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Secrets to Good Grades and a Happy Career (If You Buy That Stuff)

Vivia Chen

January 9, 2012

© Steve Debenport-istockphotoThis sounds a bit squishy to me—but according to a recent study published in Journal of Research in Personality, being hopeful can help you get good grades in law school and pave the way to a satisfying career.

The study, which looked at the attitudes of 86 incoming students at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law, draws a sharp distinction between hopefulness and optimism, reports The National Law Journal. "Optimism," according to one of the researchers, is "the expectation that the future will be good, regardless of how this happens," while "hope" is "the expectation about things you have actual control over."

The way I read it, hopefulness has to do with effort, while optimism is just irrational exuberance. In other words, hope is good; optimism not so good.

Here's what the researchers find:

High rates of hope correlated to higher law school GPAs, as did higher undergraduate GPAs. There was no significant relationship between high levels of optimism and law school grades. However, higher levels of both optimism and hope predicted psychological well-being and life satisfaction among the survey participants.

And contrary to prevailing wisdom, the LSAT score is not the best predictor of first-year academic performance. "I was a little surprised—having gone through the law school process myself—that the LSAT scores were not as correlated to the first semester grades," researcher Allison Martin told the NLJ. "Hope was a better predictor of academic success in our study."

On the opposite end, students with "low levels of hope tend to focus more on performance than on learning, Martin said. They have so much anxiety about failing tests that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

I don't mean to be simplistic but the point of the study seems to be this: If you have been slacking off in law school, and you're still feeling rosy about your future—you're either off your rocker, or just plain high. But if you've been studying your buns off, you've earned the right to be hopeful about the future—and you should be.

Hey, is that so hard to figure out?

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].



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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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