This paper could be the bible of the entitlement generation. What happens in another 10 years, when Silverstein’s kid is a professor at Little Rock and makes a similar argument on behalf of the post entitlement generation. Then everyone will be an A student (since there will be only the B grade left to eliminate). He (or she) probably won’t have heard of Lake Wobegon, but he will be its “intellectual” heir.
By Pushkin on 2013 05 15, 5:37 am CST
Well, I shall draw the line at that. Anyone who even attempts to eliminate the “B” grade will have a fight on their hands. What they should do instead is elevate the “B” to its proper position relative to the “A” grade (which by all rights should be considered lower than “B”).
By B. McLeod on 2013 05 15, 6:19 am CST
I agree. This is not about entitlement. It’s about undoing the grade-rigging system.
By Anonymous on 2013 05 15, 7:02 am CST
While there’s something to be said for schools eliminating the requirement that the vast majority of grades must be a C, I think it’s ridiculous to get rid of it altogether. How about this radical idea: we let professors grade each student, individually, on a scale of A, B, C, D, F, based on where the student’s work should fall. If you have an awesome class and everyone gets A’s - great! If they’re average, it’ll fall out close to the bell curve. If they all suck, well, that’s what D’s and F’s are for.
By RecentGrad on 2013 05 15, 7:26 am CST
This is the author of the article. First, thanks for the comments everyone. Now for some responses.
Pushkin wrote: “What happens in another 10 years, when Silverstein’s kid is a professor at Little Rock and makes a similar argument on behalf of the post entitlement generation.” I address this issue in the article. See, in particular, pages 537-38. In short, this is not a real concern. And even if such a push were to begin, there are ways to deal with it. See Part IV.B.
RecentGrad wrote: “How about this radical idea: we let professors grade each student, individually, on a scale of A, B, C, D, F, based on where the student’s work should fall.” The problem with this is that different professors have different grading standards. And so do different schools. There is no single place where a student’s work falls. There are as many places as there are grading philosophies. For more on this, see my article In Defense of Mandatory Curves, and especially parts II, III, V.A., and V.E. The answer is to put in place policies that account for those differences. My first article, just referenced, explains how to do that at a particular school. My second article, A Case for Grade Inflation in Legal Education, the one primarily under discussion, explains how to deal with this across law schools.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 15, 8:11 am CST
I think law schools should dump the forced curve in general. Every student that demonstrates a mastery of the subject matter should get an A. When I realized that the curve and grades were just a way to sort out students, and not a reflection of what anyone learned, I stopped checking my grades. I just emailed the assistant dean of my law school and verified that I passed every class: http://bit.ly/jizOer. I suspect in many cases, the difference between an A-student and a C-student is pretty small compared to how the curve makes them look.
By Ruth Carter on 2013 05 15, 8:39 am CST
How about we subtract a fixed quantity of GPA from the grade inflated schools to bring them back down to Earth? Why are we fixated with continually rigging a system to collapse the separation between students. I graduated from a non-first tier (though, I guess, the tiers and ranks vary year to year). Plenty of students got Cs (or lower) when they failed to meet minimum standards. Those that received the (relatively) few As earned their grades. You had to be knowledgeable, articulate, and well-studied to obtain an A (and somewhat lucky). If T14 graduates were less entitled and actually learned useful things in law school maybe the legal system wouldn’t be going down the tubes and large corporate clients would have seen the massive hourly rates as justified rather than a farce. The real issue is grade inflation, not promoting grade inflation to schools with academic honesty and rigor.
By Actual Lawyer on 2013 05 15, 8:43 am CST
Joshua - thanks for replying. I think the problem with your suggestion is about entitlement and not grading. Even a grading scale with only two grades (A and B) has six different categories with whcih to rank people (when plusses and minuses are taken into account), and a six category grading scale will be adequate for any situation. The real difficulty with the proposal is that it caters to the idea the students should be sheltered from negative comments about their talent, effort, quality of work, or the like. The fact that students are “injured psychologically” by a low grade is their problem, not the professor’s. It would be dishonest to tell them that their work was as good (or almost as good) as anyone else’s in the class if it was not, and it does not do them a long term favor to be dishonst to them. A grade is just a relative comment, an indication of how one performed in comparison to others in the same class and not a statement about absolute worth, but it is up to students to figure this out. Adjusting the grading system cannot do it for them. There will be a stigmatizing C in any system you put in its place. It just will go by a different name.
By Pushkin on 2013 05 15, 8:54 am CST
In response to Ruth Carter, you wrote: “I think law schools should dump the forced curve in general. Every student that demonstrates a mastery of the subject matter should get an A.” As I explained, the problem with this is that professors have different standards of mastery. Eliminating the forced curve would lead to massive increases in unfair grading. For more, see my article In Defense of Mandatory Curves. You continued by stating that grades are just a way to sort students. That is not the case. Again, see my mandatory curves article. Finally, professors with years of experience grading law student work all but universally agree that there are significant differences between the work of top, average, and weak students, however we label them along the grade scale.
In response to Actual Lawyer, you wrote: “How about we subtract a fixed quantity of GPA from the grade inflated schools to bring them back down to Earth?” I like this idea in theory. Some schools have tried to do this to particular classes. See Valen Johnson’s Book, Grade Inflation: A Crisis in Education, in particular, the last chapter. And some firms already do this. But the better solution is for the non-inflated schools to inflate. You continued: “Why are we fixated with continually rigging a system to collapse the separation between students.” We aren’t. And I explain why in great detail in Part IV.B. of A Case for Grade Inflation. Indeed, I want to do more to distinguish among students, as I explain there. You continued: “Plenty of students got Cs (or lower) when they failed to meet minimum standards.” Glad to hear it! That is my proposal. Unfortunately, at most schools, students get Cs even if they SUCCEED in meeting minimum standards. That’s what I’m opposed to.
Thanks for the comments guys.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 15, 8:58 am CST
Whatever. Have grades in the first year, curve or no curve, who cares. The last two years of law schools should be replaced by clinical work, graded by a committee of PRACTICING lawyers, and it should be up to them what grade to award, which won’t really matter anyway because the student will actually have learned useful skills. With all due respect, Mr. Silverstein, but your work is pointless, your articles too long, nobody reads them, nobody cares, and you’re not helping anybody. A+ for spinning the hamster wheel though.
By Newsflash on 2013 05 15, 9:02 am CST
The issue here isn’t really entitlement. The issue is the sad state of the legal job market. If two schools ranked nearly identically and in the same job market have drastically different curves, the students in one of the schools get destroyed in job-searching. If the curve is set at school A to hover around 2.7, while school B has it set around 3.3, we see the top 10% cutoffs being much different.
The reason this is a problem is because law firm hiring committees are lazy. When they look at a student from school A who has a 3.3, but is ranked in the top 5%, or a student in school B with a 3.6 who is outside the top 10%, they will probably pick the kid from school B. Bigger numbers (absolute GPAs) matter to hiring committees that have to sift through thousands of resumes. Thus, school A is doing itself (and its students) a disservice by setting its curve arbitrarily low.
With all that said, that discrimination only happens at the margins. A school ranked #120 is not going to magically improve its students’ outcomes by going to an A- curve. Thus, if all of the lower tier schools eliminated Cs, we would probably see an adjustment by the higher-ranked schools offering more A+s, possibly even moving their curve to/above 4.0. It’s an arms race, made worse by the awful legal jobs market.
By Laurence on 2013 05 15, 9:14 am CST
My pleasure Pushkin.
You wrote: “The real difficulty with the proposal is that it caters to the idea the students should be sheltered from negative comments about their talent, effort, quality of work, or the like.” I disagree. Here is why. The problem is that C’s send the wrong signal. Right now, when we give C’s, we intend to tell them that they are succeeding, but they receive the C’s as failing (much of the time; of course, not always). I don’t want to shelter students from accurate comments about the quality of their work. But they were raised in an A and B world. Law schools essentially use different grade scales from the rest of the world. That creates confusion. It is time for us to grade the way everyone else does. We should use grades that accurately convey to students what we think about their work. Right now, we are failing in this regard.
You continued: “The fact that students are “injured psychologically” by a low grade is their problem, not the professor’s.” Unless it is the professor’s grading system that is needlessly doing so, especially when the low grades cause students to decrease work effort, which hurts the students, the school, future clients, and the legal system.
You continued: “It would be dishonest to tell them that their work was as good (or almost as good) as anyone else’s in the class if it was not, and it does not do them a long term favor to be dishonst to them. ” Quite right. But nothing I am proposing is inconsistent with this. Indeed, as I’ve said, my system will lead to more accurate communication with students.
You continued: “A grade is just a relative comment, an indication of how one performed in comparison to others in the same class and not a statement about absolute worth, but it is up to students to figure this out.” Grades are somewhat more than this. But that isn’t critical. What is critical is that the belief that grades have absolute, objective meaning. We’ve tried unsuccessfully for decades to convince students otherwise. Indeed, even many faculty are tied to this plainly false belief. Given that, it is time for an alternative approach.
You continued: “There will be a stigmatizing C in any system you put in its place.” I disagree and I expressly address this argument. See pages 537-38.
Given your interest, I strongly recommend that you download and read my article. It addresses all of your concerns, and many more. Thanks again for the feedback.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 15, 9:16 am CST
Thanks for the thoughtful comments Newsflash. It is precisely that type of substantive, constructive feedback that I was hoping would result. . . .
In response to Laurence, good summary. My only disagreement is with the arm’s race argument. I address that on pages 512-513. I don’t think First Tier schools will do what you suggest. But even if I’m wrong, I still think it is worth it to give my approach a try.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 15, 9:19 am CST
I haven’t read the article, but just like in law school when I didn’t do the reading, I still ahve an opinion.
I’m not sure what “should” means regarding eliminating grades. The individual schools, law schools collectviely, students, employers, society and perhaps professors might atatch a different reason to why schools “should” or shouldn’t take a particular course of action regarding grades. Schools and students want to win against each other, employers want the “best”, society probably doesn’t care much…
I’d say the most appropriate course of action is to let grading be arbitrary, harsh and sometimes seemingly random, to prepare students for the vagaries of life. That’s what we “should” do.
By defensive lawyer on 2013 05 15, 9:57 am CST
Are there any other law review articles on grades?
I must say, this is a brilliant topic for a professor to write about…how could law review student editors NOT be intrigued….
well played Professor Silverstein…
By defensive lawyer on 2013 05 15, 9:59 am CST
strikes me that grades are irrelvant in the sense that you could give out anything in any quantity—what matters is your relative percentile performance against the rest of the class. who cares if you ahve a b- average if that puts yyou in the top 10% of your class….
my school at the time 20 years ago set the mean at 78 percent, with he top 25% at 80 and bottom quarter starting at i think 76% it was kinda arbitrary and weird…the numbers looked odd…my endpt GPA was i think an 81.something, which looked bad, but which actually I had to explain put me near the top of the class…there was an information brochure from the school…it was odd…employers understood…
By defensive lawyer on 2013 05 15, 10:04 am CST
defensive lawyer asked about other articles. There are a fair bit. I cite many of them in this article and in my other article, In Defense of Mandatory Curves. If you want to read what I consider to be one of the very best articles written on law school grading, read Jeff Stake’s Making the Grade: Some Principles of Comparative Grading. He discusses a broader range of issues than I do, and he does so very well. You wrote: “well played Professor Silverstein…” Thanks much!
You also wrote: “strikes me that grades are irrelvant in the sense that you could give out anything in any quantity—what matters is your relative percentile performance against the rest of the class.” In theory, yes. The problem is (1) many schools don’t release class rank, and (2) many people falsely believe that grades have objective, absolute meaning.
Thanks for the comments!
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 15, 10:29 am CST
Grade inflation is out of control in universities and grad schools. That a professor is a proponent of it is ridiculous.
How about a not-so-novel approach - let’s grade students according to what they actually earn in the professor’s class? Yes, all professors are different because grading is subjective. I think that’s been dealt with by professors and students for centuries.
Maybe the real answer is to revamp law schools so that students actually know how to practice law when they graduate instead of relying on grade inflation to secure jobs?
By Maryland Esquire on 2013 05 15, 10:47 am CST
Im not persuaded you can teach someone how to be a lawyer.
I think you can help prepare them a bit.
Only practicing itself makes one a lawyer.
By defensive lawyer on 2013 05 15, 11:00 am CST
In response to Maryland Esquire, you are making the same mistake as RecentGrad when you write: “How about a not-so-novel approach - let’s grade students according to what they actually earn in the professor’s class?” For the reasons I explained above, this causes real problems. You do acknowledge the subjectivity concern, but then write: “I think that’s been dealt with by professors and students for centuries.” This is false. It generally hasn’t been. Instead, it has been ignored. Law schools finally got serious about the problem in the last third of the 20th century. But the rest of the academy is way behind on this. Fortunately, other colleges are starting to look into mandatory curves and other forms of grade normalization. For more on this topic, see my prior grading article, In Defense of Mandatory Curves.
You continued: “Maybe the real answer is to revamp law schools so that students actually know how to practice law when they graduate instead of relying on grade inflation to secure jobs?” This gets beyond the scope of grade inflation. So all I will say is that I think law schools do an excellent job preparing students to practice, though we could do better. If you would like to see my general thoughts on legal education reform, see the comments I posted at the ABA Task Force website here: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/taskforceonthefuturelegaleducation/comments2/april2013comments.html
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 15, 11:00 am CST
Professor, have you ever thought of combining your thoughts on the grade problems with the discipline of Gender Studies? I’ve always thought that the legal industry is chock full of numerical measurements—grades, law school rankings, LSAT scores—that seem remarkably similar to men measuring penis size. Myself, I think it goes beyond that. We have an inherent need to be able to feel superior to others in a way that can be objectively measured and (in my opinion, at least), penis size is only a symptom of that deeper need, not the root of it. And yet there’s something patriarchal about the continual need to define and measure the worth of others based on somewhat arbitrary rankings. There’s also something patriarchal about its self-reinforcing nature. And I think I see it more in the legal profession than in any other field in which I’ve worked.
