During the first interview, the guy started by pointing out that I was not on a journal (only 25% get on one) and then just staring blankly for literally 30 or so seconds. That led to a pretty awkward interview. Why that was an issue at a callback seems odd to me, especially coming from an associate.
I think it's fair game during an interview to ask about this, even during a callback (i.e., after you've supposedly made the grade/resume cutoff). They aren't going to reject you based on the fact that you are not on a journal -- if they were going to, they wouldn't have invited you back -- but an interviewer may ask about it, and may gauge your suitability for employment based (in part) on what you answer. "I'm not on a journal, because I didn't feel like it." is not a good answer. "I'm not on a journal, because I'm doing moot court and I'm a board member of a student group" sounds much better.
Compare this with an interviewee who has grades that are on the lower end compared to the people the interviewing firm usually hires. The firm is not going to reject the person in the callback stage based on that alone, but they may want to drill a little deeper to see what the cause is of the lower grades, whether the candidate knows how to present them, etc.
I mean, only 25% of my people get on a journal at my school. It's not like some places where students basically can choose whether or not they want to be on. I didn't answer that I wasn't on a journal BECAUSE I was doing moot court, I said I wasn't on a journal and that I plan on doing Moot Court. I think saying "I'm not doing a journal BECAUSE I'm doing Moot Court" comes off as disingenuous, unless the GPA is really high and there was actually a choice involved.
As far as my grades go, she asked for my rank, and I gave it. I did significantly better in my second semester and maybe I should have brought that up, but that seems a bit whiny to me as well. I much prefer the "here are my grades and here is my rank" approach. "I plan on doing X in the future."
It was more than just this, though. He was a very awkward person.
If I had lower grades I would claim I had to work 50 hours/week to pay my way through law school.
If it is this big of a deal, then a firm shouldn't call back.