Compiled by Ian Mason
When you received your acceptance to law school, you were elated. The positive energy continued right through O-Week, when you met your new friends and colleagues, and began the path to becoming a lawyer. Your first semester was a grind, but you made it. Then grades came out, and maybe you feel like you didn’t make it at all. You might be feeling discouraged. You might feel like you shouldn’t be here. You might be worried about your future. We are here to dissuade these thoughts and regale you with inspiring stories from (some) People Who Got Cs and Lived to Tell the Tale. A quick thank you to everyone who contributed to this article. We are grateful for your candour and willingness to provide comfort and inspiration to others.
From an Upper Year:
So it finally happened. You spent the last four months pouring your heart and soul into your books (or maybe you didn’t) and then another month and a half agonizing over how well (or poorly) your exams went, and you are now left with a very small number of letters. They are terrific! (If this is you, go read something else; this letter is not addressed to you.) These letters on your transcript are profoundly disappointing. OK, if we’re being completely honest, they may even be downright devastating.
Does it feel shitty? Yes. Yes, it most certainly does.
Does it matter much? Probably not as much as you might think.
A year ago, when I sat where you do now, I already had two Cs on my law school transcript. By year’s end I had added two more. While I finally managed to get a B+ in 2L (and yet another C), to this date there is not a single A on my transcript. Not one! And yet somehow I landed one of those coveted summer spots at a Bay Street firm. So when I tell you those Cs are not actually the end of your world, I want you to know that these are not empty words.
YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR GRADES! When firms hire, they hire the whole person. They look beyond your transcript at all the other things you do in life. Of course, a great transcript can help you get your foot in the front door. But most places have more than one entrance (think of your network and what your resume and cover letter can say about you here). You’ll just need to figure out the best way to make use of these other entrances.
Chin up! You will get through this. Some day you will laugh about it. Until then, don’t let the bastards get you down.
With love and support,
From another Upper Year:
I thought my C would tank me, but it didn’t. I spent the summer getting practical experience and meeting people. I worked really hard on my OCI applications. I bought a new suit and got a haircut. I didn’t expect to get anything out of the process, but despite having less than stellar grades and a C, I got interviews, in-firms, and then a job. My C never came up. Play to your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, and see where you end up.
From yet another Upper Year:
I wrote good exams in undergrad, and good papers during my Master’s, but these skills didn’t automatically translate to writing good law school exams, which were very different. Law school in general has been a big adjustment. I find that the teaching style is not conducive to learning for me at all. I’m actually still figuring out what works best for me, and that’s OK. My grades were a bit all over the place in 1L, but they didn’t prevent me from getting a great summer job. I got it based on all of my experience, education, enthusiasm, and ability to be creative. It’s important to reflect on your skills, experience, and personality, and highlight these things in your application/interview. Don’t be afraid to seek out “alternative” opportunities that are more in line with your interests, you’ll be so much happier having done so.
And one more:
Before law school, getting an A came naturally to me. I hardly put in any effort and just did well. Then law school happened. Law. School. Urgh.
I didn’t have any expectations about my grades when I came to Osgoode. I was just ecstatic I was here, and figured I’d better push myself since I’m spending so much (financially and emotionally) to be here. It was taxing and time-consuming, but I worked hard. I won’t make excuses but life happened, and I felt swamped with so much to do and never enough time. My “very best” in first semester included a C+.
Embracing my C+ pushed me to do better in second semester. Having lower grades than expected encouraged me to develop other skills and experiences. I put my all into my dedication to my extra-curriculars. I stripped all of the negativity, and felt the stress gradually easing off and my personality shining through more than it could during the first semester funk. The terror I felt had faded into acceptance.
My grades were never (and will never be) the be all and end all. I got an OCI job. I cried like a baby when I did. I found my “fit” and my C+ was nothing to them. It was never asked about (honestly, never was). They wanted me for everything I brought to the table. So you will make it. You will cry, laugh, shout, get angry, get sad, feel heartbroken, feel regret. You will feel a lot of things. Law school grades will make you feel regardless of where you are on the curve or in the program. Remember to be kind to yourself and be open-minded.
Go through the process without expecting anything. Be yourself and love yourself. Cs get degrees and amazing jobs in the downtown core. Cs make those of you less humble, humbler. Cs make you wake up and re-assess your life. Cs remind you what’s important (YOU). YOU are important. More important than a letter grade. More important than the nights you get a panic attack. More important than the decision to skip a meal to finish a paper. MORE IMPORTANT THAN NEGATIVITY. Law school is a tough cookie but you’re even tougher. I believe in you all like I believe in myself. We are all going to do amazing things, don’t doubt that for a second. Take a moment and reflect upon the times that make you happy or anxious. Increase your happy and decrease your anxieties however you can.
Dear C+, thanks. I learned a lot from you. I learned that a three-hour exam didn’t define my knowledge of a subject or my self-worth. I learned that my extra-curriculars spoke to my talents and abilities. And I learned how to communicate both of those things to employers, who were able to see me for me, and not as a collection of letters.
Keep your gorgeous heads held high, everyone. Like George Michael says, “You gotta have faith!” (in yourself!)
From Ian Mason:
What the heck, I’ll throw my hat in the ring. I’m a C+ student. There were five years between my last undergrad exam and my first law school exam, so aside from struggling with significant mental health issues and dealing with new and hugely complicated material, I was simply rusty. Since I’d almost dropped out in October, just passing was a victory. Even then, as things started to get better, my grades only improved slightly. I’m happy when I see a grade that isn’t a C.
In practice, those coveted As and expected Bs don’t mean as much as they did in undergrad (or even the last year of high school). In undergrad, a C average basically meant you could forget about graduate studies. With law school, it means you’re less likely to get a better job out of the gate, but even then, a surprising number of your employers simply don’t care. I’m currently doing an OPIR volunteer work placement where the lawyers I work with asked about my grades and said “that might come up one or two more times in your career.” I know a personal injury lawyer who got a D in torts; he’s a partner at his law firm, and his opponents speak well of his abilities.
If anything’s going to derail your legal career, it’s not going to be the occasional C. If you want a better idea of things that can derail a legal career, feel free to ask me about the stupid crap I did in my teens and early twenties.
From a lawyer:
Nobody cares about grades when you’re in practice. The firm that hired me less than a year of getting called didn’t care about my grades, they were more interested in my experience. So focus on building experience while in school and foster relationships with other students, lawyers, and professors because those relationships will matter.
From another lawyer:
My firm doesn’t care if you got Cs in law school. We look at everything: if you have a demonstrated interest in our practice area, if you have work experience (and what kind), and if you’re good. You can be good at your clinical work, at moot court, or at student government. Just be good! Having a personality helps too, so definitely do that.