Saturday, January 28, 2006

There's something about law school

So all the grades are finally in. The last grade came in on Wednesday, six weeks and a day after the last exam. Four things come to mind (I know, I know, these are mostly things I've blogged about before, but bear with me; no more talk about grades until exam time, I promise):

1. The arbitrariness and randomness of law school grading

This is not a major revelation I’ve recently had, but this semester, more than any, underscores this point for me. After each of my three exams, I felt worse about my performance than I had following any other law school exams. And yet, I had my best semester in terms of grades. Only in law school can you leave an exam not only having no clue how you did, but thinking you might’ve actually failed (well, that’s not true – I knew I never failed but I’ve definitely left exams thinking I got a C or C+) and then end up with a good grade.

Here’s another example that emphasizes how grades have no correlation to actual knowledge or skill. Let’s talk about two students, named X and Y. X had the same Business Associations prof I did. Y had a different prof. X got an A. Y got a B. X did a lot of reading but by the mid-point of last semester was only reading High Courts – she basically read in their entirety maybe 5 cases over the final half of the semester. X never participated in class because Prof. BA didn’t care whether you participated and in fact created very little opportunity for students to get involved. Don’t get the wrong impression – X is not lazy by any means. X just decided that in doing all the work necessary for law school, it was not productive to wade through 12-15 pages of mind-numbing minutiae for every case. Y did all the reading and participated a lot, which Y thought was important because Y’s prof said participation will be counted in the final grade. Y's participation added a lot to the class discussion because Y had intelligent things to say; Y wasn't just raising her hand to open her mouth.

So what’s the problem? X, who got an A, basically knows nothing about business, corporations, finance, economics and money, etc. X is more into history, sociology, creative writing, etc. Y, who got a B, worked for 6-7 years before law school in a field where one need to know about business, finance, economics, corporations, etc. (I know by using these terms I’m not exactly summarizing all that BA is about, but you get the idea – some people are going to do corporate transactions because they’re good at that stuff; other people’s eyes glaze over when you start talking about business, finance, economics, etc. ... I'm not saying one person is smarter than the other, just that people have different aptitudes for different things.) Basically X could never have even been hired where Y worked. And I guarantee if you take X and Y at the same law firm and give them the same assignment, if the task is business-related, Y would do a better job.

But X got a better grade. When X and Y apply for jobs, someone will look at Y’s transcript and see the BA grade and think something like “He doesn’t really get it” but they’ll think X does “get it.” But that’s incorrect. Y gets it and X doesn’t. Yet X got a better grade.

2. I know grades are not a reflection of how successful a lawyer you’ll be. We all know this. But so far, I’ve gotten better grades than I expected and it has not paid off. What do I mean by paying off? I don’t have a job and although I am working frantically to get one, I see no prospects on the horizon. And, and, and…I assume I’ll have one eventually, but the important thing to me is not to land the highest paying job. The important thing to me is to land a job that I find to be interesting. A job that I can be somewhat passionate about doing. A job that at a minimum, I don't dread facing every day when I wake up.

As I’ve learned more about the law, I’ve come across areas of practice that seem like I could spend my career focusing on. Unfortunately, I literally have no idea how to get a job in those areas. And please, spare me the generic “hang in theres” – Yes, I know I have to work hard at getting a job. I am doing so and I will continue doing so. I am not giving up. It’s just hard to get excited when I have no leverage and when I envision accepting pretty much whatever job I can get, even if it’s not something I can see doing permanently because, well, I can’t be very choosy at this point. And that last sentence basically encapsulates why I went to law school – because I was not doing anything I had a passion for and wanted to have greater control over my career.

And do me another favor – save the comments about how no one cares about grades once you hit the real world. I know this. I spent nine years there between college and law school. Only once did anyone even ask for my transcript and that was just to prove I had a college diploma because company policy required written proof; at all other employers they just accepted that I graduated from college because I told them I did. I know that once you get that foot in the door, whether it’s in Big Firm, Little Firm, Government Agency or In House, you get by on talent (ok, who you know is also important – very important, but clearly grades become less important as you advance in your career). I know this. But for now, I need that first job and although I’m out there talking to lawyers, meeting people and networking, a lot of my contacts with prospective employers consist of my resume and transcript, so grades are relevant.

3. Prof. Froomkin bumped up everyone’s grade 0.125 points because of the hurricane disruptions. Did other profs do this? Surely they could at least tell us. I think it’s important to know whether you earned the grade or you earned a grade but then were boosted up a little because of the hurricanes.

4. I have so much hatred for Prof. LRW. If not for the grades he gave me, my GPA would be, well, um, never mind, but let’s just say it would be higher … and more importantly, the person judging me (or screening my) solely by my transcript (and resume, cover letter, and maybe writing sample) would not see this HUGE red flag next to legal research and writing and wonder why overall I have decent grades but I’m not a competent writer (or researcher) so why the hell should they hire me … even though I got a good grade in Legal Research Techniques...


