Saturday, June 20, 2009

Failing Out of Law School

It all started with a simple post about Seva Brodsky failing out of law school and filing an ADA claim based on his "memory and organizational deficits." That post remains one of the most popular Lawffice Space entries to date. My analytics indicate, however, that the people coming here to read that post are not concerned with Brodsky, they're concerned with failing out of law school. That is why I am writing this post. This is my advice for those left wondering what to do after failing out of law school.

Step 1: Keep Your Head Up!
OK, you probably feel a little down and that's understandable. Now is not the time to curl up into a ball and hide from the world. Quite the opposite, now is the time you need to take action! Many prominent people have hit roadblocks along the way, including law-related setbacks. Joe Biden was practically last in his law school class (and failed a course for plagiarism) and he's VP. Hillary Clinton failed the DC bar yet went on to be the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation and is currently the Secretary of State! Failing out of law school is a hurdle not the end of the road.

Step 2: Soul Searching
Why are you in law school? If you don't love it, get out now. I viewed law school (and now practicing law) as a lifestyle. I loved law school, love the work I do now, love reading new Supreme Court cases in my spare time, and love writing this blog. If you are in law school because you think it will lead to money, your parents made you, or you're avoiding the "real world" with more school... I'm afraid you are heading for misery. If you are dedicated to a legal profession, then move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Stay in School
If you decide you want to dedicate yourself to the pursuit of a JD then don't go down without a fight! A friend of mine thought she'd failed out of law school (technically, I think she did). She begged, pleaded, and talked to every person who would listen (records office, professors, deans, and local judges). She volunteered for some research assistant work, and an internship, and agreed to some kind of academic probation. Sure enough, the school let her stay so long as she performed well in her internship/assistant duties and hit a certain GPA the rest of her time in school. She went on to graduate on schedule and even earned some kind of award for her volunteer activities. You could be that person!

Alternatively, if that doesn't work or you decide you want a fresh start, you might want to look into a different school. Don't worry about rankings. Unless you want to be a Supreme Court Justice or Harvard Law Prof you can build a nice practice with a degree from any accredited school.

There's a popular law school saying that goes something like: 'A' students become professors, 'B' students become judges, and 'C' students become millionaires. There's probably some truth to that.

Step 4: Legal Work
In addition to getting a legal education, you may also wish to look into alternative careers that are law-related. There are several career opportunities for people interested in the law but who are not attorneys. You could be a paralegal, a legal assistant, work in a court, research for a public interest firm, write about the law for a publication... I could go on forever. You could also combine a passion of yours with a legal career. There are computer folks making a killing in e-discovery right now.

If you still have your heart set on being an attorney then perhaps getting some alternative legal experience will help you get back into law school.

Conclusion
Failing out of law school is not the end of the world. Pick yourself up and decide what you want to do with your life. If it's a career in law then you're gonna have to work. Talk to everyone in your school about ways to stay in school. Talk to everyone you know in the legal community about opportunities to demonstrate your passion for the law. Failing out of law school is just like any other challenge you face in your life. It's up to you to decide whether you want to work past the obstacle or if it's a sign to take another road. I hope my advice has been helpful, please feel free to drop a comment if you have any questions.

27 comments:

  1. thanks. first year finals are upon us and failure seems like a distinct possibility. law school is much harder than i expected.

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  2. i just recently failed out of law school, but i love the law and know i ahve it in me to do well, i have been working on my problems with the head of the department of my school and studying even after i was denied re-admission. It is just very hard, i have wrote a 505 letter in hopes that maybe i can start in the fall of 2010 rather then wait two years. I am taking another lsat with hopes of improving my score and am looking into maybe going to get my MBA or paralegal degree. I love the law and want this. Do i have a shot of getting back into a law school soon? I went to a low level school and i understand that looks bad my desrie and passion to suceed has to standout and be noticed!

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  3. mitch, I am not an expert on law school (re)admissions but it sounds like you have identified some positive steps. I'm sure admissions offices appreciate students with passion, you just need some way to demonstrate your desire. If you have contacts at your current school be sure to keep in touch with them. If you have the time, identify law-related activities and get involved to show future schools your passion. This article has some advice on readmission that may be useful: http://www.lawcrossing.com/article/1346/Coping-with-Law-School-Dismissal/ Good luck!

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  4. I am in my first year of law school in Louisiana and I am over-whelmed by all the reading in casebooks. I am smart enough to understand my civil codes and can apply them well, but failure still feels imminent because all of my professors are so anal and particular about everything. The biggest problem I have is anxiety about failing. My classmates have professional jobs, some work in law firms already, and a few are in broadcasting, etc. I have nothing to go back to if I fail. It seems like that should inspire me, but I just feel even more inadequate and undeserving. I got my grades from last semester and I was dissappointed. I got a B in both Criminal Law and Contracts, and a C- in my Legal Writing class. Any advice for a first year student?

