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

Is your Law School Committing Fraud?

So, we all know (or soon will ) that fraud is making a material misrepresentation of an existing fact that the bad guy knows if false—but the hapless victim does not—with the intent that bonehead will act on it, if bonehead actually acts on the statement and suffers damages.  

The New York Times just wrote an article called Is Law School a Losing Game that seriously questions the integrity of law school data reporting.  The article highlights the fact that graduating students are facing a nightmare job market, while at the same time law school data suggests that their prospects are better now than ever.  

One law school professor stated that “Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm.”  The professor has joined the ranks of other law professors who are asking the American Bar Association to re-think the way law schools measure their results.  “Every time I look at this data, I feel dirty.”

One way they manipulate the data is by counting any student that has a job (even as a waitress) as employed.  Can you say–Shady?  Also, some law schools will actually hire their students for a temp job so that they are working on the magic day that the ABA uses to decide if the new law grads are working.  The number-fudging games are widespread because the fortunes of law schools rise and fall on their rankings.  And, make no mistake, they are very profitable.      

So, it seems a little ironic that your law school states that its median starting salary is over $100,000 with over 90% of its students are working within nine months of graduation, when the same school requires law studentsto take Professional Responsibililty (a course on ethics and disclosure). 

One of the proposed solutions to this problem is to put a mandatory warning in front of prospective law students.  Like something off of a cigarette pack it would read “Law school tuition is expensive and here is what the actual cost will be, the job market is uncertain and you should carefully consider whether you want to pursue this degree.  If you sign up for X amount of debt, your l payment will be X in three years.”

So, if you haven’t joined the ranks of law students yet you might want to carefully consider your options before committing to an extra mortgage payment in the hopes that you will get a cush job making tons of money.  Or, you could just be a bonehead like many of us were…  

Get Used to It

If you are anything like me, you spent your 1L winter break obsessively hitting refresh button to see if your first semester law school grades had somehow miraculously posted in the ten minutes you had been distracted by the TV.  You start wondering what the right amount of time to give the professors to grade the 75+ exams from your class.  My initial guess was 2 weeks and 1 day.  The trail of logic that got me to that perfect figure involved complex math and variables such as reading speed, grading methods, and personal time.  A month later (after I had checked my math at least 20 times) my first grade posted:  B+.       

For me, waiting for grades was the worst part of law school.  Over time I learned that my grade-time equation needed a law school multiplier of 4.  By my 3L year, I was able to give the professors 4 whole weeks before I began the obsessive grade checking that dominated my first law school break.  I eventually managed to only check twice a day.   

Looking back I wish I had known that I would still be waiting for grades when the next semester started.  I also wish I had known that my first grade would be my lowest—maybe I wouldn’t have wasted so much time worrying.  As a lawyer with a little experience under my belt, I can’t help but thinking that law professors purposefully make law students wait for their grades.  Maybe they are just trying to help those of us who have grown up in an instant gratification world get ready for the realities of practicing law.  It took more than 3 months for me to get my bar results, and I am still waiting for an appellate opinion on a case that was submitted 11 months ago.

I wish I could tell you that things change… Now, please excuse me—I need to check the 14th Court of Appeals’ website to see if my case has posted.