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Question for U of T Students: How Do You Deal with Uncertainty?

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Hi all,

I'm currently a 0L weighing my options between attending U of T in September or starting a career in finance.

I have a genuine interest in law and think I would enjoy practicing, but I'm struggling to commit to going to law school. My main concern is the amount of uncertainty that seems to surround the whole experience. My undergrad is mostly quantitative, where answers are either objectively right or wrong, and I'm used to knowing exactly where I stand in terms of my anticipated grade and understanding of the material throughout every course. I even went into finance in undergrad specifically because I knew I'd do well in it. It doesn't seem like this'll be the case in law school, where there's more subjectivity in assessing the quality of arguments and you're graded against your peers rather than a consistent and clearly communicated set of expectations.

The crux of the issue is essentially that I'm having a hard time giving up a job that I know I'm good at (but don't particularly enjoy) for a shot at a job that I think I'd enjoy, but have no idea if I'll be good at, or even be able to get.

So my questions to past and current students are:

1. Do you think you were able to accurately assess whether you'd excel or struggle in law school and, if so, how did you know?

2. Do you feel like you have a good understanding of how you're doing in a class before and after you write the exam?

3. Is there anything I can look at now to get a sense of how I'll stack up against the rest of the 1L class?

4. If you went through the OCI process, did the result line up with your expectation going in?

I'd really appreciate any insight I could get on this, thanks!

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Hi! From where I stand as a 1L, it seems like if you have a promising job in finance lined up (and that job stands a good chance of leading to the kind of career you want), then your choice is more or less made for you! If you're thinking about law school because you actually don't really want a career in finance (or think that it might be something you're going to get sick of in a few years) then things get a little more complicated. 

I'm assuming that you want to go into law in order to do corporate law -- if that's not the case, and it's really a completely different career trajectory that you're after, then that's a different story. If you have an open mind and aren't fixed on a single path within law, then you increase your chances of finding something that suits you career-wise.

Now, to your questions:

1. Do you think you were able to accurately assess whether you'd excel or struggle in law school and, if so, how did you know?

I didn't think too much about this actually. I was never a super-duper student (though always a reasonably good one), so I assumed I would be around middle of the pack in law school, since the crowd is a "better-at-school" one. I think I've been correct on that so far.

 

2. Do you feel like you have a good understanding of how you're doing in a class before and after you write the exam?

Bwahahaha. No one can tell with complete certainty how well they're going to do on an exam before... or even after they write an exam. I think that on the upper and lower extremes, it's pretty clear, but it's definitely hard to tell whether your work is an "H" or not. If you find it easy to apply the cases you've read to new fact patterns/ have a good grasp about how different factors will affect the outcome of a case, that's a sign that you're on track, but that doesn't necessarily translate into high grades if everyone else also has that solid grasp. In any case, you can feel good about answering your non-law friend's questions about what counts as manslaughter, or what a joint tenancy is.

 

3. Is there anything I can look at now to get a sense of how I'll stack up against the rest of the 1L class?

Some people say your LSAT percentile relative to the rest of the class is a good measure. I have no idea if that's true. Other than that, I found that a surprisingly telling factor for assignments is someone's ability to listen carefully to, and follow instructions. People who just skim over assignment sheets/ don't check in with the professors about requirements/ don't read things carefully tend to do worse. This is just common sense, but it seems exceptionally important in law school (and now everyone knows that I at one point didn't read an assignment carefully).

 

4. If you went through the OCI process, did the result line up with your expectation going in?

Didn't go through it. I heard it lives up to people's expectations, though.

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First of all what do you mean by “starting a career in finance”? If you mean you have a capital markets job at RBC lined up I think you’d be crazy to go to law school now, I wouldn’t. That’s a great opportunity that would look great on your resume, and would be an asset if you still decided to go to law school later on. If you mean you still have to go find a finance job then I guess it’s more of a dilemma, although I do personally think that having some work experience prior to law school is a good thing. Anyway to your questions:

1. Nope. I did really well in undergrad and thought I’d keep on cruising along. It didn’t work like that and I had a rough time in first year. I did wind up doing a lot better in second and third year but I had a tough time adjusting to the law school environment, where a lot of my friends had an easier time adjusting. I think a lot of it depends on the person. 