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  5. The good news is that practicing law involves different activities than law school. The bad news is that law school hazing (let's call it what it is) prepares you to practice. Depending on what you do, there will probably be a lot of reading; every area is filled with "anal and particular" people; and there will always be competitors with more experience and/or better credentials than you no matter what you do. That said, my school curved to a 2.9 so Bs would be above average. It sounds like you're doing fine. Law school is designed to produce highs and lows. It's up to you whether toughing out the lows is worth it.

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  6. just get out of law school while you can. it is not worth sh..t anymore and will only decline in the future...there is no more high salaries with a j.d...cut your losses...i went to ivy league law school and passed the bar 2 years ago with 200k in debt from all that sh..t no real stable job....so mba or b.s. in something technical or don't do it at all.

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  7. I just C- out of law school, and I am glad I didn't keep going. The majority of recent graduates at the tier 4 degree mill school where I went are unable to find jobs anyway. However, I'm only on the hook for about $40k (as opposed to $150k). With the prisons being overcrowded, I think selling illicit narcotics may be my ticket back to the "road to financial freedom." In the meantime, Good Luck Sallie Mae! F^€< Off!

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  8. all joking aside, failing out with debt makes it harder to repay that passing with more debt.

    yes you have to work for it, but if you can't then how the hell did you get a BA and pass the lsat? Honestly?!?!?!

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  9. i just failed out of law school and i'm trying to decide...what next?! I know I am smart and if i had applied myself during the year, i wouldve done better - especially since a lot of my classmates who did make it, are not smarter than me, they just did more. I am trying to decide what to do because my passion is in public interest...know of alternatives to law school? how difficult is it to get a masters/phd now that you have failed out?

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  10. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou for this post Phillip Miles!

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  11. "my passion is in public interest...know of alternatives to law school?"

    I worked for a public interest firm in law school. Although they're usually non-profits, they still operate like any other business. They need accounting, HR, graphic designers, IT, legal secretaries, paralegals, marketing, event coordinators, researchers, etc. They also need "development" (money-raising).

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  12. I am 43 years old and withdrew from a Tier 2 school while on academic probation and with substantial student loan debt, primarily because of health reasons. I very much want to return and finish what I started, and cannot think of anything I would like to do more. Is it worth it, and do you have any specific suggestions for me? Thank you.

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  13. It's a tough job market, and (probably) an expensive proposition. That said, if there's really nothing you want to do more that's something I would weigh pretty heavily. When I went to law school, I did it because i thought it would be fun and didn't necessarily even intend to switch careers (from IT consulting). Ultimately, it wasn't a financial decision, it was just a question of what I wanted to do with my life. Every person is different though - so balancing financial considerations and your personal interests is really up to you.

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  14. I failed out of law school by .04 points in '07. I was crushed. I couldn't get any instructor to "give" me the extra points. Luckily, I was determined. I bugged the Vice-Chancellor by email and phone calls daily. After several (+10) face-2-face visits, I finally made some progress. I reapplied to the program in '09 and was accepted. I will graduate May '12. Keep your head up. Even though its really really hard, you have to stay in the game. Best of luck!

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  15. I just failed out of law school and I am in such a state of depression that I can't seem to shake it. I was doing good and then I lost my uncle, 4 friends i've known for 20+ years and my boyfriend had kidney cancer and surgery all while I was trying to study for finals. I thought I was rising above it but when I took the exams, I lost it. It's been one devasting blow after another. How do you come back from all this...

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  16. I failed out and was readmitted. Even at that I am still struggling to make do. At my school, grades are based upon one final examination in most classes and my memory is the worst. I have tried numerous methods of memorization and preparation but with a learning disability and ADD I am constantly struggling. I have little better than a 2.0 gpa. Every term ends with me hoping I get enough grade points to continue on in the next term. What bugs me most is that in writing classes, pre-trial skills, trial skills, etc. I do great. I am good at understanding and applying, but I just can't memorize everything for the exams, not even close. Studying past exams doesn't help much either. I read them, go through them, understand them, but get stuck again come exam time. I just don't think the methods used in law schools today or even for the bar are what makes a good lawyer or are determinative of a good lawyer. Well, this turned out to be more of a rant. I believe I will get through and graduate. I am now in my 3rd year and ever concerned with keeping my grades above the minimum, which is a nerve-racking process. Wish me luck, I wish you all luck too!

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  17. Thank you for the post! It's nice to see someone provide constructive advice to those who have been dismissed and want to get back into law. I just wanted to know if anyone else feels the ABA "recommendation" that law students who have been academically dismissed must sit out for two years is arbitrary and capricious? Schools rarely give a 505 letter.

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  18. wow, I just failed out of law school halfway through. feels like i just got hit with a ton of bricks. my former boss prior to law school (who owned the company) died of a sudden heart attack. i have nothing to go back to. i was at a tier 4 school, and the expected income after graduation according to some publications is less than what i was making per year before law school. at least i know i don't belong there, i hated it the entire time. i guess i just didn't want it bad enough.

