Thursday, December 15, 2005


So now that I'm half finished with law school, I'm starting to wonder about the importance of grades. I've had four-go arounds with exams and three with grades (including summer school) and I still can't figure this thing out.

How is exam performance related to your grade? I have absolutely no idea.

I've taken 11 law school exams. All were brutally difficult, draining and overwhelming. After one exam, I felt like I nailed it. I was wrong. I didn't get a good grade. After two others, I felt adequate, like I probably did OK. I was right. I did OK. After one (Elements!), I felt like I got every single thing wrong except for my blind grading number. I was wrong. I did OK.

I realize one reason I rarely walk out of an exam feeling confident is that in the law, there are rarely black and white answers and the tests don't measure knowledge of blackletter law because it doesn't take any brains to look that stuff up. I've considered the possibility that I am learning but not really realizing that I'm learning which is why overall, I've done OK so far in law school. I don't know how seriouslsy to take that possibility. Learning but not realizing I'm learning? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What's the point of learning if you don't realize you're learning?

I've never read anyone else's exams but mine and I have never had an in-depth discussion with anyone about how they answered the exam questions, so it is difficult to compare my exams to others. How much more do those who get all As know than me? How much less do those who do poorly know than me? Is that even important? I guess it's important because we're graded and ranked and grades and rankingn are important. The arbitrariness of the whole thing is very upsetting.

Speaking of grades and rank, how are grades correlated with intelligence or future success as a lawyer? Do grades have anything to do with your job? I have absolutely no idea.

Logic dictates that grades are mostly important only for your first job. Ultimately, it's your performance as a lawyer (and who you know) that takes you to your final destination in Legal Land. If you're getting Cs and Ds, Big Firm isn't knocking down your door and Prestigious Clerkship isn't happening for you. Does that mean you can't cut it at Big Firm or that you'd make a lousy clerk for a federal court judge? Of course not. But grades and ranking are a quick and easy way for prospective employers to evaluate you. How else could an employer decide whether to interview you without looking at your grades? It's just not practical to do it any other way.

I have a part-time job that I like in a small firm, but it's not an opportunity that could lead to full-time employment. So I need a job. I know plenty of people with grades similar to mine who have jobs. I don't. OCI failed me, but I know only 15 percent of students here get hired through OCI. I have to believe that my grades had something to do with failing in OCI, but did they? Of course I have no idea and I'm not going to turn this into a rant about the problems with the OCI system.

I know how to get a job even with decent-but-not-great grades and without OCI. Network. Pound the pavement. Blah blah blah. It hasn't happened yet, but there's time. I am worried but I also realize it's premature to panic. The point, however, is that if I end up with a job through any method other than OCI, grades are probably going to be less important.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not talking about coasting by for the next year and half, but I am seriously questioning my commitment to the hard work it takes to get good grades. This is not out of laziness. I worked hard this semester but not as hard as I worked last year. Not even close. But I still put in an absurd amount of time, effort and energy. (My wife can attest to that.) Will the time and effort pay off? That's the billion dollar question because it depends what "paying off" means. If it means getting good grades, well, that's nice, but I still don't have a job and that's why I'm in law school--to get a job. (Oh yeah, I'm also here to learn about the law and learn how to be a lawyer, but I can't count the number of times I've heard it said that you learn how to be a lawyer when you get your first lawyer job).

So what do decent grades get me? So far: nothing. So you tell me: Is it worth it?


At 8:06 PM, Blogger Bricklayer said...

Your problem (like so many other law students) is that you're stubborn.

"I am seriously questioning my commitment to the hard work it takes to get good grades"

It isn't hard work that gets you good grades. The Law Review are not the hardest workers in their class. They are not the smartest, as you've probably noticed when they speak up in class.

They are the most efficient. Less is more. I can tell from this blog that you're a bright, articulate, and perceptive person.

But you're stubborn. You have "decent" grades doing it your way so far, so rather than risk trying to do things another way you figure you'll pour more hours down a bottomless pit of diminishing returns.

