QI’m heading into my 3rd year of law school at a tier two. I go to class part time and work 50+ hours a week, clerking full time for a staff attorney at a Fortune 500 Company. I’m looking forward to practicing when I graduate, but there’s just one problem. My grades suck, I mean they suck big time. I went from being a Phi Beta Kappa in undergrad to being a C+ average law student. Do I have any shot in hell at making some decent coin after school? With work and school at it is, 100 hour weeks is something I’m already used to, so I know I can do the work. I just don’t know if any decent firm will give me a shot. What’s your sardonic take on my situation?
AI will try to be honest, not sardonic. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, they sort of intersect. Anyway. You absolutely have a shot in hell at making decent coin after school. Why not? You’re a hard-working Phi Beta Kappa with a law degree from a good school. Being blunt, the C+ average will most likely keep you out of the elite, major-city law firms. When I say “most likely,” I mean 98.5%. Someone, somewhere might be super-impressed with your undergraduate grades and 50+ hour work weeks while attending law school. But don’t count on it. These firms typically have hard and fast cut-off points relating to grades. If you had a B+ average, you might be in the hunt. Barely.
Having said that, you seem like a perfect candidate for a quality mid-size or small firm. They’ll care a lot more about your practical, real-life work experience—and work ethic—than your GPA. The prestige firms, on the other hand, look for quantifiable measures of academic aptitude and desire. Excellent grades, top-tier universities, Law Review, federal clerkships. Their goal is to teach you how to practice law “the right way.” Their way. Smaller firms don’t have the time or resources to do this, so they’ll actually appreciate your part-time work experience. Bigger firms are (much) less interested in this. In fact, they might even be worried you picked up some bad habits working for that Fortune 500 staff attorney.
As for the money, the simple truth is the starting salaries at big, fancy firms are significantly higher than at mid-size and small firms. Like double. That’s just a fact. The good news is that, after your first job, grades and law school mean a hell of a lot less than client lists and experience. In the real world, law is a business. The more clients you control, the more money they pay your firm, the more leverage you have. If you care about making money, never forget that. An “A” book of business trumps a C+ GPA every day of the week.