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  19. Don't go back to law school, its almost impossible to get a job nowadays in the legal field. If this were 1980, I would give different advice. But times have changed.

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  20. When I failed out of law school, they would not re-admit me, even though my GPA had improved dramatically from the previous semester. I reapplied to some other law schools, but they turned me down. Eventually, I applied to some graduate programs and they also turned me down based on the law school record. Even though I had a 3.5 GPA from my bachelor's degree! I've been told to just keep applying to graduate programs and beg them to take me. My advice to anyone is, if you even think you might fail law school, drop out before its too late. The failure on your academic record will haunt you for the rest of your life. You may never get into any other career! You won't get back into any other law schools, nor will you get into any other colleges or programs, except for (possibly) vocational schools. I would now love to be an elementary school teacher but the credential programs may not accept me because of being academically dismissed from law school. Once again, if you think you aren't grasping the material your first semester of law school, drop out and take some time to make decisions. Dropping out means you can always go back, but failing out means you can never go back.

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    1. Ignore the poster above. Not only are they wrong, they're probably a 4th tier law professor whose salary depends on the successfully advising of 2nd semester 1L's on withdrawing from school. A dismissal from law school will not haunt you for the rest of your life. If there's a will, there's a way!

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  21. I appreciate all these posts. I am in my first year and doing great in 3 classes.. horrible in 2. (contracts and civ pro) the professor either grades difficultly or Im just not intelligent enough. I love law school, I am just worried that I will fail out because of those 2 classes. Coincedentally, I have been accepted to another school as well for a spring start. SHould I drop here and then go there as a beginning 1L. I love the law, dont care about the job market and just want to do this, I am not as gifted as most students though. I have a difficult time of it.. any advice?

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  22. I should probably add to this..(post directly above) that I have no problem with the assignments, I like my professors, and actually enjoy working in the library and doing the work. I am just overwhelmed and probably could do better if I had more time to focus on each reading.. I dont know.. I just want to stay in, do well and graduate. thanks for the input.

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  23. I have not entered law school yet and I am terrified! I am a 0L trying to prepare for what will happen in the fall of 2013. There are so many horror stories and crushed dreams that I wake up in fear everyday. My anxiety is legitimized because this blog does exist. My question is how do I prepare for law school and not be on the failing side of the curve?

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    1. Sean, work hard. I have a saying, if you aren't working someone else is. You have to out prepare the competition because at the end of the day, most students will know the black letter law. The difference is that some will not be able to apply it as well to fact patterns for essays and multiple choice questions. Treat law school like a job and spend at least 8 hours a day working at it and you will do great!

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    2. I'm currently a 2l, not a very dedicated student, and doing well. A lot of people make law school out to be tougher than what it is. If you have the LSAT score and undergrad GPA you're probably smart enough to be there. Put in the work and there is no reason you can't succeed like the thousands upon thousands of prior law students have. People who fail are in the minority.

      That being said, 1st year is hell, but its bark is worse than its bite. You will be absolutely overwhelmed, but remember so is everyone else. Think of first semester as a time to form habits. When class is done, go home, eat dinner, and then read until you have read ALL the assigned pages for the next day.

      Do something to cope with your stress.I prefer video games and marijuana myself, but de-stress time should be AFTER YOU'VE DONE YOUR READINGS! I got into Call of Duty during my second semester of my 1l and logged at least 3 days of playtime. I felt terrible and panicked come finals time becuase,"Surely I'm going to fail since everyone is studying a ton more." After first year I ended up in the top fifty percent of my class(third tier school close to breaking into the second).

      But don't fall behind on your readings and always go to class. You seriously may have to read 100 pages some nights, but that doesn't mean you have to memorize every detail, leave that for the gunners. Your professor should make sure all the key points from the cases are clear. So as long as you are always in class you shouldn't miss out on anything.

      Don't doubt yourself because someone comes off smarter. I can almost guarantee there will be one person who you thought would get an A and they end up with a C.

      Get with a study group early. I basically lived with mine the last month of the first semester. Most of the students who were not back for second year could be described as the loner type.It helps to able to divvy up work between others. Tackling a 1,000+ page casebook by yourself would be no fun.

      Lastly, don't take advice from me! Everyone has a different strategy or study habits that work for them, but just remember you and your classmates are in the same boat. They are just as nervous as you and you are just a qualified as them to be there.

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  24. i am a 1L in middle of my first finals. although i am smart i did not get very good study habits from undergrad. basically i know i botched this semester, i did barely half of the readings for one of my classes . i didn't join any study groups. i didn't start outlining until reading week. i didnt brief. i didnt speak up in class at all. i didnt go to office hours. i basically went into law school knowing i wanted to be lawyer, but having no clue what was expected of me in order to become one. i love school. but i am very nervous that i really might fail. at this point i am so behind in my study schedule that i have a pit in my stomach and i just want to cry when i think about studying. i know this feeling isnt helping me, but i just want to know. when should i just stop? at wjat point should i give up? if a completely botch this semester what are the chances of redemption second semester??
    i need help!

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