2. Nope, legit thought I might have failed an exam last semester and wound up doing really well. Other times I’ve thought I did well and got a P. I just can’t tell how I did, plus a lot of it is dependent on the curve because your exam is basically just ranked against everyone else’s in the class, and then the top 10-15% gets an HH, the next 30% gets an H, and everyone else gets a P. So if everyone does well it’s possible to write a great exam and get a P because of how the curve works. 

3. I think in general terms people with high LSAT scores are supposed to do better (emphasis on in general). That being said I know people who had 175+ LSAT scores who have struggled (more than one), and I know people who got in off the waitlist or transfers from other schools who had sub 160 LSATs who are now killing it. 

4. This one is all over the place. A lot of people go in not expecting anything and get jobs, and then there are always a few people with straight Hs or above, who have good personalities, who get 20+ OCIs and then don’t get an offer for some reason. I wouldn’t over analyze OCIs, the stats are what they are, 50ish percent of the class will get a job. What I would say is if your mindset is I have to work at Blake’s or Davies or I don’t want to do law then maybe think about law school a little harder, you might just be chasing money or prestige and I don’t think that is the right reason to go. The people I see who are the happiest have a legitimate interest in the law and OCI job or no OCI job they’re happy to be doing what they’re doing. 

Finally, law school isn’t going anywhere, you don’t have to go right now. If you’re not sure maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to go work for a bit and think about it, even if you only go work for a year. 

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On 2018-03-10 at 6:56 PM, Demander said:

Hi! From where I stand as a 1L, it seems like if you have a promising job in finance lined up (and that job stands a good chance of leading to the kind of career you want), then your choice is more or less made for you! If you're thinking about law school because you actually don't really want a career in finance (or think that it might be something you're going to get sick of in a few years) then things get a little more complicated. 

I'm assuming that you want to go into law in order to do corporate law -- if that's not the case, and it's really a completely different career trajectory that you're after, then that's a different story. If you have an open mind and aren't fixed on a single path within law, then you increase your chances of finding something that suits you career-wise.

Now, to your questions:

1. Do you think you were able to accurately assess whether you'd excel or struggle in law school and, if so, how did you know?

I didn't think too much about this actually. I was never a super-duper student (though always a reasonably good one), so I assumed I would be around middle of the pack in law school, since the crowd is a "better-at-school" one. I think I've been correct on that so far.

 

2. Do you feel like you have a good understanding of how you're doing in a class before and after you write the exam?

Bwahahaha. No one can tell with complete certainty how well they're going to do on an exam before... or even after they write an exam. I think that on the upper and lower extremes, it's pretty clear, but it's definitely hard to tell whether your work is an "H" or not. If you find it easy to apply the cases you've read to new fact patterns/ have a good grasp about how different factors will affect the outcome of a case, that's a sign that you're on track, but that doesn't necessarily translate into high grades if everyone else also has that solid grasp. In any case, you can feel good about answering your non-law friend's questions about what counts as manslaughter, or what a joint tenancy is.

 

3. Is there anything I can look at now to get a sense of how I'll stack up against the rest of the 1L class?

Some people say your LSAT percentile relative to the rest of the class is a good measure. I have no idea if that's true. Other than that, I found that a surprisingly telling factor for assignments is someone's ability to listen carefully to, and follow instructions. People who just skim over assignment sheets/ don't check in with the professors about requirements/ don't read things carefully tend to do worse. This is just common sense, but it seems exceptionally important in law school (and now everyone knows that I at one point didn't read an assignment carefully).

 

4. If you went through the OCI process, did the result line up with your expectation going in?

Didn't go through it. I heard it lives up to people's expectations, though.

 

14 hours ago, DenningsSkiTrip said:

First of all what do you mean by “starting a career in finance”? If you mean you have a capital markets job at RBC lined up I think you’d be crazy to go to law school now, I wouldn’t. That’s a great opportunity that would look great on your resume, and would be an asset if you still decided to go to law school later on. If you mean you still have to go find a finance job then I guess it’s more of a dilemma, although I do personally think that having some work experience prior to law school is a good thing. Anyway to your questions:

1. Nope. I did really well in undergrad and thought I’d keep on cruising along. It didn’t work like that and I had a rough time in first year. I did wind up doing a lot better in second and third year but I had a tough time adjusting to the law school environment, where a lot of my friends had an easier time adjusting. I think a lot of it depends on the person. 

