Grading

Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s guest conversationalist, Zach Abramowitz, of blogcasting platform ReplyAll. You can see some of his other conversations and musings here.

Spring exams are right around the corner, and for most law students, that probably means trying to figure out what went wrong first semester and how to do better this time around. Unless you’re one of the fortunate few who got all As your first semester, hopefully this conversation will give you a better road map for the upcoming exams, or at the very least, make you feel a little better about yourself.

The conversation, which is being created using a new blogging tool called ReplyAll, will develop live on Above the Law over the course of the next few days, so continue to check back as Professors Barry Friedman, John Goldberg, and I continue our discussion…

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Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s new poet-in-residence, Qui Tam.

Qui Tam. Short for a Latin phrase that means, more or less, self-righteously suing alongside the King, and keeping a little on the side for yourself. More commonly known today as a whistleblower action, where a private individual with knowledge of fraud gets sheltered by the feds and a nice cut of the penalties imposed for said fraud. So basically the same idea in Latin and common parlance.

For purposes of this column — which will be a collection of observational “poems,” chronicling experiences the writer may or may not have had during a pretty vanilla T1 law school and corporate legal career — what I am going for is the “whistleblower” allusion (quite self-flattering, not to mention self-righteous). Oh, and the pretentious use of Latin is designed to create a sense of sophistication where one probably doesn’t exist (sorry Bryan Garner, but it is true).

I now present to you my first poem:

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This grading system is a total train wreck.

If law students want one thing in their grading system, it’s clarity. This is especially true for first-year law students; 1L grades are too important for future job prospects to have a confusing and muddled set of rules.

Well, maybe not Yale law students. Famously, Yale doesn’t have traditional letter grading. A few top schools have followed Yale’s lead in recent years, but Yale is the OG of meaningless grading systems. (Berkeley students to start bitching in 3, 2, 1….) The meaningless of Yale’s Honors/Pass grading system doesn’t matter because all Yale students get jobs. No grades + Good jobs = “I don’t understand why humans cry.”

Yale students have such good job prospects that they can get jobs as law professors at other Ivy League law schools right after they graduate from Yale. But bringing happy-clappy Yale concepts of grading to “normal” law schools is not without its problems….

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Despite my consistent exhortations that people should do as well as possible on the LSAT, I don’t think the LSAT is a particularly useful test. The LSAT, like all other standardized tests, is really an examination of past performance and learned ability to take the test. It doesn’t measure “raw” intelligence, however you want to define that term. It measures your ability to take the LSAT.

I had thought that your ability to do well on the LSAT would be predict your ability to do well on the bar exam. Again, not because of any intelligence measuring, but just because people who are good at standardized tests tend to continue to be good at standardized tests.

But perhaps I’ve been wrong. A new study suggests that LSAT performance isn’t the best indicator of future bar passage. Instead, passing the bar has a more direct correlation with your law school grades…

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Suing a school for giving you bad grades seems ludicrous. On the other hand, there’s something respectable about filing a 60-paragraph complaint in response to a law school telling you that you’ve failed Legal Writing and Civil Procedure. It’s kind of meta when you think about it.

The crux of the story is that a the law school demanded that a 3L retake CivPro II: Electric Boogaloo because he got a D the first time around. This interfered with his plans for his 3L year, so he decided to take them to court. In the process, every complaint he has about the school worked its way into the filing.

Which law school is getting sued?

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Whenever we talk about law school grading around here, it usually involves a law professor being incredibly lazy when it comes time to perform his or her most important function regarding a student’s likely job prospects. Or it involves a law school trying to arbitrarily inflate its grades in a desperate attempt to enhance its employment stats.

Sadly, these stories don’t reflect any effort on the part of legal academia to actually come up with a grading system that is fundamentally fair and useful to the students who rely on it. That law school grades are somewhat arbitrary is just a feature of the system that we all kind of accept, even as we know that employers place significant weight on law school grades when handing out scarce legal jobs.

