Grade Inflation

It’s Harvard Law School’s world, and the rest of us are just living in it.

1999: ARLO DEVLIN-BROWN writes that you never know where you’ll run into a classmate. He is prosecuting MATHEW MARTOMA (née Ajai Mathew Thomas) on insider trading charges in Lower Manhattan. Devlin-Brown has asked U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe (unfortunately Penn ’79, Columbia ’82) for permission to talk about Matt’s expulsion from Harvard for doctoring his transcript, so get ready for fireworks! The trial is expected to last several weeks, so for anyone who missed WILLIAM PULLMAN and Lisa Frank’s (Yale ’03, NYU Law ’08, NYU Stern ’08) Christmas Eve nuptials, it would be a great opportunity for a mini-reunion!

That is Bess Levin’s imagined entry for the next edition of Harvard Law School alumni news, offered over at our sister site Dealbreaker. It’s based on a New York Times piece marveling at the many HLS folks involved in this major insider trading trial (which also include Martoma’s lawyer, Richard Strassberg of Goodwin Procter, and Lorin Reisner, chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office).

A takeaway from the Martoma matter: HLS students are the best! At forgery and fraud, that is.

Years before he allegedly cheated on Wall Street, Mathew Martoma, then known as “Ajai Mathew Thomas,” cheated at Harvard Law School by fabricating his transcript when applying for clerkships. It was a sophisticated effort that fooled multiple jurists. Which D.C. Circuit judges came thisclose to hiring him as a law clerk?

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It looks like this ‘real’ housewife needs to get a real lawyer.

* The debt “vultures” are still circling Argentina’s carcass, but later this month, the justices of the Supreme Court will convene to decide whether or not they’ll take up the country’s bond case. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Judge Robert Wilkins managed to sail through his D.C. Circuit confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee with great ease, but let’s see what happens when he gets to the full Senate. [Blog of Legal Times]

* An in-house attorney in Pennsylvania was suspended from the practice of law for six months because he attached a camera to his shoe to secretly film up women’s skirts. What a classy dude. [Legal Intelligencer (sub. req.)]

* Massive open online courses are trending in the world of higher education, and some law schools — e.g., Harvard and Northwestern — decided to get on the bandwagon while the getting’s good. [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* “I’m prepared to drop everything and go to law school,” says the man appealing his age discrimination suit against Baylor Law School because his GPA predates grade inflation. [Texas Lawyer (sub. req.)]

* The man who represented cast members of the Real Housewives of New Jersey was arrested for the unauthorized practice of law. We bet these “reality” TV stars wish they had a real lawyer. [Bergen Record]

Instead of grades, maybe we should just give law students boxes of tissues? One box if you did really well, five boxes if you stink but nobody has the heart to tell you.

As we mentioned in Morning Docket, there is a law professor running around arguing that C’s should no longer be given to law students.

Because getting C’s makes law students sad. Eliminating C’s would improve the ““psychological well-being” of law students.

How do you say “how did I beat you” in Mandarin?

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Would you like to go to law school, receive your grades, be sad, and then have your administration turn around and “recall” them because maybe they weren’t high enough? I mean, sure, you’d be annoyed that grades were late and that they teased you with something and then took it away… but if the end result was that your professors were not fully aware of opportunities to inflate your grades, you’d be willing to wait for everybody to take another look.

That’s what seems to be happening at a law school out west. The 2Ls and 3Ls received their grades over the long weekend. But almost immediately, the administration sent out word to disregard the grades because not all of the professors were aware of the opportunity to adjust the curve upwards. Would that make you happy?

Or, would you just like your grades now?

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* “The people who are paying us say this is what we want.” When it comes to cross-border mergers, law firms aren’t becoming behemoths for the hell of it. The end goal is to be able to edge out the rest of the competition. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* It’s been six weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast, and “[e]verybody wants to go back downtown,” but some Biglaw firms in New York City — firms like Harris Beach and Cahill Gordon — are still stuck in their temporary offices. [New York Law Journal]

* Following Jeh Johnson’s adieu to the DoD, drone-loving Harold Koh will be packing up his office at the State Department and returning to Yale Law to resume his professorship next month. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the legal sector is employing 5,800 more people than it was at this time last year. We’d be in good shape if 40,000 people hadn’t graduated law school in May. [Am Law Daily]

* Another day, another wrist slap: Villanova Law has been placed on probation for by the Association of American Law Schools over its grade-inflation scandal. Does that even mean anything? [Philadelphia Inquirer]

* The Lanier Law Firm, known for its spectacular Christmas parties, hosted some country superstars at this year’s event. Guess we know where Faith Hill and Tim McGraw go for legal assistance. [Houston Chronicle]

* A slim majority of American adults think that federal government employees should just sit back, relax, and smoke a bowl instead of enforcing federal laws against marijuana use. [FiveThirtyEight / New York Times]

* “I’m sorry they are confused in the White House.” Puerto Rico’s statehood referendum received a majority of votes, but lawmakers say the results of the two-part plebiscite are too confusing to add a 51st state. [CNN]

Whether you like it or not, people are going to go back and forth on grade inflation until the end of time. Some think it’s God’s gift to gunners, and some don’t. But if you’ve decided to embark upon your legal career later in life, it may seem like there’s no way to compete with millennials whose college report cards are so littered with inflated grades that they might as well be printed in glitter and accompanied by gold stars.

And that is exactly what one certified public accountant alleges in a lawsuit that he’s filed himself against Baylor Law School — the same school that accidentally released its incoming students’ GPAs and LSAT scores, as you may recall….

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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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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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Loyola Law School (Los Angeles) hoped to quietly jump on the grade-inflation bandwagon in order to help make its students more competitive in the legal marketplace. The school bumped letter grades up a notch, so that a C- became a C, a B became a B+, and an A+ became an A+you’reasuperamazinggunnerrockstar.

But the quiet jump has resulted in a lot of noise. After we wrote about the school’s retroactive grade inflation, the Los Angeles Times and later the New York Times picked up on it.

And last night, Loyola had its big moment on the Colbert Report:

The upside is that Loyola-L.A. just broke through to a whole new audience of potential applicants. The downside is that we can hear the deflation of the hopes of all the Loyola law school grads who planned to wow employers with their amazing GPAs.

We reached out to Loyola about being mocked by one of America’s most influential people. A response from Dean Victor Gold, after the jump.

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Tough curve ahead.

By this point, you know the drill with grade reform:

A) Law school experiences embarrassing employment outcomes.
B) Administration refuses to admit legal education is ridiculously overpriced given the soft job market.
C) Students demand immediate administrative action to help students find work.
D) Administration has precisely zero ideas on how to help students get jobs.
E) Administration blames its own “tough grading curve” that allegedly “disadvantages” its students.
F) Administration enacts “grade reform.”
G) Students feel momentarily appeased.
H) Employers ask for class ranking and go back to putting 90% of the transcripts they receive from the school in question into the shredder.

Next year, Tulane Law School will make grading easier. Getting a good job with a Tulane Law degree will remain just as difficult as ever…

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