How to Make Failure Positve in Law School

You know that part in A Knights Tale when William's dad tells him he can change his stars? Go from pauper to Knight? Well, had someone told me after my first semester of law school that I could change my grades and standing in my law school class, I would have said they were crazy. But, thankfully I was wrong. Just like William Thatcher, I was able to change my stars. I was able to go from a very poor first semester to getting the highest grade in one of my classes this spring. A little bit of hard work, trial and error, and probably a little luck got me there.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should explain just how bad my first semester of law school was. I failed one of my classes and had to retake it. I had the lowest GPA of my life by a landslide. My research and writing professor told me I would never be a good legal writer. The only thing worse that could have happened that semester would have been to fail all the way out of law school. I almost quit right then and there. But thankfully my family and friends convinced me to keep going. My second semester was leaps and bounds better. My third semester was even better. My fourth semester is my best to date- I got my highest GPA ever in law school and somehow, I even got the highest grade out of my whole Legal Ethics class. I am certainly not top 10 in my class but just knowing that with hard work and determination, I was able to go from the bottom to the top of at least one class is very rewarding.

I want to share this story to encourage any other who have a rough first semester or a rough class. It is not the end of the world and it does not mean you will never be a good lawyer. Despite the trials I encountered early in my law school career, I know wholeheartedly I am on the right path and this is what I want to do with my life. I figured out how to move past my failure and use it as a learning experience to improve.

So how did I do it?

1. Turn Failure into a Positive Thing
Failure of any kind sucks. We all know that. Whether it is having a poor performance in a class or failing at a job or any of the above... it's not fun. My mom gave me great advice after my horrible first semester: I could either let failure get the best of me and quit or I could use it as motivation to work so hard that I never fail like that again. I chose the later and I urge everyone to do the same in these kinds of situations. I used my failure as a drive to improve, to learn how to be better and do better, to push myself harder and prove that it was a one-time thing. I turned my negative failure into a positive source of motivation because I never wanted to have that happen to me again.

2. Make it a Learning Experience
Failing at something sucks but the good thing is that it teaches you what not to do. You can always make it a learning experience. Figure out what you did wrong and then never do that again. Talk to professors to find out what you could have done better to get a better grade. I studied so ineffectively my first semester... it wasn't that I didn't study long enough or hard enough... it's just that what I was doing was super ineffective and not helpful. I figured out what I did wrong and studied much smarter from then on out. Study harder, study smarter and work so hard that failure is not an option.

3. Don't Let it Define You 
One failure does not define you but how you handle it moving forward does. Don't let your subconscious talk you into forever being "that person who failed a class". Instead, think of yourself as "that person who improved" or "the person who is strong enough to move on from failure". You have the ability to improve and move beyond so make sure that mentally, you move on. Build yourself back up. One failure and one bad grade or one bad semester do not define you.

4. Don't Forget
When I say to move on, I don't mean ignore or forget that you once failed. Don't forget about it because then your one-time failure stops motivating you to do better. When I received word that I received the highest grade in one of my classes this semester, I was elated at the honor and to see my hard work rewarded. I also felt humbled- in that class, I was on top but I know where I started. I know how hard I have worked to improve and prevail past failure. I know that I have to keep working hard and pushing myself to keep myself from going back to a place of failure. So I don't forget or sugarcoat the past, even when it is an ugly moment of my past. Once I failed a law school class. Once I received the highest grade in a law school class. Failure did not define me but neither does success. Both events shaped me, pushed me and affected me. If I had never failed, I may never have learned from my mistakes enough to improve my study habits and rise to the top of another class. Everything happens for a reason.

I hope my story is helpful to others who have had a rough class or rough semester. Never ever let something like that define you. Grades are not everything. Your value as a human being does not rest upon your GPA in law school. There are many great lawyers in the world who were not top 10 in their law school class. I wish everyone the best of luck in law school and beyond!


  1. Hi there!
    Could you do a post comparing your ineffective studying to your effective studying that you mentioned in this post? I start this fall as a 1L and would love and some tips and pointers :)
    Thanks so much, love your blog!


    1. Hi Jessica! Yes I think that is a great idea for a post. Enjoy your last summer before law school :)

  2. This is such good advice. Not letting failure define you is hard, but it's the right thing to do. Law school seems designed to bring out the worst feelings, but it's important to turn those negative experiences into growth. Good for you!