If you are a 1L, you probably received all of most of your first semester grades by now. At this point, you should know that your 1L class rank determines your entire future.
Get your class rank. If your school will not provide this to you, you should ask upperclassmen to get a general idea. At my school, if you received straight As with the outlier B or C, then chances are you are at or near the top 10% of your class. If you received mostly Bs and Cs, then you are likely at the upper 30% of the class. If you received mostly Cs, then you are somewhere in the middle. Less than that, and you’re pretty much fucked and should consider dropping out. In most cases, outside of herculean effort and a lot of luck, you will not move far up or down from your initial rank once your graduate.
If you are in the top 10%, congratulations. Depending on the school you are attending and your career goals, you should consider transferring to a higher ranked school. For those attending shit schools, transferring is a must if you are aiming for biglaw or something similar. These days, major law firms do not recruit from low ranked schools and will not show up to the school’s OCI events. Chances are, your career services office or even your dean will have to pull some strings to get you a desirable position. It is common to see a top 5% grad from a shit school working for a solo or doing doc review. I think it would only make sense to stay at a shit school if you were offered a full scholarship and a living stipend for your 2L and 3L year.
On the other hand, if you are a 1L at a top 30 school, it would make little sense to transfer (even to a T14) unless it is to your financial benefit. A top 10% graduate from a T30 is just as competitive, if not more so, than a middle of the pack T14 grad. Not only that, the administration will most likely throw a full or partial scholarship to incentivize you to stay. This may be a tough call but in my opinion, it is better to get the degree from the higher ranked school for the same price.
If you ranked somewhere between the 11th to 30th percentile, you still have a shot at making the coveted top 10% by the end of the 1L year. Of course you’ll have to work harder and smarter to get there. But within this percentile, your career options are severely limited unless you are attend a top ranked school. You may be able to transfer to a higher ranked school but don’t expect any scholarships.
Finally, if you ranked below the 40th percentile, you should seriously consider dropping out of law school. Careerwise, you are most likely fucked. You will get one or two interview opportunities at OCI and even fewer callbacks. Forget about being a summer associate – you will instead be an unpaid intern. You will spend your 2L and 3L years not only attending classes but networking with various organizations or doing volunteer work with the small hope that one of the attorneys you meet will give you a job. You will spend half of your day trolling through symplicity and craigslist for jobs that pay $10 per hour with little hope for advancement.
Also, you have to remember that by not dropping out, you are participating in a fucked up educational system where those who are least likely to get high paying jobs will pay the most. You school will not offer any financial scholarships and you will have to pay full tuition and living expenses to stay. Think about this – you are not only paying the full tab for the remainder of law school but your money will partially pay the tuition for the students who received better grades than you, will have a better future than you and most likely will NOT “hook you up” with a job in the future. Assuming your school continues to increase tuition yearly, you are looking at paying between $120,000 to over $250,000 for possibly the rest of your life. I’ll get to the fallacies and pitfalls of the Income Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn programs in a future post in case you were banking on that.
Finally, I will personally have very little sympathy for those who graduate law school starting this year. Most of the people who matriculated in 2010 could have done their due diligence. There is now enough information on the internet that shows that law school is a scam for most people. For years, bloggers, commentators, journalists and even law professors have been announcing that there are not enough jobs for the huge number of graduates. The law school fraud lawsuits – even though most were dismissed – should be a warning sign that law school’s self-produced employment statistics were misleading. You had plenty of chances to cut your losses and pursue another field. If you end up losing the law school game, no one will feel sorry for you. You cannot blame the law schools anymore.
While I will be sympathetic, I will have no qualms seeing some members of the Class of 2013 and beyond suffering with over $200,000 in debt. A lot of you will be unemployable. Some of you may marry up but others will never marry someone within their social class. Your debt to income ratio will make it difficult to buy a house. Some of you will have to live a lie, telling people that “things are good” when they really are not. When a generation of debt straddled young people realize that they are in perpetual debt for an overpriced education, it will only be a matter of time before they pressure the government to make changes.