Grade Reform

Law students are starting to get a little loopy about receiving their first semester grades. It’s still too early to feel like grades are “late,” but competitive law students are starting to get antsy.

Speaking of competition, we’ve now seen a couple of examples of top law schools trying to reassure students who might receive less than stellar grades. The Dean of Students at the University of Chicago Law School sent around an important safety tip earlier this month. And you’ll remember that Columbia Law went so far as to share the unimpressive grades of Columbia faculty in an attempt to calm students.

Now another top law school is getting into the “dear God these millennials are made of porcelain” game. Note: people at low-ranked law schools, do not try this at home. Your grades actually matter, A LOT.

But even when you are being soothed by the Student Bar Association at your great law school, you should beware of the classmate that is willing to out-compete you for treats….

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My 1L grades were this big.

Continuing our discussion of “elite law school problems,” let’s talk about grades. If your law school is ranked poorly, waiting for your grades has made you stressed all January. But if you go to a top-ranked law school, it really shouldn’t be that stressful, right?

Hell, if you are going to a truly elite law school, you don’t even have grades. Sure, if you are gunning for the Supreme Court clerkship down the road, your transcript is important. But if you’ve made it all the way to one of the best institutions of higher learning, and all you care about it whether you get an A and a pat on the head at the end of the semester, you’re doing it wrong.

Sadly, there are a lot of people at top law schools who are doing it wrong.

At the University of Chicago, Dean of Students Amy Gardner decided to send a reassuring note to students about their grades. Most importantly, she told students not to believe each other if they try to brag about their grades.

It’s a lesson even non-Chicago students might need to hear….

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It’s an intriguing question. There are 11 ABA-accredited law schools in New York City and Long Island (I’m including Pace, even though the law school is in White Plains). Personally I love them all. Seriously, any one of them can produce a story about great idiocy that I can make fun of on the internet. That’s all I really care about.

But law students in New York argue over the strengths and weaknesses of their law schools all the time. Or at the very least they often mutter about the idiots across town under their breath.

While some students like to argue that they go to the “best” law school in New York, that’s a less interesting question. And there are so many Yale students running around town (New Haven is only 90 minutes away), so saying you go to the best law school in New York feels a little bit like saying you’re the tallest midget.

It’s a bit douchy to argue over who’s best, but it’s pretty fun to argue over which law school is the worst. Nobody thinks that they go to the absolute worst law school in the city. But that means one student body is dead wrong.

Let’s find out who!

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We get it, law students: the curve sucks. Because the law school curve affects important things like class rank, law review eligibility, and employment opportunities, it can make or break your life. And in a world where the legal market is still recovering from circling the drain, your grades mean more than they ever did in the past.

While the curve reflects some amount of fairness for larger classes, what happens to the students in smaller classes? You’d think that if everyone in a seminar class kicked ass on the final, the school would allow the professor some leeway with the mandatory curve. That seems like it would be fair, right? It’s a load of bull if the school refuses to step away from the curve in this kind of a situation.

And speaking of bull, apparently if you mess with one in Texas, you’ll get the horns (or at least be called a crybaby). A student at the University of Texas School of Law is trying — albeit unsuccessfully — to fight the powers that be….

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It’s been a rough year in South Bend. A promising new head football coach led the Fighting Irish to a disappointing 7-5 regular season. The #5-ranked basketball team forgot to show up during March Madness (but at least the women’s team exceeded expectations). It was a year that many Irish fans would like to rewrite.

And now a few 1Ls at Notre Dame Law School would like to do some rewriting of their own. A tipster informs us that controversy has been brewing for a while regarding NDLS’s first year legal writing program. It appears that some students believe that they work too darn hard to only receive one measly credit for their second semester legal research and writing course.

So, what do angry law students do when they feel that they are not being properly credited for their writing efforts? They write more — a petition, to be exact. Find out what these future lawyers are demanding, after the jump.

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We’ve seen it in California; we’ve seen it in New York. Now it looks like Puff the Magic Grade-Inflating Dragon is heading for Washington, D.C.

Yes sir, a school in the D.C. market has decided that the reason its students can’t get jobs has nothing to do with the quality of education or services the school provides, and everything to do with how the school itself calculates student GPAs. And so we have another institution of legal education that is poised to randomly make its curve a third of a grade easier. And the school will also introduce the dreaded A+ — which is worth 4.33 points and should be written on construction paper in glitter, to emphasize how absurdly weak it is for a person over the age of 14 to receive an A+ on anything.

