chem wrote: In my experience though, lots of people don't know the material as well as they should
This is true.
And while I know this post will be the equivalent of whispering in a wind storm, I offer this to all the 0Ls who are already worrying about grade distributions, summer jobs, and pre-law school prep: Stop. Just stop. Go to a movie, a concert, take a road trip, go see some friends you haven't seen in a while.
First year of law school is an ordeal by design. For many, the hardest part is adjusting to a new way of learning while getting zero feedback on how well they are doing. You will spend the first semester working your ass off, and you will have no idea if you are good or bad at law school until you get your exam grades back in January or February. That's just the way it is, and it is that way for everyone. This makes people panic and search wildly for reassuring data points. But there is no way to prepare for 1L or to accurately predict how well you will do. Any preparation would be done in the exact same vacuum that you will live in for the first semester. You can read "Getting to Maybe" if you want to, but I read that book and didn't understand a fucking word of it because I had never taken a law school class or exam and so had no way to understand what they were talking about.
The most important thing is to actually work your ass off in your first year. Read every assignment, go to every class, make your own outlines for exams, take all the practice exams the professor makes available. If you do this, you will be maxing out your efforts and thus putting yourself in the best position to do as well as you can. That's what you owe to yourself. The reality is that the best you can do may be top 10 percent, or median, or below median. But where you fall on that curve doesn't signify how intelligent you are (everybody at UVa killed the LSAT, rocked their undergrad, and can be described as an intelligent person), it signifies how good you are at law school compared to your classmates.
Yes, grades are the most important data point to most employers, but that's just because it's the only data point they are given for every candidate. You can help your job prospects by doing pro bono work in school (especially anything that requires a talent you need as a lawyer, like writing or dealing with clients), and by getting a job over the summer that involves legal work. But so long as that job involves any kind of legal work, it will look good on a resume. Don't get wrapped up in what job is "better" or "worse" than any other.
Sorry to drone on so long. I guess my message could be condensed to this: 1L is hard, and there is no way to make it easy or to game the system. So work as hard as you can to give yourself the best chance to succeed.