Of Course Grades Matter, But Who Cares?

Yesterday, the vast majority of the 1L class was disappointed with their grades. Since the 25th percentile of the Class of 2014 had an undergraduate G.P.A. of about 3.8, an overwhelming percentage of current 1Ls were at least at the top 10 percent of their undergraduate class. Therefore, the vast majority of 1Ls, familiar only with stellar undergraduate academic performance, were probably disappointed by their grades, constricted by the infamous semi-mandatory grade curve.

This of course led to feelings of anxiety, self-doubt and mediocrity. For many 1Ls, this was the first time they put forth their best effort and it did not pan out. The legal profession’s heavy emphasis on academic performance during law school during the hiring process makes matters worse.

Law School institutions tried to counter these feelings of inadequacy. The administration tried to downplay the emphasis on grades by exchanging letters at the beginning of the alphabet for those in the middle. Student Government attempted to sooth anxiety by publishing and distributing a series of anecdotes of professors who got one or two poor grades yet still thrived.

But the exception proves the rule. The reason we like these anecdotal stories is that they are out of the norm. Firms, judges and professors use grades for hiring criteria frequently. Faculty Research Assistant listings conspicuously request transcripts. Early Interview Program interviews usually feature an awkward moment where students slide their transcripts across a side table to interviewers, only some of whom have the courtesy to wait until the end of the interview to inspect them.

Nonetheless, below-average or average at Harvard Law School is still a pretty good deal. A prestigious Supreme Court clerkship might be unlikely, and it will be tough to become a tenured professor absent a spectacular publication record. But there are a large number of law firms and other employers that are happy to hire Harvard Law graduates without top grades. The Harvard brand is highly appreciated in both legal and non-legal spheres. The vast majority of the human population would gladly trade places with any one of us with the “first world problem” of low grades from Harvard Law.

Ultimately, grades, of course, matter. Low grades will probably close a few elite doors. Nonetheless, we are all in an extremely fortunate position professionally and socially, and should be happy with our lives regardless of the weight of our transcripts. Friends, family and strangers will not be able to distinguish between a fancy law firm and a relatively middling one. And even if you are completely determined to chase the aforementioned legal brass rings, there is still Spring semester.

The author is an anonymous Harvard Law student.

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