I was privileged to go to a top-20 school that did not rank students against each other. As a result, the school has a well-deserved reputation for collegiality. No hidden books, many shared outlines, very helpful peers. Granted, there are certainly other potential causes for that collegiality and it isn’t possible to measure the exact effect of a refusal to rank students. But for whatever anecdotal, subjective experience is worth, I often thought how much harder it would be on me mentally and socially if I knew that I was going to be ranked against other students by what are, in the end, the subjective whims of the grading eye.
By Anonymous on 2013 05 15, 11:02 am CST
In response to Anonymous at 12:02 PM:
Re. grading and gender studies, I did mention something about this in a FN in my prior article, In Defense of Mandatory Curves. See page 297, FN 172. But I have not considered doing a broader study of the subject. There is likely something to write about there, but that will have to be for someone other than me.
Class rank can increase the competitive nature of law school, to be sure. But on the whole, I think tracking rank does more good than harm. With that said, I would support not releasing class rank if that was what the students at my school wanted. However, that makes inflating all the more important.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 15, 11:36 am CST
Something that is rarely mentioned is the international aspects this raises.
As someone who has been awarded professional degrees both in the U.S. and abroad, I have witnessed first hand how American grades (not degrees) are considered worthless indicators of achievement. It kind of equates to every child who plays a sport getting a trophy.
Unfortunately, we are very parochial in this regard and assume there is only one way to do things.
By Marc on 2013 05 15, 11:51 am CST
I don’t know anyone that got a C at my school. Everyone got an A or a B. Bad grades hurt the schools rankings and are bad PR when they are in the market for jobs. Law school should just go to pass or fail.
By tim17 on 2013 05 15, 12:16 pm CST
Leave it to a law school to make something WAAAAYYYY more complicated than it needs to be. SIMPLY GRADE PEOPLE ON THEIR PERFORMANCE. Yeah, I know, it’s an Earth-shattering idea. FAIL the people who deserve it. AWARD the people who deserve it. Heaven forbid we start teaching accountability and honesty in evaluation to law students. Seriously, I am literally shaking my head as I sit here. Yes, let’s just eliminate C’s. Heck, let’s eliminate grades altogether under the ridiculous idea that a person smart enough to be a law school professor and smart enough to design a test is somehow not smart enough to grade their own test fairly as well. Gee, I wonder why our field is bloated with so much incompetence and entitlement? I weep for America’s future.
By Jeffrey Alan Kerstetter on 2013 05 15, 12:42 pm CST
How about eliminating the curve? If your exam has a highscore of 85% and 75% of the class have 75-85% scores, award 75% of the class A’s like they deserve.
By Fed JD on 2013 05 15, 12:43 pm CST
In response to Jeffrey Alan Kerstetter, you wrote: “SIMPLY GRADE PEOPLE ON THEIR PERFORMANCE.” As I have explained to multiple people above, there is no such thing. Different professors have different standards. To think that there is “simply . . . their performance” is to falsely believe that grades have objective, absolute meaning. They clearly do not. You continued: “Heaven forbid we start teaching accountability and honesty in evaluation to law students.” Of course, this is exactly what my proposal is about. Under my approach, grades will more accurately convey to students what professors want the grades to convey. You continued: “let’s eliminate grades altogether under the ridiculous idea that a person smart enough to be a law school professor and smart enough to design a test is somehow not smart enough to grade their own test fairly as well.” The problem isn’t that profs can’t grade their tests well; it’s that profs and schools have different standards. You ended with: “I weep for America’s future.” Your excessive emotional sensitivity is exhibit A in support of my argument. Thanks much. . . .
Fed JD wrote: “How about eliminating the curve?” As I explained in my article, In Defense of Mandatory Curves, that would be a bad idea. Different profs have different standards. Without grade normalization, substantial unfairness results.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 15, 1:10 pm CST
Because the alternative argument is that if the class did 75% - 85% quality work they should only get a 75% - 85% score. (i.e. Cs and Bs)
By OKBankLaw on 2013 05 15, 1:12 pm CST
Interesting article. I also enjoyed your insightful defenses of it in the comments.
I would say from my experience at a tier 3 law school that GPA does matter to employers (at least those willing to hire 3T grads). I have been asked for my GPA, but never my class rank (which was somewhere around 50? Maybe?). I have heard that top schools generally follow a “B” curve, and that lower schools turnout more ‘cutthroat’ grads at the top of the class because of the lower curve. Look forward to reading the whole thing.
By Rebecca on 2013 05 15, 2:32 pm CST
To Rebecca (comment 29), thanks much. I appreciate it.
Your interviewing experience is surprising. All the questions were about absolute GPA and not rank? Quite interesting. Thanks for sharing. A helpful anecdote.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 15, 3:47 pm CST
The write up here doesn’t justify or explain the real problem.
Law schools can evaluate academic achievement harshly, in a way that will harm employment prospects for at least half of their graduates. Or they can charge $45,000 a year (six figure total) in tuition for entry to an already overcrowded, competitive profession.
But they can’t legitimately do both at the same time. Blatantly overcharging the people you’re also screening out is not exactly a noble or defensible position when the government is on the hook for all the aspiring entrants’ student loans.
By Liz on 2013 05 15, 8:26 pm CST
Ah, a postulate from my old friend Liz (and I was starting to worry).
In actuality, I think the schools can do whatever they want until they run out of mooncalves who will pay their asking price.
By B. McLeod on 2013 05 16, 12:09 am CST
As a law student, I couldn’t agree with Newsflash more: law schools should provide more practical, clinical training, taught by experienced, practicing attorneys. Most of my professors are career academics who have done a small stint of real practice followed by a long tenure in academia. The most valuable courses I’ve taken have been taught by adjunct professors who are still in active practice; but unfortunately, I can count the number of those professors on one hand. I’m not sure the current model of most law schools adequately prepares one to practice law effectively after graduation. It seems they leave the real practical education to the first few years on the job, which isn’t great for the new lawyer, their employer, or the client.
Professor Silverstein: Thanks for shining light on the issue of curved grading. You make a good argument, and while I don’t necessarily agree with all of your points, the issue of appropriate grading is one that should be discussed more. I don’t believe the curve works as intended in all cases. When I score a raw 94%, I don’t think a “B” is a fair representation of my performance; but alas, the curve only allows a certain number of A’s. I understand the need for normalization, but in some instances, it seems artificial.
If law school administrators were more interested in ensuring a quality education for their students, rather than in raking in huge tuition payments to fund their fat salaries, conference travel, and research/writing initiatives, perhaps the curve would become less relevant. Hiring professors for their knowledge of the law AND their ability to teach, rather than hiring based only on impressive credentials with no regard to the quality of instruction they provide would undoubtedly improve the quality of law students and future lawyers.
By LawStudent on 2013 05 16, 12:40 am CST
@33 (“LawStudent”). Thanks for joining in. A couple of thoughts.
First, as I’ve said, I want to focus on the issue of grading here. To the extent you are interested in the broader issues of legal education reform, I’ve posted thoughts on that at the ABA Task Force website, here: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/taskforceonthefuturelegaleducation/comments2/april2013comments.html
Second, re. curved grading, I’m a big proponent, if the curve is designed well. For how to do that, see my article, In Defense of Mandatory Curves. Re. your 94% hypo, the problem in a class like that is generally not with the curve; it is generally that the professor made the test or other assignments too easy. But your point is well taken. I defended mandatory curves as the lesser evil in the article. They don’t work perfectly. And they cause unfairness at times. But unregulated grading is much worse. Or so I contend.
Re. your last paragraph, curved grading is necessary no matter what other policies we put in place. At every level—high school, college, and graduate school—it doesn’t matter how much training the teachers have; grades vary from instructor to instructor because we all have different standards, something that will never change. Thus, we need grade normalization.
Thanks again for your comments.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 16, 9:56 am CST
Puskin @8 has got it in a nutshell. The problem is not whether the C is used (or not), the problem is that GPA is not a valid measure of academic achievement across law schools. Eliminating the C will not solve that problem.
By NoleLaw on 2013 05 16, 10:20 am CST
NoleLaw @35, please read the article. In a nutshell, getting rid of Cs will make reliance upon GPA substantially less problematic as a measure by significantly equalizing GPAs across schools. Thanks for joining in.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 16, 10:40 am CST
With all due respect, the link indicates the article is 80-some-odd pages. What would stop employers from placing more emphasis on a .01 difference in GPA if they knew the distribution was compressed? The .01 difference in compressed distribution would have more meaning. And students would remain in the same normal distribution at their schools. More emphasis should be placed at making grading comparable across schools. That said, this article is obviously generating discussion on the topic, which is clearly a good thing.
By NoleLaw on 2013 05 16, 10:48 am CST
Yes, the article is long. But there is a table of contents that will point you to the sections that are relevant. In particular, see Part III.A. for my employment argument and my responses to five objections.
You wrote: “What would stop employers from placing more emphasis on a .01 difference in GPA if they knew the distribution was compressed?” I address this specifically in Part IV.B. about grade compression. An important point. But there are compelling responses.
You wrote: “More emphasis should be placed at making grading comparable across schools.” If your claim is that we should go further, I quite agree. And I implied as much in Part II of the article. But I wanted to hold off on a more aggressive proposal, for a variety of reasons—including that I didn’t want to conflate the issues of grade normalization and grade inflation too much. If I write a third article on grading, I will push things further.
I’m surprised at how much discussion is being generated. I never thought it would go this far. Things have gone wild on MSN.
Thanks again for the feedback.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 16, 11:01 am CST
now that i think about it, grades do matter. I canstill feel how intensely concerned I was right before I received them. My GPA helped me get a start.
Yet the bar exam is pass/fail. seems like that one should be graded too….
By defensive lawyer on 2013 05 16, 2:08 pm CST
Defensive Lawyer @39. Thanks. Re. the bar exam, I actually think we should get rid of it entirely. For more on why, see my comments at the ABA Task Force website, linked in post 34.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 16, 2:22 pm CST
from my perspective, simply requiring a bar exam is a quasi-admission from the legal establishment that pretty much everything we did in law school was a bunch of bullshit.
By defensive lawyer on 2013 05 16, 2:27 pm CST
defensive lawyer @41: I don’t think that is true. One can plausibly believe that the bar exam is necessary as an incentive to make sure law schools perform adequate training. I think this argument clearly fails on the merits. But it is a plausible argument.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 16, 4:03 pm CST
Sorry, no, that’s not a plausible argument. If it were, the entire industry of semi-mandatory bar prep exams would not exist…to prepare me for the many subjects I never studied in law school.
By defensive lawyer on 2013 05 16, 6:03 pm CST
That doesn’t follow. The bar exam is a horribly flawed test in part because it is closed book. But being closed book it doesn’t matter how good a job we do of teaching you the law or what classes you take in law school. You need intensive review to memorize everything in the immediate period before the exam. Thus, the bar prep courses exist. The bar prep courses are much less about teaching you new topics and much more about helping you memorize as much as possible. Even when my students take every bar class at the law school, I tell them they are crazy if they don’t take a bar prep course. The bar prep courses simply help you memorize the ridiculous number of rules you need to know to take the test, and they teach you the basics of the courses you didn’t take.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 16, 6:14 pm CST
I have always been curious about why the lower tier schools employ absolutely brutal curves. As if it isn’t bad enough going to a third/fourth tier school, many of them have to leave their sub-3.0 GPA off their resume. Was there a larger policy put out by the ABA where higher ranked schools were required to use a higher gpa curve? Makes no sense.
By Good Luck Grads on 2013 05 16, 8:09 pm CST
I heard some highly ranked schools *coughBoaltHallcough* use a ‘marks’ ‘high marks’ grading system so as to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings with a bell curve and the crippling, life-long humiliation of a “C” on some poor fifth-generation lawyer’s transcripts. The humanity.
Give people their Cs. If you’re at Yale law, you’re already supposed to be one of the best and brightest. Man up and find out who the best of the best is.
By You call this coffee!? on 2013 05 17, 1:46 am CST
Last I heard, Harvard Law and UC Berkeley Law have a pass fail system because they are so prestigious that the “Pass” grade speaks for itself. On the other hand, 3rd tier law schools impose a mandatory curve in order to prove to employers that their top students who couldn’t get into a 1st tier school are worth hiring because they are the top students. I personally think that all law schools should phase into the Pass/Fail system.
By Solo on 2013 05 17, 2:41 am CST
Interesting remarks as a lawyer who studied and qualified outside the US (in the UK to precise) there has been never ending debates about so called proliferation of grades in Universities including law faculties. I have always wondered why as suggested by @ Solo all Law Schools don’t adopt the Havard Law & UC Berkeley the pass/fail system. After all this is the system by most medical schools in the US and UK and that in my view hasn’t been an issue neither do we question the competence of Medical Doctors or ask what you their position in their graduating set.
By Delinjer69 on 2013 05 17, 3:33 am CST
I suppose my law school would be considered “second tier” since it fell just below the “top 50” (which in itself is a reflection of the “grading” or assessment debate. One might argue that applicants approach school selection with a similar mindset to that of law firm recruiters - but I note that merely as an aside.)
My school used a combined grading system. Those courses with an enrollment of 24 or fewer students did not have any grading guidelines - at the end of a semester all 24 students might have earned an “A” or an “F” or anything in between - based solely on the professors assessment of whether each student had mastered the material that had been taught. Those classes made up of 25 or more students required the professor to assign grades using the “bell curve” system, using a “C” as the middleground. Now this did not automatically mean that the bulk of the class ended the semester having earned only a “C” it often meant that for every “A” there was likely to be an “F”. (I know that those who are smarter than I will be able to show ways by which that can be avoided, but in light of the pressure placed on the professors to release grades, more sophisticated calculations were rarely the order of the day.)
The sad result of this mix and match system was that students often enrolled in courses with grading systems matching their strengths, and not those courses with subject matters relevant to their interests or desired areas of practice. It also meant that students for whom the bell curve was detrimental to their GPA often missed out on such fundamental (but not 1L courses) as Evidence, Crim Pro, Con Law II, and other fundamentals (at the very least) when faced with that daunting couple of months better known as “bar exam prep time”.
