Law School Grades

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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Mathew Martoma

This afternoon, here in Manhattan, a jury found former SAC Capital portfolio manager Mathew Martoma guilty of insider trading. The verdict wasn’t a shock, given the strong evidence against Martoma and the fact that another former SAC trader, Michael Steinberg, got convicted in December on weaker evidence.

The trial involved a number of boldface names of the legal profession. The office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (S.D.N.Y.), one of our 2013 Lawyer of the Year nominees, was represented by assistant U.S. attorney Arlo Devlin-Brown, one of the office’s most prominent prosecutors (and a star of the college debate circuit, for those of you who used to do debate). Martoma was defended by a team from Goodwin Procter that included Richard Strassberg, an S.D.N.Y. alumnus, and Roberto Braceras, another former federal prosecutor — and the son-in-law of Judge José Cabranes. The prosecution’s lead witness, Dr. Sidney Gilman, was represented by Bracewell & Giuliani’s Marc L. Mukasey — son of former S.D.N.Y. judge and U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

And some of our readers might know Mathew Martoma. He was a student at Harvard Law School back in the 90s, before he got expelled for fabricating his transcript while applying for clerkships.

Here are some notable numbers relating to the Mathew Martoma mess:

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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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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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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Mansfield J. Park weighs in on whether law students should stay in the game or quit while they’re ahead.

Sorry for the tease, but I want to start with Silicon Valley, then get to the sex change. I promise this will all vaguely make sense, in a “isn’t life complex but interconnected, but not in a vapid Crash kind of way?”

In Silicon Valley, I am told, there’s a saying: Fail fast.

Which really means: Fail fast, succeed faster.

The vast majority of startups there fail, so failing fast gets you on to the next project and, just maybe, closer to success. Your own country or whatever. Success is not inevitable in the startup world, but it’s more likely if you quit a failing venture to move on to something better.

Silicon Valley startup life is pretty different from law school. Law students are not known for their appetite for risk. Still, many of the 50,000 or so new law students could take the “fail fast” advice to heart.

Read more at the ATL Career Center…

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]

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