Why does the first year of law school matter so much? - JD Advising
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Why does the first year of law school matter so much? 

Students entering law school are often told that the first year of law school is the most important year of their career. While many students are told this, what they aren’t told is why the first year of law school matters. The first year of law school matters for legal employment, cocurricular activities, and bar exam reasons.

Why does the first year of law school matter so much?

1. It often affects job prospects after your 1L year and after graduation

To start, the first year of law school can dictate where students end up working after law school ends. This is because of a process called the on-campus interview (OCI) program, which takes place at the beginning of students’ second year of law school. At this point, employers only have access to a student’s first-year grades. Some employers also request a copy of the student’s undergraduate transcript. However, they do not place as much importance on those grades as they do first-year law school grades.

If you want to get a job at a big firm during summer break, having good grades is a prerequisite. (Note: If you do well in your first semester of law school, you can also apply to summer associate positions in January to try to get a 1L summer associate position. These are less common, but it is a great opportunity for students who do well.)

Many big firm summer associate positions pay well over the summer. And, if you receive an offer to work there full time upon graduation, you will likely start your life as an attorney making a higher salary than if you worked at a small or midsize firm.

If you do not qualify for OCIs you will still have to submit your transcript to prospective employers. Since law school is only three years, your first-year grades have a big impact on your overall GPA. Further, the first-year GPA often means the most because your first year is graded on a strict curve. So, it’s usually harder to do well in your first year than it is to do well in your second and third years. 

2. Extracurricular participation often relies on class ranking and/or GPA

Secondly, the first year of law school matters for cocurricular activities. Students often hear about law review and moot court, which are two highly respected cocurriculars. Law students can participate in cocurriculars their 2L and 3L years. However, if you want to be on the board or participate in more advanced competition for a cocurricular, you usually have to join your 2L year and advance during your 3L year.

The criteria to join these cocurricular activities often require a certain GPA or class rank. Therefore, students must do well in their 1L year to guarantee a spot in cocurriculars come 2L year. As a bonus, participating in these activities also makes you more marketable to employers.

3. You will have other unique opportunities if you perform well your first year

Some opportunities that are highly sought after include federal clerkships, state clerkships, and internships. These are very competitive and your first-year grades will make a very big difference in whether you are qualified for these positions. You are much more likely to get a sought-after clerkship or internship if you perform well in your first year of law school.

4. Your understanding of first-year classes forms the basis of your preparation for the bar exam

Finally, a great understanding of first-year subjects aids in preparing for the bar exam. Since the bar exam tests first-year courses (Civil Procedure, Torts, Real Property, etc.) on both the multiple-choice portion and the essay portion of the bar exam, it’s important that you understand those subjects well. This will make bar preparation easier since if you have a deeper understanding of those subjects, you can spend your bar exam preparation period reviewing and practicing the material rather than learning it again for the first time. You are more likely to pass the bar exam if you perform well in your first year of law school! 

Therefore, we advise students who are accepted to law school to become well prepared prior to starting law school and to take their first year of law school very seriously! 

Go to the next topic, What are the differences between the first year of law school and college?