2. Nope, legit thought I might have failed an exam last semester and wound up doing really well. Other times I’ve thought I did well and got a P. I just can’t tell how I did, plus a lot of it is dependent on the curve because your exam is basically just ranked against everyone else’s in the class, and then the top 10-15% gets an HH, the next 30% gets an H, and everyone else gets a P. So if everyone does well it’s possible to write a great exam and get a P because of how the curve works. 

3. I think in general terms people with high LSAT scores are supposed to do better (emphasis on in general). That being said I know people who had 175+ LSAT scores who have struggled (more than one), and I know people who got in off the waitlist or transfers from other schools who had sub 160 LSATs who are now killing it. 

4. This one is all over the place. A lot of people go in not expecting anything and get jobs, and then there are always a few people with straight Hs or above, who have good personalities, who get 20+ OCIs and then don’t get an offer for some reason. I wouldn’t over analyze OCIs, the stats are what they are, 50ish percent of the class will get a job. What I would say is if your mindset is I have to work at Blake’s or Davies or I don’t want to do law then maybe think about law school a little harder, you might just be chasing money or prestige and I don’t think that is the right reason to go. The people I see who are the happiest have a legitimate interest in the law and OCI job or no OCI job they’re happy to be doing what they’re doing. 

Finally, law school isn’t going anywhere, you don’t have to go right now. If you’re not sure maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to go work for a bit and think about it, even if you only go work for a year. 

To clarify the job opportunity, I have a standing offer to go back to my summer internship as a sell-side analyst at a large brokerage. I know that this is a “good job” that can lead to a “good career” but I kind of hate it.  I don’t like the culture or the work I’m doing, and truthfully I don’t really believe in it. All of my money’s in ETFs, if that gives you any indication. 

I actually think I might enjoy law, and find the work interesting and rewarding. I’m not set on working in corporate law, and am open to pursuing any area that I’m interested in. I’ve thought about working for a bit and then going to school, but I know myself and know that once I start working it’s very unlikely that I’d walk away and go back to school. 

I guess I know what I want, I’m just risk averse and wanted to get a better understanding of just how much of a risk there is of going to law school and falling flat on my face.

I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts/experiences. It’s a big help in sorting out what decision I’m going to make. 

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18 hours ago, dazedandconfused said:

 

To clarify the job opportunity, I have a standing offer to go back to my summer internship as a sell-side analyst at a large brokerage. I know that this is a “good job” that can lead to a “good career” but I kind of hate it.  I don’t like the culture or the work I’m doing, and truthfully I don’t really believe in it. All of my money’s in ETFs, if that gives you any indication. 

I actually think I might enjoy law, and find the work interesting and rewarding. I’m not set on working in corporate law, and am open to pursuing any area that I’m interested in. I’ve thought about working for a bit and then going to school, but I know myself and know that once I start working it’s very unlikely that I’d walk away and go back to school. 

I guess I know what I want, I’m just risk averse and wanted to get a better understanding of just how much of a risk there is of going to law school and falling flat on my face.

I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts/experiences. It’s a big help in sorting out what decision I’m going to make. 

Hey, I’m a 0L but have talked to a few people in very similar situations to yours regarding the finance career option and them not enjoying it at all. What I have been told is that a career in law can be much more fulfilling due to aspects such as you getting to see the impact of your work and actually getting to interact with clients. Compared to spending 14~ hours looking at an excel spreadsheet/graph a day, I also thought law sounded like the more attractive career. The increased stability of the law job is also attractive. Along with the lifestyle, in my opinion (though at least you’re not in IB;)). I’d go for law school, but my decision would depend on finances, as I have also heard that 150K in debt can be quite devastating. Also have heard that finance experience can be very helpful for landing corp law jobs.

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On ‎10‎/‎03‎/‎2018 at 2:19 PM, dazedandconfused said:

Hi all,

I'm currently a 0L weighing my options between attending U of T in September or starting a career in finance.