An even sadder phenomenon was that my highly ranked 2nd tier law school rarely had time to meet with students who were not ranked in the top 1/3 of the class, and I have vivid recollections of those classmates ranked in the bottom 1/3, trying unsuccessfully to make even a single appointment with career services during our 3 year tenure. These were not the students that would be courted by law firms, and therefore not those that would help either the image or statistics that the school wanted to show the world. (A graduate working at The Gap was still “employed” for statistical purposes.). I sometimes wonder how many of those classmates took their $150,000 educations and went on to practice law, and for me, it begs the question - what possible upside is there to this methodology? A fact further magnified when one considers the fact that very often students are fighting for 2L summer internships, and are doing so when they are, at best 1/2 way through their 2L year. In retrospect, the absurdity seems palpably obvious, but I suppose that is easy for me to say, sitting in my office, and knowing that my diploma, licenses, and all else “suitable for framing” is hanging on wall to my left.
A question perhaps to ponder, countless universities successfully grade and matriculate undergraduate students as well as graduate students in a breadth of graduate programs, without the “necessary,” rigid, and stressful grading systems that we impose on law school students year, after year, after year.
In the spirit of “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarden” - it didn’t seem to matter how many people went home with gold stars on their projects and worksheets - a gold star was still a gold star.
Then again, that is just my opinion and no doubt many will disagree. Apologies for its long winded nature, but as the joke goes: Lawywers are the only group of people who can write a 10,000 word document, and call it a brief.
(That and it’s 5:00 am, and I really couldn’t keep working unless I had a break of some sort…)
One final thought (humor me) - to each and every one of my fellow colleagues out there, and to all of you law students who might be reading, skimming, lining your bird cages with this - I just wanted to offer my kudos - for all the crap we give each other and get from the outside world, you all still get up every morning and keep the scales of justice balanced. (And in case you are wondering, I’m in-house corporate, not public service.). I still think my fellow attornys rock.
By Just 1 Lawyer's Opinion on 2013 05 17, 4:13 am CST
A quick follow-up note: my apologies - middle of the night; sleep-deprived grammar and syntax truly suck (a lesson on the need to proofread - but I have to go walk the dog)
By Just 1 Lawyer's Opinion on 2013 05 17, 4:18 am CST
I haven’t read the last ten comments or so. Please forgive me if I am repeating what others have already said.
My law school competed with two other schools in our State. Our school curved first year grades at a C+. The other two schools curved their grades at a B-. It wasn’t until the second year of school that our grades were curved the same as the other two schools. Whenever students from my school competed against students from the other two schools for a job, the grades from my school looked worse. We were never on an even playing field with the other two schools.
I don’t know if getting rid of the C is the answer….but I can tell you this, it would make a whole lot more sense for all law schools to adopt the exact same curve. That way it would be a tad bit easier to compare students from different schools. The current system can be quite unfair.
By Island Attorney on 2013 05 17, 4:39 am CST
Premise 1: Law school grades exist because employers demand them
Premise 2: Employers have no idea what those grades mean and don’t bother to find out
Conclusion: Employers are much dumber than their own GPAs might indicate
By David R. on 2013 05 17, 4:46 am CST
Law schools in my state hand out lots of C grades for another reason: to avoid brain drain. That is, keep the graduating students’ grades low enough, and it will make it sufficiently difficult for them to move to X state to find work. Graduating from my T2/T3 (its ranking fluctuates) state law school is almost universally recognized as being prestigious by local firms, so grades aren’t so important (There are other, less prestigious, law schools in my state). But trying to get a job in DC or elsewhere with my school’s degree and a C+ average is extremely difficult. It was disheartening to learn that T1 schools rarely give Cs, thereby giving their grads even more advantages over graduates from my school. The system is rusty and broken. This one of many reasons I look at lawyers from Ivy League schools with suspicion; I check their citations twice, view their arguments with extra skepticism, require them to earn my trust, etc. An “A” average from Harvard does not a quality lawyer make.
By Magnus on 2013 05 17, 4:57 am CST
Having gone to both graduate school and a state law school, I always assumed C grades were the graduate equivalent of F anyway. Anything less than a 3.0 would be considered subpar. B’s are give for satisfactory if not particularly impressive work.
The idea that any school would give mostly C’s is very surprising. To the extent that is true, then the policy should be changed,
By Joe Young on 2013 05 17, 4:57 am CST
Unfortunately, admissions departments at most law schools admit students who are clearly not law school material. If a student deserves a lower grade (C or below), that’s what they should receive. If a student who receives low grades the first year becomes discouraged and drops out, it will save a lot of grief later when they graduate, can’t find a job and have a mountain of debt they cannot repay.
By Bill in Ohio on 2013 05 17, 5:02 am CST
Maybe the answer is to toss the curve and get younger lawyers to do the hiring & I totally 2nd the not-as-smart-as-their-GPA point…
I had a very “seasoned” attorney ask me what the Rule Against Perpetuities was (not how to calculate or the state specific nuances - what the rule was)—- but it gets better….20 minutes later, he pops back in & tells me he’s dealing with a different problem and did I, by any chance, know who Mrs. Palsgraff was—her name was on a post it on his desk w/o a callback # or notes, and it didn’t ring any bells. Ok - I get Maybe not remembering the gory details of you’ve been out for, say 25 years - but the name didn’t ring a bell?
Maybe it’s just me, so raise your hand if the name Palsgraff doesn’t ring Any bells, and if the RAP didn’t take more than one lecture to get through….
Went to the bathroom, laughed till I cried, and then realized that his law school tuition probably cost the same as what I spent at the bookstore during my 1st semester….soooo wrong
By Just 1 Lawyer's Opinon on 2013 05 17, 5:16 am CST
Everyone should get a trophy too.
By Steve on 2013 05 17, 5:28 am CST
I’m with you in theory, but run this hypo (sorry, I know, hypo…flashbacks, then the nightmares come back, and before you know it, life is all about Mr. A, Mrs. B, and their widgets)
But seriously - let’s say that a year long Civ Pro class is graded solely based on final exam scores, and the final exam is a 200 question multiple choice test. The raw scores range from students who nailed it and got all 200 right, to the students who only answered 188 questions correctly. The class has 100 students in it. So the entire 100 students fall within a 12 question (or 6%) range. The bottom of the curve is comprised of students who only answered 94% of the questions correctly. I would argue (& I respect if you don’t agree) that those 94%‘ers are still law school material.
Take it a step further though. Same course, same professor, same exam, different section - also 100 students graded on their own bell curve, only here the range of correct answers is 140-164. Here the “A’s” would hit far below the bottom of the 1st class’s bell, but does the A make them better suited than someone who answered 24 more questions correctly, but got placed randomly in a different section?
I don’t know, it may, but to me it seems messed up.
By Just 1 Lawyer's Opinion on 2013 05 17, 5:35 am CST
I have now been practicing for 32 years, and had another career before law school, so I am left with this thought (please excuse the French): Who gives a shit?
By DeadHead on 2013 05 17, 5:39 am CST
I am in the midst of many days of long hours grading law students’ finals—which explains why I am reading the comments to this article, looking for a good excuse to put off getting to it for the day! I teach at a top tier law school and I strongly endorse the proposal to reserve “C” grades for unsatisfactory performance. My school went to that system by raising the mean in our mandatory curve from a B to a B+ several years ago and it makes all the sense in the world. The vast majority of the exams I am now reading (in my large 1st year class) demonstrate a very strong mastery of the material we covered. Only a handful feel at all disappointing. Differentiating with A, A-, B+, B, and B- feels just right, whereas under the old curve I would have struggled to give enough grades below B to satisfy the curve. I haven’t read Silverstein’s full paper, but the only question in my mind is whether the variation in students at 3rd and 4th tier schools is greater, such that professors there would experience the opposite pressure under a higher curve, to give A’s and A-‘s to students who have written disappointing exams and in that sense haven’t “earned” the A’s (which also might result in less preparation for future exams, if less is at stake and the professor’s hands are tied where the students do not work hard enough). Back to grading!
By law professor on 2013 05 17, 5:40 am CST
Perhaps a more appropriate change is for the ABA or State bars or courts o require ALL law schools to grade on a bell curve. The function of a law school is not simply to graduate everyone they admit, and creat the appearance that they are all equally brillant. They are not. Grading on a curve helps identify differences in intellect, skills and probably eliminate some who do not.achieve the minimum GPA to get the degree.
By Joe Moore on 2013 05 17, 5:41 am CST
I completely disagree. Rather, the top-tier schools should be giving out the full spectrum of grades. Not the other way around. Life is stressful, academics should stop trying to make college and graduate school so divorces from reality. Rather than bending to the fragility of every ego, school should produce stress, just like the real world, and use that to teach students how to deal with stress in a healthy way. Look at the substance abuse rates among lawyers. Perhaps exposing them to real stress in law school, and providing support services would more readily prepare them for the rigors of actual practice.
By James Davies on 2013 05 17, 5:47 am CST
As a law school grad and a former professor (not law), the fact that any professor is advocating what equates to grade inflation disturbs me.
First, I understand that some schools “grade higher” than others, but let’s be real—employers know this. If they are choosing a Tier 1 student with a 3.8 “inflated” GPA over a Tier 3 student with a 3.0 “standard” GPA, chances are they would still choose the Tier 1 student even if their GPAs were both a 3.5. That employer is focused on numbers and prestige, no matter how you paint it.
As for the idea that giving a C to a law student is psychologically harmful, all I can say is, “grow up.” If a student had earned a C in the class and can’t handle that fact, how are they going to handle it when a supervising attorney tips their brief apart or a jury rules against their client? Our’s is not an A/B profession, our’s is an A-F profession. It is better to first learn that in law school in the hands of professors who presumably care about your growth than at work where firms have hundreds waiting in the wings to take your job if you can’t handle the psychological effect of “failure.”
Regarding the argument that different professors grade differently and, therefore, allowing them to “just grade” would be unfair, again, all I can say is, “grow up.” I was known as a “tough but fair” grader. My best friend was known as a “hard ass.” And, another friend was known as a “pushover.” The pushover was popular with students who didn’t want to learn, my best friend and I were popular with everyone else. “A” students want to earn their “A” in a class where it isn’t just handed to everyone; “B” students are proud to earn their “B” when they know they worked for it; “C” students are satisfied with their “C” when they realize that they didn’t work as hard as they could have; “D” and “F” students know they earned the grade they got. The exceptions to this are students who have been told their whole lives that just by going to field day they deserve a ribbon.
In the end, every student will have hard ass profs, tough but fair profs, and pushover profs and the range of grades among those three equalizes—the “A” students will be at the top and so on. If students have a realistic view of their own capabilities and of the work they have put in, they will understand why they earned the grades they received and that will go a long way on our profession. It will go a hell of a lot further than just giving them all As because that’s what another, “better” school does.
By Caf-Pow on 2013 05 17, 5:53 am CST
Josh, I decided before commenting I am going to actually READ your papers and then weigh in. (Do I get an A for preparation?).
By Dan Bowling on 2013 05 17, 5:54 am CST
I would say that the people who give a shit are those who will never the kind of law in the arena they had hoped - if at all; those who graduate and end up never finding jobs in law at all, and who never make enough money to pay back their loans…and I will admit to my own disappointment that even though I am happy with what I am doing, it is not what I had hoped or planned for, and that there are still things that though I intend to fight to try and achieve, I will face a much steeper uphill challenge. So, I give a shit, but the people whose dream of law was the worst mistake they ever made - not because they couldn’t cut it, but for totally arbitrary reasons - like being in the wrong bell curve, most certainly give a shit.
Joe - interesting point, but why not go the other direction and have all the schools eliminate the bell curve? Same outcome and there might even be the added benefit of students enhancing each other’s learning rather than attempting to sabotage each other’s rank?
By Just 1 Lawyer's Opinion on 2013 05 17, 6:03 am CST
Full disclosure: I am a former student of Professor SIlverstein’s. Good times were had in his Secured Transactions and Jurisprudence classes, even if I did get on his nerves.
Regardless of whether you think that Professor Silverstein’s solutions are the best idea, he is drawing attention to a disparity in law school grading not just within each school but across all existing law schools. Hand-waiving it with reductionist arguments about coddling students and get-off-my-lawn and back-in-my-day stories about how we used to all get C’s and we liked it is unhelpful in addressing the circumstances at hand.
Because of the way that employers rely on GPA law schools and law school grading lives in a prisoner’s dilemma type environment. C’s are perfectly fine grades to use, so long as everyone agrees to use them and use them consistently. But the minute a smart law school decides to stop using C’s their students all get a boost at the expense of every student attending a school that still hands out C’s. GPAs go up for the students attending the university that stops awarding C’s, job placements improve for that school and now they’re on the way to increasing important metrics that improve their ranking.
Is it truly any surprise at all that most of the tier 1 schools don’t award C’s? It shouldn’t be, they have every economic reason to do so. Meanwhile, those in lower tiers are squabbling among themselves about whether to give out Cs and the significance of the C grade.
Tier 1 schools want you to keep giving out C’s, its just one more tool that they can use to get their students jobs ahead of lower tier schools. And they can get you to do it by tossing out arguments about “not coddling students” and yell “grade inflation is a disaster!”, while they continue being the culprits behind that very trend. The prisoner’s dilemma game is teetering on the edge of collapse because too many people are refusing to cooperate to bring out the optimal outcome for all players. Instead, everyone is trying to choose to maximize their own individual gain, resulting in significant losses for those suckers still playing along.
By BGS on 2013 05 17, 6:05 am CST
what you get for a grade in law school is irrelevant when you start practicing.
first law school exams are highly subjective. they can fill a fact pattern with so many issues and you won’t have time to address them all and your grade is lowered
law school exams are not indicative of what you will do in practice. have any of you met with a client got the facts and given them an anlysis within - BAR Essay time 30 mins per quest - its impossible if you do that its malpractice
you must at a minimum do some research to give your client proper adivce.
in your in a court room advocating for you client where you went to school is the last thing on your mind - the court room is the equallizer. I am sure many attorneys from fourth tier schools beat the crap out of some of you IVY league law schools (harvard, yale) to name if few.