At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's to no curve in the upper class courses! I guess that means a better semester. Or, of course, you are improving... I wonder which it is...

At 5:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the grade he/she GAVE me" == bad grade.

"the grade I earned" == good grade.

At 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the grades really are arbitrary. I haven't found a single thread linking the classes I did well in. It's not consistently multiple-choice, or essay, nor early/ late classes, nor abstract/ statutory. Most frustrating: it doesn't even correlate with my effort or expectation of how I'm doing. It's makes going through the semester really tough! Since 1L, I've reconciled myself with this extreme arbitrariness. Just treat your exams like a bunch of seeds - plant them, water them (i.e. study and do your best). Some seeds will grow, some won't. It's mostly luck, yes, but do your best and you'll look back without regrets.

Grades are really important in getting a job! I heard that among UM grads working in private firms - the top quarter of the class makes almost $50,000 more than the bottom quarter in their first year! If you want a good job, you have to put that GPA on your resume. It doesn't help that our curve is just asinine. At most places, a "C+" is a red flag - here, it's barely below average! Do employers undertand that? Do they realize that a 3.0 at UM is different than a 3.0 at FSU? All this makes class more cut-throat, makes people angry at those who get "extra time" for exams, etc.

What makes my blood just boil is the people that are keeping the curve so low. (That's why I would never ever ever take CivPro II). They don't realize how easy they had it at places like Yale, where every class is graded pass/fail. They think Paperchase-style embarrasment is the worst part of law school. The faculty committee refuses to make a change.

All that said, some guy, we read, because we know how you feel - we're facing it too. I'm still looking for a job myself. Have some hope that things will turn around. Don't take your excellent life for granted either - you've got so much going for you that you never mention; plenty of reasons to be positive about your future.

At 11:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bullshit. How then do you account for the students who graduate at the top of the class? According to you, this would simply be luck. How do you explain the consistency? Under your arbitrary grade theory these top students would clean up in Vegas.

At 3:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

froomkin raised our grades by that much yes, but the class gpa was less than a 3.0. just fyi.

At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hard work and natural intellect get you decent grades in law school, but the way to get a great grade is to learn and mimic the professor's voice. no, not an impression of them, but how they think and express their ideas.

notice the things they emphasize, the way they talk, the words they use, the ideas they dwell on for a long time. this means going to class every day and taking great notes. i guess it falls under "hard work" but people seem to erroneously equate "hard work" with "working until you cry every night of the semester." it doesn't have to be that way.

i can't remember a lot of what i learned in my first year, but i got mostly A's because every essay i wrote was specifically tailored to that professor. (and not in a kiss-up way, either.)

At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon Above: Implicit in your argument is that you get a chance to write for every exam. Your argument doesn't match up for multiple choice exams which I believe are completely inept at judging knowledge of a particular subject. Take evidence for example. One professor at this school tests exclusively by multiple choice. All I did was study the practice exams and got a really good grade without going to class or reading the assignments. Now consider BA where another professor tests using multiple choice. I went to every single class and took exquisite notes. However, I received, thus far, my worst grade in law school. How do you explain that?

Why do these professors use multiple choice exams? Some say they are lazy. What is their explanation? … It prepares you for the Bar exam. My problem with this comes from the fact that (included in some guy's analysis) employers use these grades to gauge how well of a lawyer you may be (whether this works is another topic). Particularly, how well you can write when given a certain task under time constraints. Well, here is a word of advice to our dear professors. I don't foresee us taking any multiple choice tests for our employer any time soon. Rather, I do foresee an employer giving us a legal issue to research, and write a concise analysis in a given amount of time. So why don't you buck up and give us essay exams which test our writing and not some abstract hypothetical which has 4 answers that all look the same. Further, all the crap that I learned in your class last fall will be GONE by the time I start studying for the bar. I know essays take a little longer to read but at least you are preparing us for the future, not for the barzam.

At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear anon who responded to me: yeah i wasn't taking into account mult choice exams. i think it's pretty ridiculous to give those out in law school. but the other lesson is to just grin and bear it - it'll be over soon, we'll all have jobs and be on our merry ways.

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what someguy is talking about in part 1 is that he can't explain the variation he sees on his transcripts. Why did I get a B in one class and an A in another? I just didn't see the pattern. Not even hard work. It just looked random.

At 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lucky you....some of us are still waiting for that final one to come in...

At 2:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know how it's done at your school, but at UC Davis, exams are frequently not returned to students. Some profs make their exams available in the registrar's office, but you can't remove them. And even those exams usually have absolutely no markings, comments, or feedback.

Are grades randomly assigned? Who knows? As a result of this asinine faculty policy, students aren't able to compare exams and grades, let alone get information on how to improve.

A prominent Harvard law professor tells the story of how half the exams from one of his classes were mistakenly printed twice. He graded those exams twice--without noticing they were duplicates. And upon comparison, he found he had given significantly different grades to identical exams.

Finally, given how many students feel the same way you do, I have absolutely no faith that exams are graded objectively or consistently.


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