I have a genuine interest in law and think I would enjoy practicing, but I'm struggling to commit to going to law school. My main concern is the amount of uncertainty that seems to surround the whole experience. My undergrad is mostly quantitative, where answers are either objectively right or wrong, and I'm used to knowing exactly where I stand in terms of my anticipated grade and understanding of the material throughout every course. I even went into finance in undergrad specifically because I knew I'd do well in it. It doesn't seem like this'll be the case in law school, where there's more subjectivity in assessing the quality of arguments and you're graded against your peers rather than a consistent and clearly communicated set of expectations.

The crux of the issue is essentially that I'm having a hard time giving up a job that I know I'm good at (but don't particularly enjoy) for a shot at a job that I think I'd enjoy, but have no idea if I'll be good at, or even be able to get.

So my questions to past and current students are:

1. Do you think you were able to accurately assess whether you'd excel or struggle in law school and, if so, how did you know? No.

2. Do you feel like you have a good understanding of how you're doing in a class before and after you write the exam? No.

3. Is there anything I can look at now to get a sense of how I'll stack up against the rest of the 1L class? No.

4. If you went through the OCI process, did the result line up with your expectation going in? Yes, but for many others, I don't believe it did...

I'd really appreciate any insight I could get on this, thanks!

My answers are above in bold, and they are honest answers...

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38 minutes ago, conge said:

My answers are above in bold, and they are honest answers...

Appreciate the honesty. Do you find not knowing where you stand is difficult to deal with?

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4 hours ago, hopefulcanadianlawyr said:

Hey, I’m a 0L but have talked to a few people in very similar situations to yours regarding the finance career option and them not enjoying it at all. What I have been told is that a career in law can be much more fulfilling due to aspects such as you getting to see the impact of your work and actually getting to interact with clients. Compared to spending 14~ hours looking at an excel spreadsheet/graph a day, I also thought law sounded like the more attractive career. The increased stability of the law job is also attractive. Along with the lifestyle, in my opinion (though at least you’re not in IB;)). I’d go for law school, but my decision would depend on finances, as I have also heard that 150K in debt can be quite devastating. Also have heard that finance experience can be very helpful for landing corp law jobs.

Yeah, I think I fell into a bit of a trap where I found something I was good at, but not something I was interested in. The thing with IB/capital markets/corporate banking/etc. is that the hours are so brutal you really have to want to be there, and I don’t think I ever will.

Thankfully I’m in a very fortunate position and don’t have to worry about finances, so it looks like this is all boiling down to whether or not I’m willing to bet on myself. 

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Posted (edited)

I'm in 0L so I can't really speak for the law school experience but I was in similar shoes as you a year ago. I was debating between diving straight into law school or taking some time to work and ultimately decided on the latter. 

I currently work in finance (albeit not i-banking or PE or anything that'll get me a yacht in five years). I'm actually enjoying it. I've met some incredible coworkers, learned a ton, and it's a fun office environment. Despite all of that though, the past few months helped me realize how much more I want to go to law school and work in the legal field. It just seems more intellectually stimulating, less monotonous,  and more observably rewarding.

There's going to be uncertainty no matter what you do. You have a current job offer but it's still going to be uncertain on promotions/exit opportunities. I always recommend people who are unsure if they want to do law or not to get some work experience and figure out if there's something else that piques their interest before going to law school. However, it sounds to me though that you are pretty certain that you dislike the finance position and pretty set on doing law but you're just not sure if you'll succeed in it. To that point, if you did well enough on your LSAT and undergrad GPA to be admitted to UofT, you're pretty much starting off at the same point as anyone else entering 1L (which is not a bad place to start, seeing that something like 50% of UofT students get Toronto big law and 10% get NY if that's what you're looking to get into). The fact that you performed well enough in the hiring process to be offered a position in finance means you already have a leg up on applying and interviewing for the OCI process. Maybe you'll discover a field of law that you're really good at and really like - I'd take my chances for that over doing something I terribly dislike for the rest of my life (or the next few years at least). 

Edited by xdarkwhite
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Thanks @xdarkwhite, I think yours is probably the perspective I needed. It's tough walking away from an opportunity that I know a lot of my peers would jump at the chance to have (I've been called crazy more than once since I started seriously considering it), knowing that a good result in law school is by no means a given. At the end of the day though, I agree that it's worth going after a career that I actually want and accepting that some risk comes with that decision. I try to remember that I should count myself lucky to have that option available to me at all.