GOOD GRADES REQUIRE HARD WORK and giving higher grades to improve employment chances is malpractice to those future clients that the student will represent.
- MY professor said it best. “Seat of the pants to the seat of the chair works ever time.”
By Jorge M on 2013 05 17, 6:07 am CST
Comment removed by moderator.
By Ryan on 2013 05 17, 6:09 am CST
How the grading system worked at my school…75 students in a class…25 score 97 out of 100, 25 score 96 out of 100, 10 score 95 out of 100, 10 score 94 out of 100 and 5 score 93 out of 100. The 25 with 97 gets an A, the 25 with a 96 score get the B, the 10 with 95 get a C, 10 with 94 get the D and the 5 with 93 get an F. and yet all would have gotten an A on the exam in any other grading system.
By government ethics is an oxymoron on 2013 05 17, 6:12 am CST
Law school have been eternally torn between whether they are trade schools (more practical exercise, NITA-style classes), or whether they are academic institutions. This is a continuation of that struggle.
Personally, I think law schools have an obligation to cull out students who (without the “wake up call” provided by bad grades) are merely going to go deeper in debt, and who may not survive the tough economic climate out here. Keep the grading system. Make it tougher. For those schools who take pride in academics, give non-inflated As through Fs. Those who believe in the trade school philosophy should receive grades from practicing attorneys.
By JimfromBham on 2013 05 17, 6:17 am CST
@government ethics is an oxymoron
If all 75 students were honestly scoring 93 or higher on a test, the test was not well-written.
By Caf-Pow on 2013 05 17, 6:17 am CST
Just thought I would add a comment. Please excuse me if I missed a similar comment above.
Last year, I transferred from a T4 school to a T1 school. I took pride in my grades because I realized that the A’s and high B’s I received meant something (Or, I at least went on the assumption that C meant average, B was above average, and A was excellent/well above average. We are indoctrinated from a young age that the scale works this way). When I transferred to my T1 and found out that the curve was set at around a B, I felt less pride over my grades. Perhaps it wasn’t a big, negative psychological impact, but I was worried that employers would know that my current school practices grade inflation and that they would look at the B as essentially a C or an A as a B. Even I started to wonder whether I was really doing well at my school or how I could measure if the professors are giving away A-‘s like candy.
Eventually, I got over it because I always knew that grades don’t determine the kind of lawyer one will be. Plus, although grades help in the job search process, networking is your better friend these days. Still, I find grade inflation frustrating after 14-16 years of a certain scale and I find psychologically difficult to deal with this new curve.
By T4 to T1 student on 2013 05 17, 6:20 am CST
“Second, marks in the C range injure students psychologically. Students perceive Cs as a sign of failure. Accordingly, when they receive such grades, their stress level is exacerbated in unhealthy ways.”
This is the Johnny will have “low self-esteem” psychology of today’s generation if he is not rewarded. It reflects the overwhelming attitude of many from the spoiled generation of today. Everyone gets a gold star for simply showing up. No one fails; everyone gets a blue ribbon.
I hate to openly disagree professor, but your advocacy of such a meaningless grading system simply promotes sloth and incompetence in the legal profession. The past decade or longer has seen an onslaught of recent graduates simply incapable of practicing law. About twenty years ago, law schools adopted the medical school philosophy that if accepted, you will graduate. Law schools became a ‘cash cow’ for every university, public or private.
Law school should be rigorous! Failing a third of the first year class should be the norm at nearly every law school. The practice of law is demanding. Without rigorous grading, and a tough minded dean to expel the incompetent students at the end of the first semester or certainly by the end of the first year, we continue to perpetuate the miserable mob of poorly trained recent graduates who can squeak pass the bar exam and achieve admittance to the profession.
By Alabama Lawyer on 2013 05 17, 6:25 am CST
I think eliminating Cs for the purpose of artificially grooming students for job opportunities is a dumb idea. If you do C work you should get a C.
By Pogo on 2013 05 17, 6:26 am CST
@73 - Just a point, the proposal was not put forth by “today’s generation” but rather by a law professor. I am from today’s generation, have no problem with C’s being given out in school, and have received a few myself and didn’t cry. Also, I hear some kids playing stickball in front of your house. Go chase them off your lawn.
By NoleLaw on 2013 05 17, 6:28 am CST
Steve - how about a cookie instead of a trophy? Or perhaps a doughnut - if they are good. (If not: “bad law student, no doughnut”)
On another note - I’m not in any way saying that everyone should be given an A, a pat on the head, told they are wonderful, or have papers marked up with green ink instead of red, because red is a “hostile color.” But maybe I just predate that philosophy - I did take a number of years to have a short “1st career” after college and before law school, with my share of hard-ass bosses up the ranks.
What I am saying is that I don’t believe that the grading system (at least in its present form) is conducive to learning, or an accurate reflection of the the actual person’s knowledge of the law - or even bell curve ranking within a class, since there are so many changing factors (I’d have far less of an issue if a school carried raw grades and bell curved an entire class at once as a single group, when necessary - though ultimately I don’t see the need or the benefit - (but am open to it, if someone wants to lay it out for me - in contrast to normal grading.)
As to sending a message to students who can’t cut it and shouldn’t be lawyers, that they would be better served by pursuing a different path rather than remaining and accruing the debt, I would hope that such a student would get that sense on their own, regardless of the grading system; and if not, then I personally think that a really committed professor who genuinely cares about the students would take such a student aside and have that conversation with him/her. I would think though, that such a student would be more receptive if they didn’t feel like they had just been manipulated or (as someone I know phrased it) been turned into the “sacrificial lamb” because someone had to be at the low end of the curve
By Just 1 Lawyer's Opinion on 2013 05 17, 6:29 am CST
Wow…. this is quite an experience. Usually we only get to read about some silly proposition by a law professor or lawyer. Then the vast ABA newsletter community gets lathered up, and comments flow. But Professor Silverstein is actually out on the Interweb engaging with the masses! Bravo. Please professor, you must not quote particular pages from your article: any reader who is on a billable hour system will not be reading your article in its entirety (in fact, writing this comment is a great excuse to get to work a few minutes late). I guess my only substantive comment is that as a C student from a 4th tier law school, I was forced into evaluating what my options were after finishing law school. With somewhat dim prospects, I worked outside of law until I was able to return to school to obtain an engineering degree. Patent law is a unique specialty where my grades were not as important as in other practice areas. I guess my point is that the C grade may plays a role in measuring quality of practice from the point of the consumer: Of course there is a question of whether an A grade law student will be a better lawyer than a C grade law student. However, it’s the consumer of legal services that must investigate and make this decision. A few thoughts…
By James on 2013 05 17, 6:32 am CST
I think that grades in the A to B ranges already reflect a lot of arbitrariness, as it is often the difference between two or three check marks on a professor’s late-night coffee-fuel grading binge. At most top schools, all of the students are academically smart and memorize/outline all of the law, so a few check marks basically determine who gets the top law firm jobs and clerkships. It is not much different than any standardized testing (a handful of LSAT questions also separate the 99 from the 89 percentile)
If law schools eliminate curved grades in favor of a pass/fail type of system won’t the firms just find some other arbitrary way to weed out the undesirables with no parental connections?
By adamb on 2013 05 17, 6:41 am CST
Not only should they ditch the C grade, but they should go to a pass/fail grading system. A bad first semester in certain law schools destroys any hopes of making law review, moot court and various other prestigious assignments that employers look favorably upon. A couple of C’s on your transcript can destroy any hopes of obtaining a good job out of law school.
By Jeff on 2013 05 17, 6:41 am CST
It is interesting to watch what happens when free market economics comes to law school. With Students’ grades affecting a school’s job placement record; You want your students to get a job, give them higher grades.
The free market comes to the defense of the students who make up the bottom 90% of the bell curve!
It is a new world.
By T Rankin Terry Jr on 2013 05 17, 6:41 am CST
Somehow, this discussion reminds me of a recent parent meeting conducted by my wife, the school teacher. When the parents asked, “Why did you give my child such a low grade?”, she replied, “I didn’t give him a low grade, he earned it.”
By JimfromBham on 2013 05 17, 6:42 am CST
The C grade is not the problem, it’s the requirements of these schools to issue a certain amount of C grades. There should be absolutely no requirement placed on any educational institution to issue a certain number of grades. Students should earn what they earn, and that should be the end of it. Forcing teachers to give out 70% of grades in a class at the C level forces professors to arbitrarily assign grades to the detriment of the students.
By Everyman's Law on 2013 05 17, 6:50 am CST
Just a quick clarification: the exam on which every student got at least a 93 was merely a hypo, and was intended to be interpreted to mean any situation in which the exam grades fell into a small % range, as well as one in which a 2nd & otherwise identical group was calculated in the same manner based upon a different lower overall grade range, so that there was a fundamental inaccuracy that would have arisen had the 2 curves been combined.
As to the quality of an exam based on the score range of the student results—I had a plethora of friends who were on the pre-med track during my undergraduate years, and the bio-chem professor was notorious for systematically creating exams so absurd that the final grades generally ranged from 30-45 % of questions being answered correctly. A 45 meant an “A” and was cause to celebrate. The prof was kind of a nut and got a kick out of it
By Just 1 Lawyer's Opinion on 2013 05 17, 6:51 am CST
I have a little experience as an adjunct, and I, like most teachers, approached each segment by asking myself: “what do I want the student to know about this?” As far as I was concerned, any student who demonstrated that knowledge was educated. For that reason I did not grade on a curve, and used a simple x%=A, Y%=B, etc. The school didn’t dictate a curve and I could give all A’s or fail all the students. That seems to me fair: I warrant to the world that a student leaving my class with an A had, at least at quiz and exam time, the ability to answer 90% or more of the questions posed to her/him on the topic. Eliminating C or below grades would destroy such a construct.
By Garrett on 2013 05 17, 6:51 am CST
But this one goes to 11.
By Patrick on 2013 05 17, 6:52 am CST
Why not just have the “best” law schools award only As. That will give their graduates an advantage over all others no matter how poorly they do in law school.
By f grosser on 2013 05 17, 6:54 am CST
Here is a novel concept. Get better grades. Learn how to write a sentence.
And take trial advocacy classes.
Because practice has little if anything to do with the grades you get in law school.
By Two to Beam Up on 2013 05 17, 6:54 am CST
Looking back after 36 years, the only time grades were an issue after ontaining a J.D. was in my first job interviews. After that nobody asked.
By Laurence Allen Schwartz on 2013 05 17, 6:55 am CST
Grading should be by lottery, or by quality and quantity of mindless flattery!
By NYTC on 2013 05 17, 6:55 am CST
Elementary, Middle and High Schools all have rubrics that deal with how a paper, test or whatever is graded. If students understands what is expected of them by the Professor and the Law School, then the student should receive the grade they deserve. If no standards are provided, which was my experience, then it is what it is… The larger question for me is are law schools in the business of training lawyers or are they in the business of employing Professors because honestly there are probably a lot more law schools and for that matter colleges and universities than there are qualified, interested candidates to attend them.
By Jay on 2013 05 17, 6:58 am CST
I totally disagree a student is a student whether in law school or medicine school if you can accept the doctor who will treat you to have C grade that it is unfair to ditch law C grade and not allow them to defend you
By RIHAM mamdouh on 2013 05 17, 6:58 am CST
I cannot agree with the professor. I have practiced for some 30 years and my gpa was 2.5. The profession is learned outside the classroom. Many gpas 4.0 make lousy lawyers. I’ve seen some DAs with low gpas in court and they are awesome. Like so many I was grateful even for a D. 62 od us started the freshman class. Only 28 graduated. The stress is not in the grade. It takes you a full year to learn how to be a student in law school. Perhaps the schools might want to have a mandatory summer session for the freshman class to orient them in how to be a student. Law seems to be a career in decline especially with the high tuition and low paying jobs.
By Augustin Ayala on 2013 05 17, 7:14 am CST
“The problem is that professors have different standards of mastery.” While I understand this point, it ignores the fact that, in the real world, bosses have different standards of mastery too, and if we standardize the grading system, we (perhaps inadvertantly) fail to teach students how to deal with the large variety of standards, personalities, and expectations they are inevitably going to face in the real world. When I started working as a “real” attorney, I joined a relatively small law firm populated by extremely talented lawyers, all of whom possessed vastly different talents, skill sets, and perspectives on the “right way” to practice law. To succeed at that firm, I had to learn each lawyer’s particular expectations (and idiosyncrasies). This process, although extremely difficult, made me a far better and more complete attorney. It also prepared me to deal with the incredibly diverse styles of lawyering (and judging) I was destined to encounter as I developed into a sucessful litigation attorney. The point here is that, in all of discussion on how to protect students and avoid the “psychological” harm associated with getting a grade lower than a B, I think that we are actually hurting these students—in the long run—by giving them unrealistic expectations and not preparing them to deal with real life. The old saying that you have to fall down to learn how to get back up applies directly to this discussion, I think, for today’s homogeneous students, while overdosing on self-esteem and expecting a trophy (or, in this case, at least a B) just for showing up are going to have no idea how to pick themselves up after they invariably fall down while trying to learn this difficult profession. Just my two cents… .
By Real World Perspective on 2013 05 17, 7:15 am CST
When I asked my professors about how they graded essays, each of them produced a bullet point outline with check boxes for issues and facts. The only style given consideration was IRAC. This methodology could easily be adapted to assigning individual grades which would actual reflect a student’s knowledge in relation to the subject instead of her knowledge in relation to her peers.
By Schills on 2013 05 17, 7:22 am CST
Grades in graduate programs, including law, are irrelevant. Pass, fail, and honors (at the professor’s discretion). That’s all that should be awarded, IMHO.
By My 2 Cents on 2013 05 17, 7:26 am CST
Maybe instead of eliminating C grades, the law schools should eliminate C students.