"How much more do those who get all As know than me?"

You read my blog. You know I'm no genious. I'm one of the laziest students in school. Efficiency.

I heard many 2L's talk like you are now. Its sour grapes. I know others that changed their strategies and started pulling off clean sweeps of A's.

Think about how inefficient you're being right're wasting mental energy on making yourself feel better rather than figuring out what's holding you back from your full potential. There's plenty of time after law school to console yourself. Stop whining Rock, there is no tomorrow.

Alternatively, I'm sure our friendly neighborhood liberal bloggers will stop by soon and give a rat's ass about your angst.

At 6:03 AM, Anonymous snapdog said...

I’m not sure I agree with Bricklayer that “less is more.” Of course, he hasn’t really explained what that means. Efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean you turn in a short piece of work.

Keep in mind the curve too. It is a very slim cut towards the top. What makes the difference? I’m not sure. One thing I do know, it doesn’t hurt if the teacher can recall your name. I know we only had one class together (and frankly, I’m not sure how much that prof cared to recall anyone’s name), but I don’t know if I heard you pipe up once in that class. I’m not saying you should speak just to be heard (and to hear yourself)… but imagine if you were the prof. You’d like students to speak up every now and again. You’d like to know that some students were engaged. And, if you show a prof that you are thinking about this stuff, and you make intelligent comments/questions that actually add something to the discourse, if they see you may need a little boost in the end, it is well within their purview to do just that. I have no doubt that your Evidence prof really wanted people to participate. It just makes for a better class when people are engaged.

I’m not talking about being a gunner. Teachers, like students, don’t want that crap. I’m talking about participating. What if you don’t want to? If you like to observe and ruminate on your own? Well, that’s fine. But understand that it may come at a small cost. Fair or not, thems is the breaks.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger Bricklayer said...

I do not think class participation is a reliable method of raising one's grades. Most of the A students I know never raise their hands.

At the beginning of the semester I do a few things:
1. I get an easy-to-read treatise or commercial outline. I find a few hours on a Saturday to skim through.
2. I go online and find exams on the subject posted by other schools. Some even post model answers.
3. Skim outlines found online, get an idea of what sections of the material are more challenging than others.

Then I'm able to see "the big picture" within the first few weeks of the semester rather than the last few. I know what is likely to be on the exam, and what I can pay less attention to.

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I highly doubt that the problem here is not knowing the info. Funny, the advice is from someone who writes "all the A students I know." Why don't you pipe down and let some of them speak.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Bricklayer said...

I belong to that group, and having had the experience of discussing exam taking strategies with those collegues before, I can claim to speak on behalf of some of them as well.

To my knowledge, none of the people I know have anything to do with the blogosphere. But if you tell me how to add a guest blogger like you did with Lawfool, I'll see what I can do about getting a top ranked friend to write on my blog.

At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its like listening to Dr. Phil give diet advice. Why would I take health advice from a fat dude.

Look, lots of varied things work for varied people. As "some guy" said, grades are an efficient way to figure out who will probably do okay as a clerk or in a firm. But a one shot exam is by no means the proper way to judge the ability of someone post law school. However, it is what it is.

If you had to hire a new associate, who would you pick? A student with high marks, or a student who assures you they will be an asset? Sight unseen (or seen for all but 10 minutes at OCI) --- I think most would go with the scores.

As for seeing other's exams... I think this would be a great tool. Schools should ask students who get top marks to share their exams. I am guessing profs might like this so much, because it may very well expose some biases.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger some guy said...

Efficiency. OK, I get it, but I don't know how helpful it would have been to look at an outline in the early part of the semester. In evidence, for example, what good what it do to learn the hearsay exceptions before grasping hearsay?

Anyway, to add a 'guest blogger' go to settings and click on 'e-mail' and e-mail your friend an invitation to join. I think he needs to create a blogger account first.

At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had average grades at Miami Law and work for a top national firm. Grades are not everything.

At 4:01 PM, Blogger LawFool said...


Grades/froo-frooness of school are just one way to eyeball someone.

