More Law School Grade Controversy

Stephen Colbert Defends Law SchoolLast summer Loyola Law School – Los Angeles, grabbed the national spotlight (with a little help from Stephen Colbert) when it decided to raise the grading curve and award all law students a .333 GPA boost.  It claimed to be keeping pace with UCLA and other California Law Schools, who had previously raised their curve. 

This week at the University of Chicago Law School rumors began to circulate that its grading policy for seminars was being changed retroactively.  Apparently, the law students thought that the curve would become enforceable on seminar classes.  It turns out though, that nothing has changed.  It seems that many students are generally unpleased with the university’s commitment to maintaining its curve, even if nothing has changed.  

Meanwhile, at Cornell Law School, students are upset because law professors now have the discretion to move set the curve from 3.2 to 3.5.  Before, there was a 3.35 curve.  It looks like most of the classes are moving to the 3.5 and 3L’s are not happy.  They think that the lower classmen now have an unfair GPA advantage. 

University at Buffalo Law School is also part of this week’s controversy.  Apparently, they have recently begun to report on law school class rank.  You would think this would be very beneficial, considering that all the law school grading changes have left employers with no other option than to compare class rank.  (For example which candidate is more impressive:  GPA = 3.78; Rank = 30%; or GPA = 3.63; Rank = 5%) .  The problem is that the 3L’s didn’t expect to have to reveal their class standing, which some argue influenced their choice of classes. 

Most of the controversy going forward could be minimized if all law schools were required to reveal their class rank.  It is the only way that employers can measure the competitveness of an applicant’s grades.  The curve at any given law school should not matter in the least. 

As far as the Buffalo law student’s complaints – I don’t sympathize.  Granted, some law students may have taken harder classes because class rank was undisclosed.  But, so what?  Law students are achievers.  Revealing Buffalo’s class rank does not penalize anyone who took a harder class and worked harder.  In fact, given the curve, you should have the same opportunity for mediocrity in hard law school classes as you do the easier classes.  The real people who are upset are those law students who thought they would be able to camouflage their mediocre performance.  To those students I say: Welcome to the Real World. 

As promised, here is Stephen Colbert’s take on law school grade inflation:

Colbert on Law School

Perspective on Law School Grades…

Law School Grades are like a marathon

Law School is a Marathon Not a Sprint

Of the potential law students who take the LSAT each year, only about 34% make it into law school (about 2% make a T14 school).  Given the hurdles that you overcame to get into law school, and the fact that you have always done well in school, your first semester grades probably disappointed you.  It’s understandable, you are used to being one of the smartest kids in the class—you have always been.  And we all like to think that this reality will continue, notwithstanding the talent that surrounds us in law school. 

Perhaps you identified the delusional gunners.  You know, the ones that had so much brilliance to add to class during the first semester, who now sit silently after their first semester performance.  You knew you would do better than those guys and you probably did.  I mean, you worked hard, you did what you were supposed to do,  and yet, you find yourself (for the first time in your life) outside the top 10% of the class.    

One of the greatest gifts of law school is the humbling realization that we must learn to derive our self esteem from something other than our accomplishments.  Not every student gets this gift during law school, but many do.  The law school exam is a snapshot of your performance on a given day on a given exam.  Your grade is not derived from how well you grasp the subject matter.  It comes from how well you grasp the subject matter in relation to those in your class; which you can influence, but never control.  Doing well depends on thinking within a narrow analytical realm.  Some people are too intellectually creative to ever do this, while others are too rigid.  Both of these students master the course material but are never rewarded on the exam.  Both of these students have the potential to be, and probably will be, great lawyers.  And, even if you never do well, it is helpful to remember what they call the person who graduates in the bottom 5% of their law class and barely passes the bar exam—A lawyer! 

All of that isn’t to say, however, that law school grades are not important.  Your grades will influence the type of work you will do at the beginning of your legal career and will follow you in certain fields.  If your grades are not where you want them, you need to evaluate your exam-taking skills and make efforts to improve them.  This website has some great tools for doing that.  But, if it doesn’t work out, you should remember that half of your law school class will graduate in the bottom 50%.

Consistently low grades ARE a predictor of how much difficulty you will have with the bar exam, and with finding a job.  If you are not happy with your grades, now is the time to do something.  If you want to learn the subtle distinctions that will take you to the top of the class, begin with the Exam Strategies we provide and be sure to download the Free 1L Law Student Guide to see how I went from top 25% of my 1L section to top 5% of my law school class.