By SD Attorney on 2013 05 17, 7:28 am CST
I attended a tier 1 school graduating 11 years ago. My GPA was 3.5. I was not told my overall rank in the class, only my rank (4th) in the night program. I graduated cum laude. My first year I had a C+ average. I was devastated yes, but it did not spur me to work less. It spurred me to study harder to obtain nearly all A’s the next two years. Those c’s my first year were a much needed wake-up call that law school was not a breeze like undergrad. I learned that (gasp…) I had to actually read all the assigned homework and couldn’t go out and party several nights a week. If I had received B’s instead of C’s that first year I would not likely have kicked it up a notch. I earned those C’s, just like I later earned the A’s. BUT… I also believe my grades were fair. I don’t think it is fair to undergrade a student because you had too many kids in the class who did well and you can only give out 6 B’s. That’s a problem. Another issue is that one professor that everyone knew never ever gave an A. Rarely gave a B. A C in his class was a victory. I doubt no one in his class ever put in an A effort. Likewise the easy B+ class. Those outcomes were probably what schools were trying to avoid in setting up the mandatory curve. The problem I think the author is trying to highlight is that a student’s grade point average is supposed to be an objective evaluation of the effort and talent of the student, but since schools are free to select whatever curve they want, the objective is actually subjective. When the exact same work at school A garners the student an A- but at school B that work earns a C+ there is a problem. How are employers supposed to compare candidates? Especially now when every opening receives hundreds of applications from jobless law grads? Ideologically there should be one standard that applies across all schools, so that GPA actually is objective. But, good luck ever getting that to happen!
By Just sayin' on 2013 05 17, 7:28 am CST
No matter how you cut it, there will always be an average. In the early 1960s at Stanford Law, and probably at most schools, a “C” meant that the student was average in that course. Grades were given nicknames: to get an “A” was to have “aced” the course; “B” was a “bravo”; the student got a “hook” when receiving a “C” (shape of the letter); a “D” was a “dog”; and to receive an “F” meant the student “flagged” the course. In fact, one professor was so known to award “C’s” that his nickname was “Hook”. If A’s become the most common grade, how is the the above-average student to be identified?
By Mark on 2013 05 17, 7:33 am CST
@ 50: Sounds like what the prof is proposing. The article suggests that the proposal is to make a B the minimum to remain in good standing.
By Patrick on 2013 05 17, 7:36 am CST
The problem is not the availability of the C grade. To suggest that is beyond ridiculous. The problem is a forced curve that literally grades students down, at times to a C or even a C-, when their actual grade should have been higher. My law school instituted a curve like this my SECOND year - when a forced curve actually could have helped me my first year, in the large required classes, when the classes I was in “happened” to have far lower averages than other sections even though we were all of equal abilities on average. Instead, this idiotic curve hurt me tremendously in my second and third year, when it was imposed even on small-size electives that we chose ourselves, and in which, theoretically, the choice of class and the high teacher contact should have been able to lead to good grades for all students in these small classses. Instead, in a number of classes, the professors actually had to grade us DOWN, to meet the idiotic low forced curve, because giving any one of us a high grade that we deserved would have meant reducing another student’s grade unfairly. It was absolutely idiotic. On top of this, this horrid policy even cost me from re-qualifying for my scholarship, which I would have gotten back had I been able to earn the grades I deserved, but as the professors (as they admitted) had to grade us down for an idiotically low average in small upper level classes, I was SOL. I am SO bitter about how I was treated by my (third-tier) alma mater.
By Halli620 on 2013 05 17, 7:42 am CST
This is ridiculous and just another step in the abandonment of reality by Americans generally and academia in particular. C was meant to reflect average work and most people will be, by definition, average even if it is as an average member of an exceptional group. C would not be spit upon as failure if it is recognized that what C should represent in a law school is that in the opinion of the instructor you are competent to practice law. B and A should be reserved for very good and exceptional work.
As an older attorney I have met the new generation of A and B students and the great majority of them are nothing to brag about when compared to the older generation that was lucky if it got even 1 A.
What is really needed for law schools is to get the absurdly high cost down..
By Dennis E. Boring on 2013 05 17, 7:47 am CST
Apologies - I am trying to respond to the comments that appear to have been directed my way, but the notifications are appearing in my inbox faster than I can type.
1st - to anyone who takes issue with my informal use of the English language, incomplete sentences, and grammatical mishaps - I am sorry for having offended you, but deal with it. This is an informal conversation that has until now, managed to remain substantive without evolving into a mudslinging waste of time. I was writing to make a point, not display may drafting abilities - if you would like, I can forward a brief that I have written for your approval - I promise you won’t find the problems you took issue with - you won’t even find a sentence ending in a preposition - or a spelling mistake, as I’m sure I have made here during the night.
Again - I do apologize if I have made my comments less fluid or more difficult to read. I hope we can return to the discussion at hand.
As for actual grades I had my share of A’s and my share of C’s - including 1 that was not a mandatory bell curve course. At the end of the day my diploma is just as good as that of the #1 ranked student in my class, the same way the lowest ranked student in a medical school class still walks away “doctor” - the difference is that with very rare exception, that doctor will be matched to a residency program (ie - a job) in contrast to the options for the law school grad (not to mention the med school restrictions on student numbers - but that is so far afield…)
Part of my issue is that a curve can be no less arbitrary than a traditional grading system, and in my opinion is more so, this is further compounded when there are so many changing variables among the individual weighted scores.
Conceptually it might make sense, but in practice, uniform. Implementation I don’t think can work but I don’t have a magic answer either.
(I have to bow out for the moment but know that if anyone responds to my comments - since I seem to be pissing people off - I’m not ignoring, I will respond at some point.
I have never hopped into one of these conversations before and am truly enjoying the intellectual discourse - thank you.
By Just 1 Lawyer's Opinion on 2013 05 17, 7:47 am CST
If the problem is bruised psyches from having the diservice of growing up in an A & B world, law school is far past time to bring a dose of reality to them. A good first day of 1L lecture to the efect that “the dead wood of high school and college are gone…fallen by the wayside…and you are all good students in general, but in this pool consisting only of “good students” the bulk of yuo are average, and your grades here will reflect that.”
Those of delicate sensibilites or whose tether to reality is unattached, and who can’t deal with it, shouldn’t ever be lawyers anyway. Do them, and the profession, a favor and get them out of law and into something they’re better suited for.
By Ken on 2013 05 17, 7:47 am CST
Seriously, though, this IS a joke, right? Late April Fool’s? Millions are out of work, including a high percentage of lawyers, the student debt bubble is about to pop, and there is a law school paying this guy—and a law review willing to publish his “work”—to come up with a brilliant theory to eliminate the “C” grade?? And 80 pages of it??? Dear god, please someone tell me this is all a big prank by The Onion.
Marc @ 23 wrote: “It kind of equates to every child who plays a sport getting a trophy.” Bingo!
By Just Some Bloke on 2013 05 17, 7:51 am CST
I am no law student, nor would i ever be. But the way I see it is if the student doesn’t perform at a A or B level the next would be a C. As far as it hurting the student when getting out of school, well I guess they should of took their schooling a little more serious. Who cares if it hurts the student after they leave the school. It is BS that a professor would argue this. If anyone should argue this it should be a student. I think this professor needs to do a better job if he keeps having to hand out C’s.
By K on 2013 05 17, 7:52 am CST
I had a visiting professor for my Contracts II class. She gave 25% A, 25% B, 25%C, and 25% D. I got a D, which was my only bad grade. It eliminated me from law review consideration and has cost me a couple of jobs post law school. I interviewed for a government contract job with a federal employer who literally laughed at my attempt to get a job doing contract work while having that D on my transcript.
By Lance on 2013 05 17, 7:56 am CST
Its also an interesting issue that the less you “coddle” lower tier students by being a “tough grader” and giving them C’s the more you “coddle” upper tier students who benefit from the grading systems that are already in place that do not give out C’s. Lower tier students are already less competitive for jobs, when you give them lower GPAs it hurts even more.
In effect, everyone arguing to preserve the status quo are actually arguing to continue coddling upper tier students at the expense of lower tier students. You can’t avoid the “coddling” as its being defined here, it’s already happening and has been happening for years.
Those of you complaining about grade inflation, babying law students, and “thinning out the herd” of underachieving lawyers are not really going to get the results you’re asking for because the grading issue already exists. C’s have already been eliminated in many schools, the question now is should everybody do so? There are already thousands of law students being coddled by their upper tier law schools, you’re just advocating to try to keep down the lower tier ones.
Those of you telling anecdotes about “good lawyers” who got C’s in law school are only highlighting the failure of the law school grading system to accurately assess those students. The point of a grade is to say that someone is good (or bad) at something. If droves of students are coming out of law schools with bad grades but they’re all awesome lawyers, then the grading system is failing to capture and express what it is supposed to be expressing. Instead of arguing for perpetuating the system that you endured, perhaps you should consider that its the grading system that is broken, not the students?
By BGS on 2013 05 17, 7:57 am CST
Ridiculous. As a graduate of a fourth tier law school who earned grades of every letter, schools should award the grade earned, nothing more or less. How deceptive to future employers, when some tier one and two schools “gift” As and Bs because it may hurt a student’s future job prospects.
By R Bock on 2013 05 17, 7:58 am CST
I actually don’t understand how eliminating the C helps. You’re just giving a new name to what’s still the lowest grade on the curve, and once law schools announce that they are eliminating the C, firms will simply begin treating the B- the way they formerly treated the C, or the F. They have to have a superficial initial way to differentiate between students, that’s always going to be grades, and it doesn’t matter what you name the grades, the lowest rung is always going to get cut.
By Pilar on 2013 05 17, 8:03 am CST
Without actually raising the curve to 3.3,
By Schills on 2013 05 17, 8:04 am CST
I can feel my law school professor—the late Vincent C. Immel one of the greatest contracts professors of all time, rolling over in his grave. He was a firm beliver in the bell curve—where most students get a “C”. The law school grade I am proudest of is the C+ I got from him in remedies.
If we are going to eliminate the “C” grade then what not make law school pass/fail and the bar exams. Oh wait, we have to maintain the bar exam because law schools are so concerned about placing students in jobs that they may not be qualified for and who may not have a clue about the law that someone has to sift them out. Of course byt he time they get to the bar exam they will be deeply in debt, feeling great about themselves only to abruptly face the reality that they aren’t as good as they thought they were.
I was in law school in the radical ‘70s. We were mosre intellectually honest and less concerned about our precious egos back then. I regularly see the work of recent law grads and it is uniformly declining. There are exceptions—there have always been exceptions. That is what grades are all about.
Everyone who is admitted to law school is, or should be, someone with well-rounded academic achievements who has already demonstrated the ability to succeed. When you start sifting the academically successful of course there will be some ego-bruising—welcome to the practice of law. There are winners and losers!
Again, if we are to eliminate the “C” grade then there are other things that need to be elimated too.
By Sandra Meas on 2013 05 17, 8:05 am CST
About time someone brought this to light. Profs from my law school awarded As and Bs to their favorite students and the rest of weren’t even considered. It hurt all of us, who class after class, received Cs. And, it hurt employers who hired the students who received the As and Bs because they weren’t honestly in the top 75%—they were teachers’ pets - not prepared for the real world.
By G on 2013 05 17, 8:07 am CST
I taught legal writing as an adjunct, and I wished I could have given more Cs. I think the issues are particular to a school’s student body, administrative culture, and academic standards. I agree that Cs should be avoided where students are successful in meeting basic requirements; I fear though that an across-the-board encouragement of avoiding Cs may encourage even lower quality work in atmospheres where even meeting basic requirements is a challenge for the majority.
By Anon Adjunct on 2013 05 17, 8:11 am CST
P.S. Kudos to Patrick @ 85, I thought exactly the same thing, thanks for the LOL!
By Just Some Bloke on 2013 05 17, 8:12 am CST
Employers should pay more attention to the ranking of a prospective employee rather than the absolute GPA. Any employer who gives absolute GPA more weight than class ranking is either foolish or dishonest. I suspect that firms giving more weight to a GPA are doing so because they prefer the candidate and need some rationale for selecting that candidate over other (perhaps more qualified) candidates.
By rick kessler on 2013 05 17, 8:21 am CST
I agree. Law School grades should go from A to B to Fail. It would get rid of a lot of these untalented, moronic students who have delusions of being attorneys much earlier in the law school process. That way, if they get by the LSAT and get admitted to law school, they can be weeded out before they graduate and find themselves unable to get a job. It a much more humane way to go, rather than filling them with false hope and allowing them to rack up $150,000 in student loans they will never be able to pay off.
By LawJake on 2013 05 17, 8:23 am CST
Maybe we should eliminate all standards, because they might psychologically harm people who can’t or won’t meet them. Maybe we should give everyone 180 LSATs and A+ gpas and then just let everyone have exactly the job they want. And let’s remember, let’s not be unfair and draw distinctions on the “real world talents” that people claim to have (a frequent claim of C students). And while we’re at it, why care about bar exams, character, or mental and professional competence.
Legal education might need rethinking in terms of debt, oversupply, and a mismatch between what is taught and what is required. The solution is certainly not to become standardless.
Besides, the professor’s proposal gets a C in practical and logical analysis (and that’s after the D and F were abandoned). He should realize that the B will just become the new C, and higher tier schools will readjust to reinforce the perception that among their student bodies there is stiffer competition.
By Brook Miscoski on 2013 05 17, 8:25 am CST
For some reason I can’t see comments past 100; has the display been capped?
By Patrick on 2013 05 17, 8:29 am CST
My law school had a perverse policy of flunking half of all students. Almost all students were honors students in undergraduate schools. The grades were by number and to be law review one only needed a 78 or more
So those of us in the “bottom half” of the 50 percent that did not flunk out had between 70 and 74.
Of course I was limited to a State or local government job or private practice. After a very financially successful solo practice for 20 years I decided to teach at the local community college and had to submit my transcript. The many 70 some grades were very embarrassing and when compared to the main state law school that gave honest, mostly “B” grades I looked stupid.
These grades follow you forever and limit opportunities for some very good lawyers from a very demanding law school. Perhaps with the changes the school has made they should reevaluate the grades an make 74’s into B on the transcripts?