It is quality of work that will ultimately win out over any credentials someone can produce on paper. If you have one (good grades, good school, good work) without the other, then you may benefit on one end, but may come up short on the other. With only good grades/school, you benefit out of the gate, with not so good grades you have a harder road in the start, but can blast off after a very short time. Once you start working, the people you work with will want to work with someone they can trust and stand to be around.

So, with good grades, you are the rabbit--off to a fast start--with the work ethic and quality, but sans the grades--more like the tortoise--slow to start, but a winner(?) in the end. If you have them both, well now were cooking with fire. You are a smart rabbit, or a fast turtle.

Happy Holidays!

At 8:10 PM, Blogger girllawyer said...

My philosophy was that I'd better work hard enough that I didn't regret it later. Just try to keep that in mind, and you'll probably be OK. I think it all works out in the end.

And I NEVER left an exam knowing my grade. I felt like I might have gotten a C in a class I wound up booking (and the professor actually wrote a letter to my MOTHER), and thought I nailed a conlaw exam when I wound up with a C+. Who knows? Have fun. Work hard. But try to keep things in perspective.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Klio said...

I like what girllawyer said.

My own sprouting strategy is similiar to what I did at university . . . Spend the entire semester studying the professor as much as you study the course material. Give the guy what he wants, you get a B. Go beyond that and give him what he didn't know he wanted and you've got an A. Easier said than done, I know, but it worked for me in open memo, even though I had a hell of a time trying to figure my LRW instructor.

I understand what Bricklayer's trying to say and I think he's right in a way - especially with trying to get the "big picture" at the beginning of the semester. But it takes even more than that with some courses because every class and every prof is different, what works for one probably won't work for another and you also have to factor in the differences in classmate competition.

Try going to see your profs often after class and ask them lots of questions about where you're supposed to be progress-wise, some of them will be short and rude, others really helpful, but, in my opinion, that's the only way you can get a sense of what they expect from you come exam time.

Anyway, "Leave no stone unturned" when trying to get that grade - is my philosophy. You just can't judge your own strategy by someone else's, everyone has their own unique background and experience that may advantage or disadvantage them in different courses. Too arbitrary to measure, so just work your ass off developing your own method.

At 9:26 PM, Blogger Bricklayer said...


Your strategy "work your ass off developing your own method" might work in the long run, but by the time it does it may be too late to enjoy all the goodies that come with good grades. Trust me, I've seen it go that way for too many collegues. Some are quite bitter about the lingering effects of a poor 1L performance, namely law review and merit scholarship opportunities.

I am still working on getting that collegue to guest blog. But he told me a cornerstone of his philosophy about exams and law school in general is this: "Know thy enemy." He said the very first thing he did was to find old exams and model answers online from other schools. He didn't understand what he was reading, but developed a feel for what exam questions are like and what a good answer does. I didn't figure that out until the second semester, luckily it wasn't too late but my first semester I was going in blind. I guess you can say he did his recon, and it paid off.

I guess another way to look at it is this: suppose exams are a bicycle. All of us guess correctly that generally there will be wheels. Some guess that exams will be like a tricycle and prepare accordingly. Others think unicycle and prepare accordingly. Others think rickshaw, and so on. Some lucky ones guess bicycle and get A's because they were the most efficiently prepared.

But why guess? Doesn't it make more sense to find out that exams are bicycles and build an approach to law school around that? Well, he explains it much better.

At 11:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take it from someone who was in the single digit class rankings, learn the material. It isn't that hard, there often time is a syllabus from day one. It isn’t a secret. In Con Law, I made sure I knew what the commerce clause was, the dormant commerce clause, the presidential powers, etc, and c=some cases to support what I was going to write. Ours was closed book if I recall correctly, Some Guy? Anyway, if you master the material, then just answer the damn question.