CORRECTION: As pointed out in the comments, the new grade is an A+*; the A+ already exists. I’m sorry, but my little brain could not comprehend such a thing as an A+*; I thought it was a typo.

And the school’s students — who should be embarrassed by this blatant inflation of their grades, in the same way that governments cringe when they are forced to devalue their currencies — are so hopeful that this little gimmick will work that all they can do is ask if the inflation will be applied retroactively to their previous grades.

So really, the only question left is whether this trend will catch on with other D.C.-area schools, rendering the efforts of the first inflator functionally moot….

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You know, given the fact that most law school professors act like they are doing you a favor by grading your exams, it’s a wonder this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often. Of course, since it doesn’t happen more often, this is a noteworthy occurrence.

A criminal law professor out in California figured out there were grading errors from her fall semester course. She figured this out last week. But the errors were so significant that it changed the class rank of some students.

Yeah, so if you got dinged from a summer associate position because your first semester grades were too low, or if perhaps you didn’t even apply for some positions because you didn’t meet a percentile cut-off, whoops, your professor might have screwed up.

Which law school needs to examine its motives?

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We are well into February, and there are still law students who haven’t received all of their grades from first semester.

Why? I have no earthly idea. We’ve talked about this problem before: we get that professors really hate spending the time it takes to grade a bunch of exams. It’s boring. It’s arbitrary. It’s annoying to know that no matter how “fairly” you grade, you’ll have at least a few students who can’t handle the truth, waiting in your office to ambush you.

But it’s also your job. It’s your duty, owed to the students who are ruining themselves financially to help pay your salary, to provide them with grades in timely fashion. This is especially true in law school. And it’s especially true in a crappy economy. Law school grades matter, and it’s just cruel to keep students in the dark about them.

Now, if I show you a hundred professors who handed in grades late, you’ll hear a hundred different excuses about why grades were delayed: “I was preparing for a conference,” “My Commodore 64 broke down,” “I was having personal problems” — whatever. We get it; sometimes life intervenes and prevents professors from doing their jobs.

But at NYU Law School, some students are alleging that professorial favoritism is allowing some professors to turn in their grades much later than others…

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Whether or not you think that the LSAT should be important, we all know that it is important. Scoring well on the LSAT is absolutely crucial to getting into a good law school.

But usually the power of the LSAT fades after you matriculate to a law school. Usually people who are concerned about your LSAT score are the people who consider their own LSAT score their greatest achievement in life. Pathetic, I know, but I’ve met these people in real life. They really think that scoring well on a standardized test means something more than being able to score well on a standardized test.

We accept that law schools need to be focused on the LSAT — they need some way to compare people from different schools and programs. But should employers still care about your LSAT score? Should legal employers really be concerned about a test that you took years ago, before you had any legal training?

At K&L Gates, the answer appears to be yes…

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We have a message for law school deans and administrators everywhere. To paraphrase Chris Crocker, “Leave… the grades… alone!”

Stories about changes to law school grading schemes aren’t much fun for us to write. But every time you deans tinker ever so slightly with your law school’s curve, we here at Above the Law get flooded by angry emails from law student readers, demanding that we call attention to whatever completely inscrutable change (or non-change) you have made (or not made) to your grading policy. In order to save us from having to write these stories, please cease and desist immediately from further amendment of your grading schemes.

Notwithstanding the views of the guy who posted his grades on Facebook, law school grades aren’t very interesting (except to their recipients). We’d much rather immerse ourselves in the law firm bonus horse race, for example. Compared to law school grading stories, the associate bonus watch is as riveting as the Oscars competition (or the Super Bowl, if you’re into that sort of thing).

Honestly, and with all due respect to our law student readers, we don’t particularly care about law school grades — and neither will you, in just a few short years. Right now you might be obsessed with your grades. And yes, they matter more than before, thanks to the tough legal job market. But you will forget your law school GPA sooner than you think. In the words of Professor Orin Kerr, “[o]nce you’re out of school for a bit, people care whether you are a good attorney, not your law school GPA.”

In this post, we’re going to cover controversies over grading at three law schools: the University of Chicago Law School, Cornell Law School, and the University of Buffalo Law School.

And then, God willing, we hope to avoid writing another story about law school grades until May or June (when the spring semester ends and students start talking about transfer applications)….

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