By Arne on 2013 05 17, 8:29 am CST
This is how I grade Ms. Weiss’s idea: “F.”
By P. Cadhla on 2013 05 17, 8:31 am CST
I cannot believe that this is a story.
1. Harvard, Berkley and other top-tier law schools are comprised of students that had both excellent college transcripts and top LSAT scores. Western New England, William Mitchell and Williamette students typically have neither top LSAT scores nor top grades from top-tier undergraduate schools. It may make sense for those schools to have mostly As and Bs w/ a few Cs. Those students are better prepared for law school.
2. I don’t buy the argument that we need to dump the “C” grade altogether. But I don’t think that the schools should socialize the curve by telling profs 70% of students get a “C” and 20% get a “B” and 10% get an “A”. Every class is different. Professors should agree on the standards needed to show that they can get through each subject. For example, a “C” grade in Civil Procedure means the students know blah. A “B” grade in Civil Procedure means that the students know blah plus whatchamacallit. And so on.
3. Finally, Cs are good for morale in the sense that they compel the student to strive. Anyone who gets a B knows that they may have been a few points away from an A, “but I was not in the C range!” A “B” can bring both a sense of relief and a sense of accomplishment. A student who gets a C? She hits the books hard next semester if she is bright enough to appreciate the significance of the C. If she doesn’t hit the books maybe she doesn’t belong in law school.
By teo on 2013 05 17, 8:33 am CST
If fair comparability is the goal, how about having all students take an LSAT test (focused on real legal questions) when they graduate, or publish applicants’ grades on the multistate portion of the bar exam? CPA exam results are published, and the accounting profession has no focused excessively on exam results, except to award the couple of highest scoring applicants with a “medal” (I’m not sure it’s an actual medal - it may be a figurative reference).
By Oort Cloud on 2013 05 17, 8:34 am CST
This article is absurd. As someone who, for financial reasons, attended Law School at night, and worked full time during the day, sometimes a “C” grade was acceptable. I also received my fair share of “A"s and “B"s. I graduated, passed the difficult NY bar and the not as difficult Florida Bar and have practiced for 25 years and I believe I am considered a valuable and well respected member of my local bar community. Once a professor of Administrative law asked to talk to me after class. She was puzzled by my B and C grades but my class participation reflected the ability to do better. I explained to her that juggling a full time job and married life, while going to law school was taxing and that, while I appreciated her concern, with little time for study, I was somewhat satisfied with my grades. She was disappointed. Years later I became an Administrative Law Judge in NYC and could teach her class without trouble. Grades in college or law school have little to no reflection on the ability to practice the profession.
By Howard on 2013 05 17, 8:36 am CST
Sorry, Mr. Silverstein, but your proposal—and your defense of it—is simply one of the most ludicrous I’ve ever heard in the field of education. Of course teachers assign grades differently. Employers evaluate employees differently. That’s life. Get over it. The only thing seriously wrong are the schools where they require 70 percent of grades to be C or less—or any school that requires grades to meet any scale. Having taught a few college courses myself, I’ve come to see that the most rational grading system is one that assigns grades based on how much knowledge a student demonstrates on tests, quizzes, and papers. A certain level of demonstrated knowledge is worth an A, a less level worth a B, etc. And for those that are unable to demonstrate enough knowledge to be worthy of passing a course, an F is appropriate.
With a son who is a college professor, I realize that academics live in a fantasy world and will spend their time on ridiculous exercises like this. I still think that every professor should be required to work in the real world every seven years or so to better understand how the rest of us live and must make a living.
By Daniel Lauber on 2013 05 17, 8:43 am CST
Just eliminate all law school grades and use bar exam scores to evaluate job candidates. Then you don’t have to worry how schools rank or grade relative to each other or what a “b” or “c” in worth.
By sgerardin on 2013 05 17, 8:44 am CST
The comments are so long that I only read half of then so I’m sorry if this has already been mentioned but the reason forth tier schools have to have these low curves is because they admit many students who have a significantly reduced chance of passing the bar and take their tuition money for a year or two and then flunk them out so they don’t hurt the schools’ bar passage rates…. pretty despicable. If they were on a B+ curve it would be a lot harder to tell the bottom this they have flunked out. Thus grading issues are related to the problems in legal education today. Law school should be more like medical school where the barrier to entry is getting into school rather than being flunked out or failing the bar or not getting a job….categories which currently encompass 50% or more of law students. It is unethical to take students’ (really the gov’s) money knowing that there is a very good chance they will never practice law.
I understand the argument that the curve might be better than just letting professors grade how they please because of subjectivity, but don’t you think the impact of subjectivity is lessened since students have many professors and get many grades? I suppose that point is not as strong since the first year is so crucial and it is only like 6-8 grades. .. but schools could switch to the quarter system and it would be more like 12 grades. I do have somewhat of a problem with curves at top schools. I go to a so-called CCN school, and while A papers may be distinctly better than B papers, the B papers are often pretty damn good. I had two classes during my first year where I was right on the cusp between grades (one B+/A- and one A-/A) and got the lower grade and both times the prof told me how he wished he could give more As. The B+ prof told me he would have given me a flat A if there was no curve, but other people were marginally better. The spreads on 1L exams are often narrow. It can be very arbitrary.
By CES on 2013 05 17, 8:47 am CST
I went to a 1st tier law school. People got C’s. There was a mandatory curve, I can’t remember the exact percentages, but something like 40% of people had to get a B, which meant that a few people got C’s in each class, and several people got A’s as well. In fact, after excelling in high school and college, I got my very first C in law school. It really brought me down to earth. The argument about damaging student psychologically is complete BS. Maybe after being a top student your entire life its a GOOD thing to realize that you aren’t the smartest person alive!! Law school made me a better person because I had to work my butt off for good grades. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to get all A’s and B’s without trying. It seems like you are missing a valuable lesson if you don’t have to try to get a good grade. I’m not necessarily saying that the people who got A’s were smarter or will make better lawyers than those who got C’s. I’m just saying its part of getting a degree and those who work the hardest should be rewarded with the highest grades—and if you don’t have to work hard, how are you going to learn?
By Lawgrad11 on 2013 05 17, 8:51 am CST
The question is meaningless until all professors grade equally. Are all tests equally difficult? Or do some test mostly the hardest concepts from the class while others focus on the easier concepts? Without consistancy across professors, a C from one can be harder to achieve than a B in an other class. If all you do is eliminate Cs, it will just be easier to get a B. Grade inflation already occurs at the top tier undergraduate schools.
By Jeff on 2013 05 17, 8:58 am CST
I chaired our hiring committee for many years, and we consistently valued class rank and journal writing over g.p.a.. Poor performance in any specific class did not disrupt an otherwise top performer’s credentials. Grade inflation is obvious to employers. What good are straight A’s if the applicant compared poorly with her or his peers at the same school?
By Robert I. Stolzman on 2013 05 17, 9:01 am CST
Why don’t we just eliminate grades altogether and let the bar exam sort it out?
Wait- what? Then we would be arguing about: how unfair the bar exam is; how one state’s exam is easier than another’s; how a low bar exam grade may affect a person’s self esteem; how bar exams are discriminatory; how bar exam grades unfairly affect employability; how bar exam grades unfairly affect a law school’s ability to attract students—- on second thought what we need is a law—yeah that’s it a law banning grades and bar exams. Then students could just skip all the hard stuff and pay for a law degree and a license—Wait-what? that would be unfair too? Maybe this is where the sidewalk ends! Wait-what? Wrong Silverstein?
By POPATLAW on 2013 05 17, 9:03 am CST
Five years after eliminating the C, we’ll be complaining about the damaging effects of B minuses.
By Mike on 2013 05 17, 9:13 am CST
Eliminate grades entirely. Since law schools teach so little real law of practical value, why not just collect the money from the students, place them in a law practice clinic where real cases are tried under direction of skilled litigators, and then pass/fail based on actual performance in real situations. Writing the actual motions and discovery will prepare students better than do the current theoretical mush students get from profs who have never been inside a room.
By David on 2013 05 17, 9:21 am CST
30 years ago I was a student at a top 10 school that deliberately raised its grading curve midpoint from C to B+, precisely so that the students would have higher grade point averages and be more competitive for jobs against other schools. As expected, a greater percentage of students were hired by federal judges and top national law firms. The hiring practices at that level are very simple. The screening clerk (or partner or judge, depending on circumstances) reviews the incoming resumes and weeds out those from lower-tier schools and those with lower than desired grade point averages. Then interviews are scheduled, and decisions made based on the interviews. The grade point average and the name of the law school both serve as signals of a candidate’s quality. If the screener sees resumes from X school and Y school, both considered at the same tier, and only one of the students can be scheduled for interview, and X student’s resume shows a grade point average of 3.2 compared to Y student’s resume of 3.9, the screener will consistently weed out the 3.2 and schedule the 3.9 for interview. When I was participating in the big firm hiring process a long time ago, I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning grade inflation as a factor to reject any candidate, but many were talking about the students’ grade point averages. It’s just the way it works.
By Beneficiary of grade inflation on 2013 05 17, 9:24 am CST
I attended a modest private law school, where we had a saying about our counterparts at the wealthier, more famous law school across the street: “Pay your fees, get your B’s.” - a disheartening phrase to consider around finals, seeing as how our tuitions were nearly commensurate.
I am inclined to agree with Solo, that a pure Pass/Fail system might be more practical, rather like the bar exam.
When I taught Literature at a university many years ago, students were often outraged to receive anything less than an “A.” (“I HALF TO GET AN ‘A’” a student once wrote on her exam.) The very logic of bell-curve grading was incomprehensible for, after all, they’d paid for the course hours and attended every class and done all the work and memorized every lecture and regurgitated the essential terms in their papers and finals - rather like the essay portion of a bar exam. Most of the students achieved these objectives - some more articulately than others - and it was difficult to justify giving most of them anything less than an “A” - which meant “Satis bene. You pass.”
The wild price of tuition these days creates something of a quasi-contractual expectation in these Student-Debtors, more and more of whom will “HALF TO GET AN ‘A’” in exchange for the expensive educations they have purchased. Hence, the tendency towards “Liberal-Arts-softness” in grading.
By anonymous attorney on 2013 05 17, 9:36 am CST
I think I’ve got the answer now! Why don’t take grades and grading systems out of the hands of the professors and law schools? The President could ask our elected representatives to appoint a special bicameral committee in Congress to consider all of the arguments. Anyone employed by an ABA accredited law school could testify before a special Congressional Committee; plus anyone who posted their opinion on this site would receive an automatic invitation to testify plus an all expenses paid trip to DC. We could invite experts from all fields; from psychology to education to ecclesiastics to whatever. After adequate testimony and deliberations, Congress could propose a new law mandating a grading system. The system could contain equalizers to compensate for diversity or income levels or any other factor deemed appropriate. Yeah, that would solve everything. Then those inconsistent professors and such couldn’t grade students unfairly and everyone would be happy. We have a duty to do something about this after all, freedom entitles us to do something, not to not do something. Wait—wrong Silvertein again!
By POPATLAW on 2013 05 17, 9:36 am CST
I was an adjunct for several years teaching copyright law. I told my students at the beginning of each semester that they were all starting off with an A and that it was up to them to keep it. Some did, some did not, and a couple did horribly that they “earned” a C or less. I was very disappointed with the students who received the poor grades. I felt that I failed them as an instructor. But at the same time, I was very proud of the students who received As and high Bs. At the end of the day, I tried to fairly teach the subject matter uniformaly to everyone. Some picked up on it, some did not. The consuming public needs to be aware that some of these students are attentive and interested enough to likely make good lawyers, and some may not. I really hope that the Cs get their act together and wise up. And I really hope that the As continue to work as hard in the real world as they do in academia. These grades are not about feeling good. They are about life.
By Portland Adjunct on 2013 05 17, 9:38 am CST
If there is the need for the betterment of the profession , then perhaps we should do away with A,B,C ect. and replace it with “outstanding , satisfactory and unsatisfctory”; weeding out the unsatisfactory. There would then be the need to strictly adhere to an internal grading system where satisfactory would be deliniated as “above 79%”. I believe that is par with other masters and some doctoral programs..
Now , the big problem-having the schools stop the greed and thier staffs use of grade inflation as job security.The unmitigated greed , the unresasonable promises to students and general worship and search for the almighty buck ( or professorship ego) -HAVE TO STOP. Though this problem is part fault of the schools , I also blame the government for handing out billions in student loans to every warm body with a bachelors degree just so they look like “a person of the people”.
Now the last problem- our societal delusion that one can be whatever they want-and to do that overnight. Its gotta stop- perhaps adopting the european exam level (s) system where the candidate test to the next level should be adopted-yes , I know that supposedly is what LSAT’s are for but they aren’t effective since we have so many “unsatisfactory” students slipping through the cracks. This glut of wanna-bes has been farmed by the schools , politicians handing out daydreams , and provided cannon fodder for professors and firms alike.
And very lastly- no more or severely restrain affirmative action- pick the best candidates only without reserve .
All that I have suggested above would probably have , if it were the order of the day, prevented me from becoming an attorney.
I hate to sound like a not so old campaign advertisement but the system needs to change , including getting gov’t out of the education business.
By large weasel on 2013 05 17, 9:46 am CST
“Second, marks in the C range injure students psychologically.”—I am a 3L and I can honestly say that all my professors up to this point do not care if they injure students psychologically. Most see it as a badge of honor to inflict some pain.
I would add that that is the way it should be. I doubt very much that opposing counsel will be very concerned about me and as such I should develop a thick skin.
By sillyrabbit on 2013 05 17, 9:47 am CST
I hire people. Every year. Law clerks and attorneys. I really don’t care about GPA; as long as it’s above 2.3 on 4 point scale. What I want in an applicant is some some type of life/work experience outside of the “ivory towers”. Where have you worked? Have you had to deal with people where you’ve worked? Did you get along with people (co-workers, supervisors, and the general public)? Did you supervise anyone? Can you speak coherently? Are you comfortable talking to people?That’s just my 2 cents worth.
