I take it that your own GPA is somewhere around C+, or that you had one or more courses in which you received C+ or less. Hey, I feel your pain. The third-tier school I attended before transferring out had a C+ grade curve at the time that the school strictly enforced.
Look at this grading curve chart for many of the law schools in the U.S. Never mind the C+’s, there are tons of lower ranked schools with a 1L grading curve of C (2.0). . . . even less, such as UMASS Dartmouth School of Law that has a C- (1.67) curve.
Imagine, you are already handicapped by the ranking position of your law school and that’s bad enough, but then you have to contend with a C+ GPA curve. That situation is further exacerbated by many T14 schools having a curve of B or B+ (or even higher). Hard to compete for jobs under those conditions. </rant>
If you are applying to a law firm that is local to the law school, it probably knows about the grading curve because they presumably interview law students from the school often (that’s typical) and many of their attorneys likely went to your law school and were subjected to the same curve. But if the firm in question is not local . . . .keep reading.
I would not mention the curve in the cover letter. For one thing, not all employers accept a cover letter with a resume in every submission situation. And frankly, no one really reads the cover letter for an entry-level hire, at least until they take a looksie at your resume first. A shocking revelation, no doubt. Sorry about that.
It would be tough to bring up the curve during your interview (assuming you even get that far) without sounding defensive or maybe even pathetic. I mean, unless the interviewer brings it up on his or her own accord, how would you even segue into that topic during an interview? (Of course, if the interviewer brings it up, you must mention the grading curve — that’s obvious but you can’t always follow your game plan when you are on the defensive or are rattled.)
Thus, the only thing left is the resume and that’s where the explanation belongs. I must admit that having this type of explanation on your resume is less than ideal, but honestly you have nothing to lose with a C+ (or less) GPA under the circumstances. I would simply include in the resume, next to the GPA, something like “(This law school’s 1L grading curve is C+.)” I believe it would be advisable to include such an explanation if you are not interviewing locally — this is brutal but firms rarely give even an initial screening interview to someone with a C+ GPA (unless an interview is given as a result of networking or connections), so I believe you need to set forth the explanation to have a chance. Without providing this context, the transcript would look like a total mess.
I am truly sorry about your predicament, but thank you for your question.