commentary on the judges, as well.  It makes you wonder what they are really looking for in their interns.

He says he got those jobs by 'making people believe in him.'  I venture to say that his belief in himself and his abilities and his committment to the task at hand was what persuaded the judge to hire him over the student who 'looked good' on paper.

Everyone in law school does not share the same need or ambition as the next.  And as one of my students said, "doesn't law school have an obligation to address the needs of 'all' their students, not just the top 10%?"  Well, we all know where I stand on this issue. 

And if all goes according to schedule, as soon as his wedding bells ring and he is sworn in, he will be introduced in "Passed The Bar - Hung A Shingle."



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houston law student

That's great. Where would this country be today without those who buck the system? Well, it wouldn't be, would it. We'd all be wearing wigs and trying to decide if we wanted to be barristers or solicitors.

The saddest part, as a student on the back half of 1L-dom, is watching other people in my section allow their career aspirations to be defined by the hierarchy. The top-ten-percenters seem to be on a death-march to BigLaw without any thought as to whether it's the right place for them. They figure it out eventually, judging by the retention rates, but I'm not sure the grade-fixation serves anyone, even the ones its designed to help.


Great blog, interesting post. Thanks very much.

I guess the old saying still goes: Do you know what they call the guy (or gal) who graduates last in their class at medical school?


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