Reposted from 2006.
A reader writes: "How about offering some advice for second year law students--not making a journal, with mediocre grades, at a respected but not elite law school? I am somewhat amazed by my grades coming out of this year and little concerned that I made a poor decision."
My advice is, first, don't despair. I know many students who had mediocre grades their first-year, and wound up doing much better the rest of their law school careers. One student I recall was in the top 45% first year, but wound up in the top 15%. Many of the students who did well first-year will coast. Most of the students who had mediocre grades will be discouraged, and will reduce their effort. This gives you the opportunity to continue to work hard and get excellent grades against weaker competition.
Second, don't waste a lot of time on a secondary law review. Raising your GPA is likely to have a much greater positive impact on your career prospects than being Articles Editor for the Podunk Law School Journal of I Want to Have Law Review on My Resume. A potential exception is when the specific subject matter of the journal is directly related to your career goal. [I received a lot of feedback that many employers screen resumes for law review membership. At small firms this may mean that a secretary is just looking for the words "law review" somewhere on the resume. So become a member, but try to get a position that leaves as much time as possible for focusing on other matters, especially grades.]
Third, and most important, make an appointment with each of your first-year professors to go over your exams with them. DON'T look at this as an opportunity to dispute the professors' interpretation of the answers, to argue about your grade, or to carry out revenge fantasies. Do listen, attentively, and also take notes, as your professor explains what was deficient about your exam, and how it could have been improved. If the professors will let you, tape record the conversations. Most likely, common themes will become apparent (you didn't relate the facts of the question to the law, you gave a lengthy treatise providing both sides of the issue, but you never discussed which side you think is more persuasive in this context and why, so I couldn't give you full credit and so on). Then, make sure you don't repeat the same mistakes in December.
UPDATE: Several commenters provide what seems like useful advice re clinics, internships, and whatnot. Such experiences can obviously not only provide useful experience, but also help someone with less-than-stellar grades land a job. Unfortunately, I don't have any special wisdom regarding how much effort to one should put into such endeavors versus improving one's academic performance, and I suspect the answer would vary widely by individual circumstance. I would add, though, that the fact that many upper-level students are devoting significant effort to time-consuming clinical work, part-time employment, moot court, and so forth, means that there will be less competition for those who choose to focus on raising their grades.