By Reece12 on 2013 05 17, 9:49 am CST
IMHO, students should feel pressure to succeed, and C grades could just as well be a motivator to do that. That being said, there is no emperical evidence based on actual psychological studies of law students to support real “damage” warranting scrapping the grading system, much less the bar exam. This smacks to me of pushing law education into mediocracy.
By joe lawyer on 2013 05 17, 9:51 am CST
Mandatory “C” curves should be eliminated because they are NOT an example of “justice” under any system of evaluation. If people can score high enough on the LSAT, have high enough undergrad grades, and can draft an admission essay worthy of being admitted to a professional school, why should the school then seek to effectively “fail” a large segment of those admitted by mandating that a large percentage of the class get a “C” grade? It would be a more just decision to narrow law school class size to about 20% of what it averages now so that all of those students can have a shot at getting a legal job in exchange for a 3-year and significant financial commitment to becoming a practicing lawyer.
By JD Survivor on 2013 05 17, 9:53 am CST
No matter what anyone says, half the members of any given group (Olympic athletes, Delta Force, Nobel prize winners, law school students, etc.) are below average for that group.
By OldGuy on 2013 05 17, 9:55 am CST
Professor Silverstein’s article and comments on this page are the epitome of bean-counting. And you lawyers who have nothing better to do than blah-blah-blah over this non life or death matter: I sure hope you aren’t counting any of this on your billables. Life is short. Enjoy it. Make the Main Thing the Main Thing, and chill out on the rest. Just sayin’...
By Just Sayin' on 2013 05 17, 9:59 am CST
Do away with law schools and the rest. I felt I could have just as easily passed the California Bar by taking the prep courses. And in any case law school doesn’t prepare you for the practice of law .
By Pocahantas on 2013 05 17, 10:01 am CST
Giving students good to high marks all throughout their years of education does them no favors. When they finally get into the field, at their boss blows his nose on a brief they wrote before handing it back, or a judge flatly denies a motion - the student will for the first time be experiencing something less than success and not know how to process it internally. Crash and burn baby.
By You call this coffee!? on 2013 05 17, 10:04 am CST
I attended one of those law schools which also seemed to mandate a “mostly C’s” policy (I still remember a freshman Contracts class of 120 or so in which the final grade distribution was two A’s, ten B’s, and all others C+ or below). I had a small scholarship from an outside source which required maintenance of a 3.0 average for renewal the following year, and lost it, despite my argment that my 2.8 average actually placed me in the top 10% of my class!
By R. Thomas on 2013 05 17, 10:06 am CST
I do not know what students the Professor is discussing. At least at my School a C is meant to signal that the students is close to failing and it is perceived that way by the students. If C is eliminated, B will will take its place and it will be Bs that hurt their feelings. Most law schools already have a B+ curve so the message of a C could not be clearer.
By Jeffrey Harrison on 2013 05 17, 10:11 am CST
What happened to the concept of people getting what they earn? If they earn a C grade, then why shouldn’t they receive a C grade. Perhaps if they are a C, they shouldn’t be a lawyer. Are we really worried about the self-esteem of someone when the life of another human being weighs in the balance and the prospective lawyer isn’t good enough? If they don’t understand the law, perhaps they shouldn’t defend it. For my part, I don’t want a C grade doctor. I want someone with an A. Perhaps they should study more, get tutors or change fields. When you don’t do well at a job does an employer keep you because your self-esteem might be affected? Or is the employer trying to run a business. What’s going on in this world when we have to lower the standards of everything because we are worried about hurt feelings. This is a sad world when we keep lowering standards all for people’s self-esteem. Are we not making lazy, unproductive people? It’s okay when we’re talking about being kind and tactful, but if my life is in the balance, I don’t want a C lawyer. If my life is in the balance, I don’t want a C grade doctor.
By tonya on 2013 05 17, 10:13 am CST
This is an interesting idea. I went to law school in a city where all of the law schools (5 in total) except for mine used the inflated grading system, or had done away with them all together and gone to a simple numbered pass/fail grading system. My school used the traditional forced curve method. Basically what happened is that we are now competing for jobs with people who couldn’t have gotten a “C” on their transcripts even if they had done what is traditonally condidered “C” work. It has has made job hunting in this market so difficult. The thing that makes you most angry isn’t that you got a “C” or two in law school, it is that there are so many people interviewing for your same job who probably deserved a “C” in a traditonal forced curve grading system who ended up with a “B” on their transcript, but you look like the inferior candidate. I don’t know if doing away with the “C” altogether is the answer, but I think that since employers rely on transcripts so heavily in weeding out candidates, it would be helpful if all law shcools had some kind of uniform grading system. The people interviewing candidates (in my experience) went to law school long before grade inflation, and they have no idea how things have changed. They see a sea of transcripts with all “A’s” and “B’s”, and a couple with “C’s” and they think they have attracted and excellent pool of candidates and throw out the “C” applications.
By KM on 2013 05 17, 10:17 am CST
@ 143. Yes, 0.4, “Reading comments to ABA article re elimination of ‘C’ grade; responding to comment no. 143 re billing for reading same.”
But seriously, changing the grading system won’t create more jobs for attorneys, and that is fairly obvious. It may help students at one school vis-à-vis students from another, but in the end it is a race to the bottom, or a race to nowhere, or some such thing. The net effect will be zero change.
And I have to agree with those who have commented that when the lowest grade is no longer a ‘C’, students will simply be more depressed over a “B-”. It is not the letter that is the problem, it is the fact that it represents the bottom of the curve… Well, sorry people, but someone has to be at the bottom of any curve.
And regarding the tier 4 school that gives 70% of students a ‘C’ or below, there is probably good reason for that. They are weeding people out who never should have gone to law school in the first place. Many would argue that those schools shouldn’t even exist. I think they create opportunity. But one thing is for sure - It doesn’t make any sense for them to adopt a tier 1 type curve.
By Billing in AA on 2013 05 17, 10:20 am CST
I favor the retention of the C grade with the caveat that those students receiving a C or lower should either receive either a refund on part of their tuition or an opportunity to repeat that class at no charge. I feel that a law professor who can’t teach a student satisfactorily is usually the problem unless the student has not been attending classes.
By JOHN CULLEY on 2013 05 17, 10:38 am CST
Our nation was founded on free market principles.
Law schools should be autonomous. Law professors should be as autonomous as their employer permits.
Everything will work out just fine without any outside control.
There is no need for standardized anything when it comes to law schools. The bad schools will fail, the good ones will succeed.
Employers will hire based on their own criteria.
Good lawyers will be successful; the bad ones will exit the profession.
All is as it should be.
Great kindling for polite conversation; but its silly to exert effort to solve problems that don’t exist.
It speaks for itself. You only muddle it by talking about it.
To paraphrase the relevant Silvertein- This issue speaks for itself. We only muddle it by talking about it.
By POPATLAW on 2013 05 17, 10:39 am CST
The problem of grade inflation has developed over the last 40 years at least. I believe it received a significant push during the Vietnam War when faculty wanted to keep students in school and hiked grades up accordingly. Senior colleagues also argue that the general relaxation of standards that took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s produced the grade inflation that followed.
Many graduate/professional programs face a university requirement that a student to maintain a B average across all courses in order to remain enrolled in good standing.
Some universities had addressed the grade inflation problem by going to a system with 1/10s—grades are given as 4.0, 3.9, 3.8, 3.7, 3.6, 3.5, .... 3.0. 2.9, 2.8, 2.7…. etc. A 2.7 is often the minimum grade allowed to obtain graduate level credit for a class. Most grades in this system are “B” grades, but significant differentiation is still possible. The “gentleman’s C” of the 1920s and 1930s is now the a 2.7.
By John Ruskin on 2013 05 17, 10:39 am CST
As an adjunct faculty member, I had a student tell me a couple of years ago that he did not think you could get a D in law school. Apparently if you rarely attended class, did not participate, did not study, and did poorly on the final, you get a C (in this student’s mind). I explained to him that I thought passing him with a D was a kindness (perhaps undeserved). Not sure how the individual teacher gets at this issue other than with a harsh grade, hoping for a student to wake up and take the process seriously.
By Rob Charles on 2013 05 17, 10:42 am CST
why should law school professors give low grades—-it hurts their law school reputation with a bunch of low GPAs compared to other schools when their students can’t get good jobs.
By GradeMax on 2013 05 17, 10:55 am CST
As a recent graduate of a not top tier JD program and a top tier LLM Tax program, I completely abhor the idea of eliminating C’s. First off, we have enough of a problem with kids who probably never should haev gone to law school going to law school. The kids I know that got C’s shouldn’t be in law school because they are about to rack up $100,000+ in debt and have no realistic employment opportunities that would allow them to pay that off (IBR doesn’t help as much when you can’t even cover the interest payments, the balance of which is capitalized annually). If you get a C in 1L, you should probably drop out unless your daddy is hiring partner at Sidley or you have a trust-fund.
Second. If you eliminate lower grades, then that inherently devalues higher grades. If it’s impossible to get a C, then how valuable is a B really (well its new C), and how valuable is my 3.5 GPA if noone could ever average less than 3.0.
RFinally, you need to be able to fail out of law school. Right now, law schools (any school really) has an incentive not to fail you out as they can keep collecting your ever-increasing tuition if you remain a student. This creates a huge burden on students who, like in point 1, dont have the stuff to get a top job and are now saddled with enormous debt that they wouldn’t have had if law schools brought them down to reality by putting kids on academic probation. Law students have spent almost 20 years in school operating under the A-F model, where a C could be considered “average” (that hasn’t been the practical case for a while, but has always been the “theoretical” case). When they get C’s in Law school, they have the perception that it will be like C’s they got in grade school or undergrad: a stumble, but not an insurmountable obstacle to your future. A C in law school is essentially a death sentence in terms of employability. However, operating under their preconceived notion of what a C means, they dont realize that a C = F to an employer and they should spare themselves an eternal relationship with Sallie Mae.
Grade inflation seems to be the bane of baby-boomers and Gen Xers everywhere, the elimination of low grades only makes things worse.
By Recent Grad on 2013 05 17, 10:57 am CST
But isn’t the real problem the law school rankings? Rather than eliminate the ‘C’ grade in law schools, we should eliminate the 4th Tier in law school rankings.
By missed the mark on 2013 05 17, 11:09 am CST
We should definitely eliminate C grades, because we can’t risk hurting grown men and women psychologically. We probably shouldn’t even tell people when their fly is down, because they will inevitably be embarassed that someone noticed it; just let them walk around all day hangin out in blissful ignorance so they can pretend at the end of the day as they get undressed that no one noticed.
By Adamius on 2013 05 17, 11:11 am CST
I think instead of getting rid of the c grade, they should get rid of the grade curve and not force the professor to give only a certain amount of A’s and B’s and C’s. There should be a set standard for an A and if everyone in the class meets that standard everyone gets an A, and if no one at all meets that standard, then no one should get an A. It should be more like every other type of schooling, because lawyering is not always about competition.
By Jonathan R. Zuckerman on 2013 05 17, 11:15 am CST
I think it makes sense to standardize grading as much as possible, though it sounds challenging. At my law school, we had a forced *median* of 82, meaning that half the class scored below that, no matter what.
In college, my school set the average for classes at a C. My best friend went to a [nameless] ivy league in which you could declare partway through ANY class you took that you wanted to take it pass/fail if your grade fell below the grade you selected, so that it did not disrupt your GPA. That way, they felt, you would take classes that challenged you and still keep up your GPA.
I agree that there is too much variation amongst grading systems. It is interesting that the most prestigious schools seem to do the most to support the future employment/graduate school prospects of its students, who presumably need less help in that regard.
By SJ Lawyer on 2013 05 17, 11:19 am CST
This article is typical of the “everyone IS a winner” (read: “entitled”) mindset. Earning a grade that is less than an “A” is a valuable lesson for any student: Learn from your mistakes, do not repeat them! Certainly, being less prepared/qualified (however that is defined) is less injurious than receiving an indication that one is less prepared/qualified.
As for the differences between professors’ grades - well, that is actually how real performance appraisals work in the real world. Your first boss may think you walk on water; your third boss may think you are average. Over time, a trend will develop that will help you discern your performance.
All grades are not equal because all law schools are not equal because all law school students/professors are not equal. Trust me, I did Tier 4 for law school and Ivy League for undergrad - marked difference in students, faculty and staff.
One last thing: It really is okay to feel badly about performing badly!!! That’s the point.
By Just Another Lawyer's Opinion on 2013 05 17, 11:36 am CST
The quality of writing and rationale demonstrated in the above comments (presuming the commenters attended law school).
By A Case for Grade Deflation in Legal Education on 2013 05 17, 11:43 am CST
The problem is supply of lawyers relative to demand for big law firm jobs. The schools will always have to designate at least a few people they can identify to work for the schools’ big law masters.
By Emm on 2013 05 17, 12:21 pm CST
Many decades ago I thought someone who attended law school and had a B average was a very good student. Law school was supposed to be hard.
Today I wonder how some so called lawyers made it through college, let alone law school Now I understand - everybody in law school gets A’s..
I would go further than eliminating C’s.. Eliminate all B’s also. That way everybody will graduate at the top of their class, they will all be paid humongous salaries, and they will all win all their cases
By Grumpy on 2013 05 17, 12:30 pm CST
I am an adjunct professor. Last year three of my B students complained to the dean that they thought they should have gotten As. This year the dean complained to me that I had too many As in my class. The bottom line is that people who make As are usually regurgitating lecture and text book information. Many truly creative people did not make good grades. They just end up hiring the A students.
By Sherrie R. Abney on 2013 05 17, 12:35 pm CST
I was an adjunct professor for a very technical and practical course (bankruptcy) for several years. My goal was to teach them what an employer in that field would want a new associate to know. I gave As and Bs (including + and -) to most of my students because I judged their demonstrated mastery of the subject to be somewhere on the good to excellent continuum. I did give a few Cs, however, when I thought the student’s mastery was passable but not really that good. I think it would have been a disservice to the students whose mastery of the subject was good if I had not had the option of a C for those whose mastery was merely fair.
