On Monday Mailbag, someone recently asked
If I am lucky enough to get some hits in the Fall Interviewing Program, how do I explain away my average performance in my first year of law school?
Answer: You will have to explain the grades. But first, be sure to articulate (clearly and succinctly) how the intangible(s) that you have will benefit the firm (and specifically a particular practice area) on day one. The intangible may be previous work experience, undergraduate degree or other education, professional license, clinic experience, experience with foreign cultures or languages, business or other important relationships, clear commitment to the practice area, etc.
Once you have established some of the reasons why the firm should take a chance on you despite your mediocre start, you should address the grades (but be sure not to dwell on the subject — get in and get out). Perhaps you have a reason for why you did not achieve excellence and if so, that should be explained. More importantly, however, you should explain why you think your academic performance is not a reasonable predictor of how you will do at the firm.
To complete your sales job, consider doing a wrap up summary at the end of the interview when asked “is there anything else you would like to add?” Even if not given the opportunity, make one for yourself. Reiterate your intangible and help the interviewer see the grades from your perspective. A successful interview will leave the interviewer with the idea that you have some impressive quality that separates you from other candidates, which will make you a valuable asset to the firm, notwithstanding your first year grades.