Most law students are well into the spring semester of law school. First- and second-year students will soon have to pick their courses for fall 2008.
Here’s a subject that may be on some of their minds: pass / fail grading. Check out this interesting article in the Stanford Daily (from last month; we came across it belatedly, while going through our 4,000-email backlog over the weekend):
In a departure from tradition, record numbers of first-year law students chose to take at least one of their first semester courses pass-fail this year.
Law students have traditionally found themselves in a bind when choosing to “3k,” the common term for pass-fail grading. Students interviewed independently described the situation repeatedly as a “prisoner’s dilemma,” referencing the archetypal problem of decisions made with imperfect information.
Choosing to be graded pass-fail, whatever one’s personal reasons, could cause problems if the student is one of only a handful of students to do so in the law school class. However, last semester somewhere between one-third and one-half of first-year students elected to take a class pass-fail, a fact which affects the way the action is perceived by others.
There was this whole issue before where employers might say it’s an oddity,” said first-year law student Chris Wells. “[From orientation onwards] a lot of us wanted to make it a real option at the law school.”
The SLS students were spurred to action by one of their peers:
First-year law student John Kimble drafted an open letter about the 3k decision and sent it to the first-year student email list on the last day students could choose their grading basis. Seeing the letter and the excitement it generated emboldened students to take the pass-fail option and also gave the student body an indication of the movement’s support.
So, ATL readers, what do you think? Is taking more courses on a pass-fail basis a smart move, or is it ill-advised? What types of courses lend themselves best to being taken pass-fail? For those of you involved in hiring — of law firm associates, law clerks, AUSAs, etc. — do you askance at transcripts with lots of pass-fail classes?
And will this trend spread to other law schools? Or is it a luxury available only to students at places like small and selective Stanford, where even academic underperformers can still land good jobs?
P.S. Stanford Law School students seem to be in the vanguard these days when it comes to taking a stand against some of the more stressful or unpleasant aspects of the legal profession. The school is also the home of Building A Better Legal Profession, a group of law students pushing to reform Biglaw. For their mission statement, click here.
First-years go pass-fail [Stanford Daily]
building a better legal profession [official website]