What If I Don't Have Second Semester Grades Yet?

by the Summer Associate Hub Team

As the pre-OCI recruiting timeline has accelerated, a few firms have started accepting 2L summer applications in March of 1L year.  Many more have started accepting applications on May 1 or May 15.   Many others plan to open their application portals in late May or early June.
This timing now overlaps with 1L finals, or comes very soon after – so one of the most common questions we get from students is, “What if I don’t have second semester grades?”
The short answer is: Don’t Worry.
For many firms, there is a requirement for two semesters of grades.  For many firms, there isn’t.  And for many firms, there is a preference for two semesters of grades, but they understand that it won’t happen for every school and every student, and that is the reality.
In true 1L finals form, let’s play out a few scenarios:
  • If the firm opens their application portal between March and early May: If a firm opens up their 2L application portal anytime between March and early/mid May, that firm knows that there is a good chance students won’t have second semester grades.  Unless the firm expressly states in their application portal that they require two semesters of grades, the firm is almost certainly ok with seeing your most updated transcript from first semester.  If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have their portal open so early.
  • Of course, some firms will ask for your updated transcript later in May when it’s available, perhaps before they make a formal offer.  And you could always volunteer your updated transcript when it becomes available by sending it to your recruiting contact at the firm.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply with what you have to start that process.
    If this is a firm you are interested in, and especially if you have engaged with that firm before at networking events, etc, you are likely better off applying earlier with the transcript that you have.
  • If the firm opens their application portal in late May/early June:  The bulk of BigLaw firms open up their application portals in late May or early June.  A big reason many firms do this is because they want to see two semesters of grades, so they time their portal accordingly.
  • In this case, the question “what if I don’t have two semesters of grades” becomes mostly moot.  By that point, you should have both semesters of grades and can apply with your full 1L transcript.  Buuuutttt…. that assumes that all law professors get their grades in on time.  And you know what happens when you assume.
    So, if it’s late May or early June, and you are still missing a grade or two… what do you do?   Similar to the above, if it is a firm you are interested in, go ahead and apply.  Firms know that it’s out of your control.  And you are better off applying with what you have than not applying at all.
    In addition, if it’s that late in the spring and you are missing a grade or two, let your Career Services Office know.  They can signal to firms that there are a couple of professors who are late, so the firms know this and are prepared.  They can also let firms know that this is the case for any applications they receive as part of a formal pre-OCI resume collect.
  • If you want to apply to a firm, but you are holding out for better grades in second semester:  This is a tricky one.  Some students want to apply early to a firm, even if they only one have one semester of grades, but feel their first semester grades could have been higher.  So, they want to hold out and apply with a full transcript and their best foot forward, with hopes that second semester grades improved.
  • In true lawyer fashion, the answer is: It Depends.  This depends a lot on the specific student, the specific school, and the specific firm.  If it is a firm that is known to be particularly grade conscious and they only opened their portal on May 15 or May 1, it may make sense to wait until you have (hopefully) improved grades.  If you are at a school that has a larger BigLaw pipeline and being a the top of your class is less critical to land an offer, then it may make sense to apply in the meantime and update your application with the new transcript when it is available (there is also no guarantee that your second semester grades were significantly higher, in which case the wait didn’t achieve what you hoped it would).  
    On the other hand, if you are at a school where it is more critical to be a the top of your class, such as top 10%, it may make sense to wait and see if you can get within that range before applying.
    And if it’s a firm that you’ve built a genuine relationship with through past events, programs, informational interviews, etc – then perhaps you are better off applying and leveraging those connections and information you’ve learned in that process to get an advantage.  Grades are not everything, and genuine interest/engagement is an important factor too.
    Although timing is important, being thoughtful about your initial application is a good thing where it matters.
    We recommend speaking with your law school Career Services office about your specific situation if you are in this category, hoping for improved grades second semester.

Summer Associate Hub Team

This content is based on our own experiences as former law students and BigLaw attorneys, and countless conversations with firm recruiting teams, law students, law school career advisors, legal career coaches, and hiring partners.  

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