Given all that, I wanted to take some time on a Friday afternoon to consider the proposals of one law professor who has actually thought through some modest ways to make grading exams something less of a random crapshoot…

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* As we noted last week (third item), Judge Rosenbaum recognized that the government was bound to have phone records of the defendant since they were dragnetting the whole friggin’ country. Now the government has responded and predictably claims that this is all classified. [Southern District of Florida Blog]

* Speaking of follow-ups, remember how NYU Law was using non-profit slush funds to pay for housing for professors? Well, they also provided sweetheart loans for summer houses. [New York Times]

* The battle rages over the admissibility of audio expert witness testimony in the George Zimmerman trial. At least Howard Greenberg isn’t going to be there to call them all whores. [The Expert Institute]

* With the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy about to get smacked down in federal court, it’s important to remember there’s nothing wrong with “stop and frisk” — just every single way that it’s been applied for over a decade. [Vocativ]

* For our law professor readers, cognitive psychology says you get more fair results if you grade exams by question rather than grading the whole exam at once. It also means you’re not as likely to find 15 whole exams missing and fail to grade one student’s exam for weeks on end (in fairness, I ran into Professor Winkler and he assures me he eventually graded that exam). [Concurring Opinions]

* Communications between Superman and a minister in Man of Steel would likely be shielded by Kansas law. A better question is what law are we going to use to prosecute Superman for wontonly demolishing a city? [The Legal Geeks]

* If you’re living the Bitcoin lifestyle, you’re probably about to get taxed. [TaxProf Blog]

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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Ted Ullyot

* Given the name and origins of the Tea Party movement, it actually makes perfect sense that their groups got grief from the IRS. [Washington Post]

* Wachtell Lipton weighs in against the practice of shareholder activists offering special compensation to director nominees. [Dealbook / New York Times]

* A law professor, Joshua Silverstein, argues that schools should embrace grade inflation. (But haven’t most of them done this already?) [WSJ Law Blog]

* Facebook shareholders might not “like” this news, but Ted Ullyot plans to step down as general counsel after about five years. We’ll have more on this later. [Corporate Counsel]

* The Brooklyn DA’s office is reopening 50 murder cases that were worked on by retired detective Louis Scarcella (who looks oh-so-savory in the NYT’s photo of him). [New York Times]

* In news that should shock no one, Nicholas Speath’s dubious discrimination case against Georgetown Law has been dismissed. [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

* Not long after leaving Cravath for Kirkland, Sarkis Jebejian is putting together billion-dollar deals for private-equity clients. [Am Law Daily]

* Professor Jeffrey Rosen reviews an interesting new book, The Federalist Society (affiliate link), authored by Michael Avery and Danielle McLaughlin. [New York Times]

* Maker’s Mark will not get diluted after all — likely causing a shortage. Start hoarding mediocre bourbon, folks! [Wonkblog]

* If you’ve ever wondered what the Supreme Court feels like to a pro se petitioner, here’s your answer. “Simply put, the Supreme Court uses its desktop publishing and printing guidelines as a weapon against the American public.” So much for “the least dangerous branch.” [Aaron Greenspan]

* “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Russia’s taking that phrase to a whole new level by pushing forward with a criminal tax evasion trial against a dead man. This is the first case of its kind since United States v. Bernie Lomax. [Reuters]

* Is the pressure mounting on the Washington Redskins to change their name? It’s an interesting take, but overlooks one important detail: Dan Snyder is a tone deaf jerk. [Sports Law Blog]

* Computer science students realize that taking collective action to intentionally fail the test was better than trying to pass it. It’s like The Producers of education. And if this grading policy applied to 1Ls, there’d be at least one jerk who defected to ruin everyone else’s curve. [Volokh Conspiracy]

* Ten points to Gryffindor if you know what “tumid” means. Because you’re going to have to know before you pass through Ohio again. [Legal Juice]

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