Put your though process down in black and white! Don’t skip steps. Meaning, you think “Oh, there is no felony here, so there can’t be felony murder.” But you don’t put that down, you just ASSUME the prof knows you know that. BIG MISTAKE. Unless the instructions say “Do not discuss felony murder” you better write down what you thought. Write, “I see no felony here, unless car washing without a license is a felony in this jurisdiction, so there can’t be a charge of felony murder.” Now the prof knows you know and the points will come in for that. Not very much is too obvious, so put it down!

Also, block and move. Don’t write pages and pages on a single point (unless requested by the prof.) Show you know and go! Keep moving, jab, hook, jab. The more you know the material EVEN IF OPEN BOOK, the better you will be able to see what is there, and even more so, what isn’t there.

With this said, in the felony murder example. You need to leave discussion of what isn’t there to a minimum. I wouldn’t say something like: “Assuming, however, that there was a felony, well then we have to consider the 52 prongs of the felony murder rule. Prong 1… blah, blah… ---six pages later--- …prong 52…. Blah” You are turning the question into something not asked at this point, and the returns for your time will fall off greatly. Be smart, flex a little brain, and get to getting’.

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Jacob said...

I didn't have a good OCI experience either. The reason I didn't get hired was simple. My grades and ranking are low. Honestly, I don't feel stressed about it. I don't even know if I want to do another unpaid legal internship. I've done a lot of work for free over the past year. I don't mind the experience and paying my dues. However, I'm tired of being broke.

During OCI a recruiter told me I had more legal experience than many of my peers but that didn't compensate for my crappy GPA. During 1L I went to professors and older students for help with writing but it was pointless. The students would only tell me to IRAC or CRAC and the professors would quibble over my rule statements. Why didn't you do this or that? I think I might have even said once to a professor, "I don't understand why I did this or that. That's why I came to you. I need help."

I don't think I caught on to legal writing until the first semester of 2L. In any event, I'll find out when my grades come back. I knew how to analyze last year but I didn't know how to organize or present my writing. I could explain my reasoning to professors but they wouldn't see it in my writing. I think practice on essays is good for people, like myself, that aren't good at writing cold. I have problems with organization, so practice helps me sort out how things should be arranged. Also, it helps me figure out how to phrase law, so I won't be rmabling.

I've only gotten one A in lawschool so far. The only thing I can gather from what makes a good grade is good statements of the rule and great organization. If you state the correct rule perfectly with authority and apply all the relevant facts in a very well organized way, then you have a good grade. Applying the facts involves different methods of analysis and creating solid counter arguments. A great statement of the rule and a deep understanding of it (policies, applicable circumstances) makes essays much less unnerving.

My school screwed me up with IRAC. I didn't understand it. What is the "R" supposed to be like? What is the "A" supposed to be like? I could never get those questions answered. People told me to IRAC but didn't explain it or show how apply it. It's not the magic formula some people make it out to be.
IRAC was like a math formula. I used to always do things in my head and solve problems. The teacher would always mark me down for not writing everything down. I would write everything down, then they would ask why did I write so much. This has been my experience with legal writing. I would jump the gun and start analyzing without making it clear I could state the proper rule. It's a pain in the ass but I'm understanding why it's that way.

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous jbob said...

As a law student at a top tier law school who has only received A grades, let me repeat the point made earlier that the key is knowing your enemy. Get the old tests and review them. Get the old answer keys and work through them so you know why they work. Lastly, and many fail at this, go to every class. You must know your professor and his attitudes and biases for the subject at hand. You cannot know this without attending all semester. This knowledge isn't so you can write towards his view of the law, it is so you can figure out in advance what is going to be on the exam and how to respond. Then you can emphasize those areas in your pre-exam study. Honestly, what I do before exams could barely qualify as studying. The key is to have it all upstairs from the whole semester and complement it with a good outline for quick refreshing. Then during the exam take your natural response to the exam questions and take them to that next level beyond where real cases have gone in class. That is where greatness (and an A) lies.

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful...

At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not entitled to a job just b/c you go to law school, even that you earned good grades. I go to a second tier law school and had to put in 20 hours/week my 3L year to snag a position. I just got it yesterday. And it's a damn good job!!!


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