On Academic Probation?: Advice for Struggling Law Students

Now that the school year is over, grades are trickling in from those 1L classes. Hopefully, your hard work this past year has paid off, and you have successfully completed all of your classes. Sometimes students aren’t happy with their grades though, and they may find themselves on academic probation, or at least in the lower portion of their class, at the end of that first year. If you find yourself in this position, where do you go from here? It’s important to take law school grades seriously because they can be an important indicator of future success on the bar exam.

Law students may receive low grades for a number of reasons, as explained below. Many of these reasons may not apply to you, but it is important to honestly evaluate yourself and decide what you need to do moving forward.

First, you need to make sure that law school is where you want to be. For some students, lower grades are a sign of lack of passion. Maybe they went to law school because that’s what everyone told them they should do, or maybe they just didn’t know what else to do after they graduated from college. Others thought they wanted to be a lawyer, but the reality of law school wasn’t what they expected or wanted. Take stock of your own personal goals, and make sure that law school is really where you want to be. If you have decided that it really isn’t for you, then you should devote your energies to something that you can get excited about doing instead. If law school is really where you want to be, then consider the advice below.

Second, you need to honestly evaluate your efforts during your 1L year. Sometimes, when students are honest with themselves, they really didn’t put in the time and effort required to be successful in law school. Maybe they had other things distracting them during their first year, or they thought that their approach to college would be enough to get them by in law school as well. If you decide that you really want to be in law school but you fall into this camp, you will need to commit yourself to working harder next year. You may want to talk to a dean, academic support professional, or professor about how to create a study plan for next year that will improve your discipline and lead to greater academic success.

Third, you should evaluate whether a learning disability or other physical or mental condition is interfering with your success on exams. Some students figure out during their first year of law school that they have an undiagnosed learning disability such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). If you are concerned that you have a disability that may be affecting your ability to perform well on exams, you should talk to the academic support professionals at your law school. They may recommend that you see a medical professional for testing and diagnosis. Sometimes students who have disabilities need accommodations on exams, such as additional time or a distraction-free environment, so that they can fully show their understanding of the legal principles and skills being tested.

Finally, you may just need to work with the academic support professionals at your law school to develop your academic skills a little further. For many students, the transition to law school is just not a smooth experience. Maybe you’ve come from a degree program that has emphasized other types of skills, and you just need to work on your analytical skills or writing skills more. Maybe you have been out of school for a number of years, and you just need some help developing the type of study skills that will put you on the right track to academic success. Or maybe you are just the type of person that taken a little longer to have things click for you. There are people at your law school who can be tremendous resources in your efforts to improve your academic performance in your second year of law school, and I urge you to take advantage of their willingness to work with you.

The key to your ultimate success is to take control of your academic performance–honestly assess your position and seek help when necessary.

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