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2L here. If you know now that you don't enjoy your finance job, say goodbye. Life is too short to do things you don't enjoy unless you absolutely have to. If you're competent enough to work in finance, you're competent enough to find something you enjoy. Whether that is law school is a different question altogether. 

Also, I wouldn't stress about the subjectivity of exam answers. I really think (perhaps some would disagree) that professors are fairly objective in the way they rank arguments. It's not precise, but it is objective to a degree - they want depth of analysis, correct use of available tools, and theoretical understanding of how it all hangs together. Building relationships with professors can help orient yourself toward their expectations. 

1. Do you think you were able to accurately assess whether you'd excel or struggle in law school and, if so, how did you know? I rationally believed then and now that my best would be enough to get my foot into a career, somewhere and somehow. I instinctively thought I'd be able to excel, for no good reason beyond the fact that I was very drawn to law and, probably, because hubris. 

2. Do you feel like you have a good understanding of how you're doing in a class before and after you write the exam? In first semester, I had no clue. Now, I think I can accurately guess within a grade category. (HH or H, H or P)

3. Is there anything I can look at now to get a sense of how I'll stack up against the rest of the 1L class? Not sure how to help you, other than I think that anyone who is willing to be reflexive in their learning style, ready to deeply commit to learning law, and approaches the process with humility and curiosity will do well enough to go where they really want to. 

4. If you went through the OCI process, did the result line up with your expectation going in? Yes, I enjoyed it and got a job at my top choice. 

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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, dazedandconfused said:

Appreciate the honesty. Do you find not knowing where you stand is difficult to deal with?

Yes. Very much so. Especially during first year, as you don't have any grades (that count) yet, and I just assumed everyone was smarter than me. By the time 2L rolled around, I had a few As under my belt (along with a bunch of Bs), and I figured I wasn't doing too badly, even if I didn't turn out to be appellant court clerk material. By the time OCIs rolled around in 2L, I cared much, much less how I was doing relative to others (academically) because it sort of didn't matter anymore - I wasn't competing for the gold medal, and I already had the job I wanted lined up.

Even then, though, I found I never really could predict how well or poorly I'd done on an exam; the only rule of thumb I came up with was: if I felt like I did really well and covered all the issues, then I missed issues and will prob. get a B; if I know I missed issues, and know them well enough to worry about missing them, then I likely knew the material well, and will prob. get an A. Sounds crazy, I know.

Law school, for better or worse, is an inherently stressful process that lasts 3 years, followed by an even more stressful articling period, only to be followed by an even worse first few years of practice, and I believe it's intentionally designed to be this way. You should of aware of that going in, and you've got to be OK with that.

IMHO, the best thing you can do to help those feelings is to find a study group you meet with semi regularly to work through the material. I didn't start doing this until 2L, and my grades, as well as my confidence in my abilities, went up.

 

Edited by conge
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I particularly second the comment on study groups! Very helpful.

As to the risk, it seems like U of T students mostly end up more or less where they want to be AND/OR somewhere decently well-paid. The risk doesn't seem terrible (I say, in 1L and having acquired a law-related job for the summer). 

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Posted (edited)
On 2018-03-10 at 12:19 PM, dazedandconfused said:

Hi all,

I'm currently a 0L weighing my options between attending U of T in September or starting a career in finance.

I have a genuine interest in law and think I would enjoy practicing, but I'm struggling to commit to going to law school. My main concern is the amount of uncertainty that seems to surround the whole experience. My undergrad is mostly quantitative, where answers are either objectively right or wrong, and I'm used to knowing exactly where I stand in terms of my anticipated grade and understanding of the material throughout every course. I even went into finance in undergrad specifically because I knew I'd do well in it. It doesn't seem like this'll be the case in law school, where there's more subjectivity in assessing the quality of arguments and you're graded against your peers rather than a consistent and clearly communicated set of expectations.

The crux of the issue is essentially that I'm having a hard time giving up a job that I know I'm good at (but don't particularly enjoy) for a shot at a job that I think I'd enjoy, but have no idea if I'll be good at, or even be able to get.

So my questions to past and current students are:

1. Do you think you were able to accurately assess whether you'd excel or struggle in law school and, if so, how did you know?

