The dreaded curve. The curve is what makes law school scary at times, motivating at times, and no doubt leaves an impression on many attorneys for years to come. The curve instills a sense of comparison by design. The better you do, the worse off someone else does. There are only so many A’s to go around. Some number of students have to get a B while the dreaded handful have to get a C (or maybe worse).
Yes, this is baked into law school classes, and ups the ante for the all-important 1L year. The best part about the curve, though? It ends the moment you leave law school.
This is the most difficult shift for law students entering the workforce: letting the curve mindset go back to where it belongs in the classroom.
The Pros and Cons of Comparison
A few years back, CNN posted an article referencing a helpful book from professors Adam Galinsky Schweitzer and Maurice Schweitzer: Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both. Here’s the line that stuck out to me from the article:
“Comparison can be motivating, but it can also make you miserable. The best part of Schweitzer and Galinsky’s book, by the way, is the authors’ refusal to argue for one of these truths over the other. Instead, they recognize that competitive and cooperative feelings can and do co-exist within the same person, and neither feeling is necessarily superior. It’s learning when to use each feeling that counts.”
Yes, sometimes comparison can motivate you to do well. That’s what can make the curve helpful in the classroom. But drop that mindset when you are a summer and especially when you start full-time. Learn when to use comparison to motivate you to do better, but let go of the mindset that law school instill in students through the curve. Just because you do better, does not mean someone else will do worse.
Summer Associates: Don’t Knock Someone Down to Build Yourself Up
The curve mindset is very prevalent as a summer associate becauseyou’re still in law school. Important and obvious distinction, however, is that you are working at a firm full of lawyers who are not in law school anymore.
In your summer associate class, there are not a certain few that get offers while others must receive no-offers (lawyerly caveat: this applies to most biglaw firms).
That said, I sometimes see in summer associates a continuation of the curve mindset. Generally, they are nice and affable with each other but every summer, there seems to be one who either talks bad about another summer or denigrates another’s work product in some way. DO NOT DO THIS!
As I wrote before in my advice for summer associates, we (as attorneys at the firm) want to see you all “play nice.” It’s true – we don’t want to see the backstabbing mentality that some may have in law school. You know the cliche: ripping pages out of library books, giving misinformation to a fellow student, or other malignant acts I don’t want to even imagine.
When you’re a summer: work on the same team. Build each other up. If someone is acting super weird and unprofessional, then bring it up – but go through HR first instead of the recruiting committee. Let go of the curve mindset and focus on everything you can do to make this summer the best of your life by receiving an offer. The firms want to hire you – don’t give them a reason not to.