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How Important Are Academics?

Does your academic record impact your chances of finding a new role?

Academic Transcripts – How much do they really matter?

Here’s what you need to know….


People often say, “P’s get degrees.” I am not so sure that saying holds true for a Law degree.

In a perfect world, you will get all High Distinctions, but in reality, the majority of students are working full-time or have other commitments, making their transcripts appear less impressive.

In fact we have seen a number of law firms cancel interviews if they find out that a candidate has a fail or two on their transcript.

Many people who are not at the top 10 percent of their class do just fine and have stellar law careers. In fact, 90 percent of law students are not in the top 10 percent of their class. Crazy right?

Many would contend that networking, soft skills, and other factors are just as critical as grades are to one’s career. I wholeheartedly agree.


Your transcript WILL follow you

Lawyers’ academic transcripts seem to stay with them for their entire career with legal recruiters often having to ask lawyers to retrieve their transcripts, regardless of their level of experience.

One often gets asked whether it is important after a considerable amount of time in practice, sometimes, depending on the firm, it is not – the request for the transcript can be administrative, a mere box to tick.

However, grades can be closely scrutinised, particularly for junior and mid-level lawyers. The particular grades that are given the highest level of consideration are the ‘Priestley 11’, that is, the 11 subjects required for admission to NSW Law Society.


When do they STOP mattering?

For whatever reason, if you are now looking to move to a new role your marks will probably count, unless of course you are a Partner with a portable practice.

There is always an exception to every rule and there are many lawyers who have ‘made it’ without a blazing academic transcript. I have found these lawyers often have a unique skill set including specialist language skills, a deep understanding of a niche area of law, and/or a charismatic personality. Undertaking a Master of Law can also be another opportunity to prove your academic capabilities to potential employers.


Take-home Message

It is not necessarily career hindering to have failed subjects. What can be damaging is trying to hide this fact. Fails result from a plethora of reasons, ranging from an illness in the family to having other priorities like sport, part-time work, or socialising. The best thing to do is be up front and honest with your recruiter when asked for the reasons.


General Rule of Thumb

Top Tier: your grades will need to be IMPRESSIVE; this often means a distinction average.

Mid-Tier: a high-credit average often suffices; the odd distinction does not do any harm and a few passes are forgiven

High End Boutique: top-tier standards will apply

Suburban Practice: sometimes your transcript will be irrelevant.




Copyright Naiman Clarke 2021

Article originally contributed by Jessica Fox