2. Do you feel like you have a good understanding of how you're doing in a class before and after you write the exam?

3. Is there anything I can look at now to get a sense of how I'll stack up against the rest of the 1L class?

4. If you went through the OCI process, did the result line up with your expectation going in?

I'd really appreciate any insight I could get on this, thanks!

1. No, I had no idea about that. I knew I’d always done very well in school and taken pride in it - it was the one thing in my life that had been consistent and I never screwed up. So I probably assumed I would do well and had no reason to think I wouldn’t, but I don’t remember consciously thinking that. I had a lot of other things to think about. 

2. I never had a sense of how I did on exams. If I felt I did well, it just might mean that the exam was easy so the curve would be harder. If I thought it was hard, maybe it was and I did better than other people who struggled even more. I always left exams feeling like I missed issues and I learned that that usually means you understand the material really well and have a high level of engagement.

3. No. You just have to start school and learn the material along with everyone else. There is no way to give yourself a leg up. 

4. No. I did OCIs because everyone else did and I got the impression it would prove I was smart/successful/had status. Then I didn’t really like what I saw of the firms and the work so I refused the offers I got. 

Edited by providence

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On 3/10/2018 at 10:19 AM, dazedandconfused said:

Hi all,

I'm currently a 0L weighing my options between attending U of T in September or starting a career in finance.

I have a genuine interest in law and think I would enjoy practicing, but I'm struggling to commit to going to law school. My main concern is the amount of uncertainty that seems to surround the whole experience. My undergrad is mostly quantitative, where answers are either objectively right or wrong, and I'm used to knowing exactly where I stand in terms of my anticipated grade and understanding of the material throughout every course. I even went into finance in undergrad specifically because I knew I'd do well in it. It doesn't seem like this'll be the case in law school, where there's more subjectivity in assessing the quality of arguments and you're graded against your peers rather than a consistent and clearly communicated set of expectations.

The crux of the issue is essentially that I'm having a hard time giving up a job that I know I'm good at (but don't particularly enjoy) for a shot at a job that I think I'd enjoy, but have no idea if I'll be good at, or even be able to get.

So my questions to past and current students are:

1. Do you think you were able to accurately assess whether you'd excel or struggle in law school and, if so, how did you know?

2. Do you feel like you have a good understanding of how you're doing in a class before and after you write the exam?

3. Is there anything I can look at now to get a sense of how I'll stack up against the rest of the 1L class?

4. If you went through the OCI process, did the result line up with your expectation going in?

I'd really appreciate any insight I could get on this, thanks!

 

1. I had no idea. It was terrifying, I'm not gonna lie. I've always done well in school but most students at U of T have as well (and those that didn't got 178's on the LSAT, so...). The hardest part about studying for law school is that you are never truly 'ready' for an exam. There is always more. 

The only students that in my view could have any real confidence of beating the curve at U of T are those with truly remarkable resumes. Like, Rhodes finalists, gold medalists in undergrad, that sort of thing.  

2. You are correct that it will not be the case that you can predict your marks in the way you could for, say, a calculus exam. My ability to predict is nonexistent r. I have felt confident coming out of exactly two exams ever. They are two of the three P's I have ever gotten on an exam (turns out I did beat the curve in the end). Felt like I LP'ed three exams before: HH, HH, H. Not only can I not predict my performance well, I would say my predictions were worse than random.

3. LSAT percentile is predictive of 1L performance, grades more predictive of upper year performance. Besides that not much, unless you were one of those truly special people I mentioned in #1. 

4. Yes. And I think a background in finance will help. 

As a general matter, have you considered working for a year, then deciding on law school? It's harder to go back, but loads of people take a gap between degrees and the work experience can be very helpful in OCI. 

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If you have an offer to work in finance, do it. You'll make more money in finance.

1. I did as well as I thought I would. As and Bs. Just like everybody, we're curved to a B. I was an A student in undergrad but I was warned that the law school had not had grade inflation the way undergrad has had.

2. Classes are 100% exams, as long as you know the material and have a good summary the day of the exam you will do fine. 1L is the hardest year. 

3. Not really.

4. I didn't get a job through the OCIs so its fair to say that my expectations were not met.

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