By IndyCanary on 2013 05 17, 12:43 pm CST
This whole discussion is weird. The problem is not law school grades. It is law schools, and the continued existence of the legal profession generally.
This whole discussion might convince me that the whole thing needs to be shut down as being the breeding ground of whining infants.
F’s for the lot of you.
By Walter Sobchak on 2013 05 17, 12:48 pm CST
I was going to comment on the substance, but Pushkin said it well already. So here is the practical side. I had this argument years ago with a placement representative from Berkeley, who could not understand why I was insisting on learning class standing, once it was clear that the grades were no longer a measure of relative merit (I think it was during one of those attempts at pass/fail grading).
Distinguishing oneself from one’s peers. That is the key. It is what determines success in careers. It is what determines success in high school and in college. Is it always a correct indicator? No. Are their exceptions—outstanding lawyers who did not perform well in school? Of course. But finding them is the problem. One goes with what works more often than not, and relative grades are in indicator. Attempts to make law school grading blind to relative performance will fail—as they should—because as an employer, “all our children are above average” tells me nothing.
By tired of reading on 2013 05 17, 1:15 pm CST
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but this is a typical American discussion. I received my primary legal education in Europe. The average grade during my law school years was a D and it was almost impossible to get an A. If you were fortunate enough to get a B grade, you were in the top 5% of your class. I refuse to accept the notion that less desirable grades damage a student psychologically. Students need to fail and they also need to succeed. It goes hand in hand and makes everubody a better and well rounded person. That is life!
After all, the grading system is to create a distinction between aspiring graduates in their field. Look what happened in the school system in the U.S. overall. Students are boxed together with no distinctions and the material is dumbed down to meet the lowest standard possible just not to damage anybody’s self esteem. Get real again! There has to be some sort of system to sort the cream from the crop. Not everybody is meant to be a nuclaer engineer, MD, or a lawyer and that is a good thing! But this artifically created level playing field is hurting society more than it does any good. Nobody can be critisized anymore for anything and people draw a blank if they actually do get critisized even if rightfully so.
In the end, if you do feel the need to eliminate a grade, just eliminate all grades and have a pass fail rate only. I don’t think it is the right thing to do and people need to quitt whining and start dealing with reality. Grading has never been an objective measure and it will never be since it is up to the person reviewing the exam to determine what grade in their opinion the student’s performance deserves. Rest assured that the smartest people accademically are not necessary the smartes or most successful people in their field later on. Yes, there is injustice in the current system and that is true for any educational system throughout the world, but there are other factors that will help even out those injustices and if you enjoy what you are doing and are happy with the path that you chose for yourself you will find a way to success! Just be perseverant!
By From a different angle on 2013 05 17, 1:20 pm CST
Thank you for writing the article, which addresses an important issue. Students need to be graded fairly on their work. The job market is difficult in some places, and it is increasingly difficult for students to set themselves apart from their peers. Grades are one way to do so. But, if potential employers cannot trust the grades, because of different standards used at different schools or otherwise, then the graduates suffer further.
Obviously, there are many opinions about how to deal with this. Thank you for getting people thinking. And, I applaud you for responding thoughtfully to the comments here, however critical they may be.
By Rich Raleigh on 2013 05 17, 1:49 pm CST
I may be out here to make this remark. But I believe that law school should operate more like a trade school whereby you learn a body of knowledge the first 1-2 years then it is a series of practicums in the various fields of law that one might practice or in some type of applied setting if one is pursuing a more research or non-traditional job. I am not sure a grading system per se is the way to go where the profession is becoming more skills based and not so much grade based. I have seen lots of articles up here about companies not wanting to pay high rates or in some cases just refuse it if a new attorney lacking in skills or seasoning is assigned to them. So I think once one learns the basic body of knowledge that they should do more like medical schools and focus on a combination of skills and academics, not just grades. In today’s economy, I think there should be more of a focus on skills and not grades. Those schools where they are doing that I feel will have higher placement rates. I think what the author is the idea is saying is that if law schools do not change then students at schools where they are being letter graded will be behind the 8 ball so to speak and uncompetitive in the job market, because law school grads from schools who do not engage in low curve grading will have applicants who appear better. Given the costs of law school, and there are also many articles about that on here—- it is an idea to take seriously.
By elklaw on 2013 05 17, 1:52 pm CST
This is Josh Silverstein. I want to make a number of additional points. But because there have been so many comments, I’m not going to do as much point-by-point responding as in my earlier messages. Also, my apologies for typos et al below. I wanted to get this up as quickly as possible on this Friday, so it may not be quite as polished as I would like. Finally, because of the length of my comments, I am putting up multiple posts since there is a 5000 word limit
Let me start with some preliminary comments.
First, I would like to thank everyone for participating. I have read through all 171 comments (as of the time I am posting this) and I’m glad to see such passion on the topic of grading.
Second, the discussion touched on a wide variety of issues. But I’m going to focus my comments almost exclusively on grade inflation. Otherwise, this message would become even more insanely long.
Third, @77 (James) asked that I not respond by citing to my articles. Unfortunately, if I don’t, my responses will be as long as my articles. So I’m going to have to do some citing. I will cite the current article, A Case for Grade Inflation in Legal Education, as CFGI. I will cite my prior article, In Defense of Mandatory Curves, as IDMC. I will try to summarize the main points in this posting. But for some topics, you guys will just have to check out the articles.
Fourth, both articles are available on SSRN. IDMC is here http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2007338 and it is also available here: http://ualr.edu/lawreview/2012/08/13/in-defense-of-mandatory-curves/. CFGI is linked in the ABA posting. If anyone is unable to download them, please email me at the email address located on my law school website (just google my name) and I will send you copies. Note that each article has a table of contents. So you should generally be able to find what you are looking for.
Fifth, I’m going to focus on the comments where there is criticism. But I want to flag several of the positive comments and thank them for the support: @51 (Island Attorney), @53 (Magnus), @54 (Joe Young), @60 (law professor), @97 (Just sayin’), @116 (Law Jake), @119 (Arne), @133 (Beneficiary of grade inflation), @149 (KM), @155 (Grade Max), @160 SJ Lawyer. Also, thanks to my former student who jumped in: @66 & 107 (BGS). You guys all made a bunch of great points. Also, thanks to those who commented on my willingness to respond and join the discussion. I didn’t write those down, so I can’t identify specifics, but I wanted to thank you all too.
My substantive responses begin with the next post.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 17, 2:35 pm CST
btw, i meant 5000 characters, not words, in my prior posting.
1. As several people pointed out, in graduate education generally, C’s and below are failing grades. If your GPA is in the C range, you are kicked out of school. Law schools are the only exception to this convention. I simply want law schools to grade the way virtually ALL other graduate schools grade, since we are also graduate schools. I don’t want to get rid of C’s entirely. I just want to use them the way all other graduate schools do: If you get C’s, you are academically dismissed. For more on the grading practices of graduate schools generally, see Part I of CFGI. For my specific proposal, see Part II of CFGI. The rest of graduate education has been working great for decades with a grading system like the one propose. There is no reason to believe it won’t work just as well in legal education.
2. Several people made points about whether grades matter to employers and whether grades reflect the ability to practice law and be successful. E.g., @59 (DeadHead), @67 (Jorge M), @92 (Augustin Ayala). The latter issue is important, and it has been addressed in some other research, such as the Sander and Bambauer study available on SSRN here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1640058 (finding that grades matter more than where you went to school, and by a sizeable margin). But my focus is the former. I explain in detail that grades matter in finding employment. See CFGI, Part III.A., especially pages 505-508. Getting a job is the reason most people go to law school. That makes grading a critically important issue. Are grades everything? No. Are they important enough to warrant the work I’ve put into the issue? Without question. As some have pointed out, grades have less meaning over time. E.g., @88 (Laurence Allen Schwartz). But they can still make a huge difference because career paths are often determined during or shortly after law school.
3. @52 (David R.) criticized employers for not learning more about grading systems. The problem is that varying systems can be quite hard to compare, especially when schools don’t release class rank. Many employers just don’t interview enough to have the experience needed to appreciate all the subtleties. For more on this, see CFGI, Part III, especially page 510. In short, we should make this as easy for employers as possible. The adoption of my recommendations will be a giant step in that direction.
4. Several people said employers will adjust to the new grades and the net effect will be no change. E.g., @109 (Pilar), @150 (Billing in AA). Yes and no. I address this point explicitly in CFGI, pages 510-11. The upshot is this: Of course my proposal will not change the total number of jobs available. So the aggregate effect on all students will be 0. But my proposal isn’t designed to address that issue. Rather, what my proposal will do is impact the DISTRIBUTION of the jobs that are available. Critically, it will make that distribution much fairer. That is all I’m after. Related to this, some folks noted that they focus on class rank and/or that employers should do so. E.g., @115 (rick kessler), @129 (Robert I. Stolzman). That is quite right. I expressly state that there should be more weight placed on rank and less on absolute grades. See CFGI page 511. Unfortunately, many employers mistakenly focus on absolute GPA. They shouldn’t, but they do. Moreover, when schools don’t release rank (as is often the case), the employers have nothing else to go on but absolute GPA if they want to assess student performance in school. If employers are going to care about absolute GPA (by mistake or when they have no choice), then we need to make GPA as fair a measure as possible. My proposal moves us in that direction.
5. I believe one person (can’t remember who) said that the students at more prestigious schools essentially deserve better grades. I address this argument in detail in CFGI, pages 513-516. The arguments are not easy to summarize concisely. So on this one, I must just ask people to take a look. I think my response is quite compelling.
6. Some people suggested that the top schools should deflate. E.g., @46 (You call this coffee!?), @62 (James Davis). That is never going to happen. The only way to bring fairness to the labor market for new lawyers is for the rest of us to inflate. For more, see CFGI pages 515-516. I’m a political realist. Given the reality, inflation by the rest of us is the only alternative.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 17, 2:36 pm CST
7. At least one person noted that the real issue with mental well-being might be class rank. @150 (Billin in AA). I think this is entirely possible. I spend several pages on this issue. See CFGI, Part III.B., at pp. 531-537. This is another one of the points that is too complicated to explain concisely. My ultimate response is that there is enough evidence supporting the conclusion that absolute grade levels cause enough unneeded stress to warrant inflation. Class rank may cause more distress. But there is nothing we can do about that, short of getting rid of ranking, which I oppose, all factors considered.
8. Several people argued that B would be the new C. E.g., @117 (Brock Miscoski), @131 (Mike), @147 (Jeffrey Harrison), @150 (Billing on AA). I address this argument in CFGI on page 537-38. Here I will simply quote one of my paragraphs: “[B]ased on my review of the literature, there is little evidence that undergraduate and graduate students are starting to view B grades with the same loathing that they have for C marks. This is so despite the fact that B’s have been particularly common throughout higher education for at least forty-years. Indeed, at the graduate level, B-type grades have been the lowest passing marks since the 1970s. If law schools adopt similar grading practices, there is no reason to believe that our students will react differently from their counterparts throughout the academy.”
9. Some posters noted that life is stressful and the stress of law school is good preparation. E.g., @62 (James Davies). I quite agree. But C grades are unnecessary for that. Indeed, they are counterproductive. Again, I cover this in my article. See in particular CFGI pages 538-39, including FN 234. Here is the problem: When we law professors give C grades, we intend to convey to students “you get enough such that you should keep going in the program and keep working at it.” But the message many (though not all) students receive is “I don’t get it, so why should I stay in the program” or “I don’t get it, so why should I try.” In other words, the grades we award aren’t sending the message we want to send. Why? Because throughout students’ lives, they’ve been told that C’s mean poor and failing performance. Moreover, law students got mostly A’s and B’s in undergrad and high school. Finally, law schools are out of step with the rest of graduate education. I said in my article that I’m agnostic on whether America becoming “an ‘A and B nation’ is positive or negative overall.” The point is, we ARE such a nation – except in legal education. By grading like we do, law schools are the ones that are out of step, and the problems we cause by using such systems are our own fault. It’s time we change and join the rest of the graduate world and much of the undergraduate and high school worlds. Finally, law school is more than sufficiently stressful to prepare students for the world they will face without C grades; C grades are not needed, except for the purpose of telling people their performance is so bad that they will be expelled if they don’t do better. Many first tier law schools have gotten rid of C’s and their students are ready. The same is true in every other graduate field. I see NO reason to believe that second, third, and fourth tier schools are the ONLY sector of the academy that will not be able to prepare their students for the real world if we adopt the practices I advocate.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 17, 2:37 pm CST
10. Several people said that grading should be based on what the students “earned” or their “performance.” Others pointed out that someone will always be average or below average, or that my system says everyone is above average. And yet others said we should give C grades for C work. E.g., @74 (Pogo), @81 (JimfromBham), @82 (Everyman’s Law), @100 (Halli620), @108 (R Bock), @101 (Dennis E. Boring), @142 (OldGuy), @148, @55 (Bill in Ohio). All of these comments reflect a critical misunderstandings about the nature of grades and grading. I explain this in both of my articles. See CFGI, Part IV.A. and IDMC, Part V.A.; for related material, see also IDMC Parts V.B., V.C., V.E., and VI.B. Here is the essence of all that: Anyone who made the points I just noted has fallen prey to the classic fallacy that grades are an absolute, objective measure of performance. Grades are no such thing. Letter symbols only get their meaning from the grading system in which they are used. They have no intrinsic meaning. C’s don’t necessarily mean average. And A’s and B’s don’t inherently mean above average. Here is another way to put it: There is no such thing as a student’s “performance,” full stop. That is because professors and teachers have different standards for grading. And so do different departments and schools. There is no such thing as “A performance” or “C performance” per se. There is only “performance within a particular grading system.” Critically, there is no way to change this. Grading will always be a combination of art and science and thus there will always be different grading standards. And as I demonstrated in my prior article, IDMC, it is not realistically possible for all professors at even a single law school to apply the same substantive grading standards. See Part V.E.2. of that article. Given all this, I recommend that we design our system of grading symbols based on substantive concerns – concerns like fairness in the job market, the well-being of our students, and incentives for the students to work hard and learn. That is what I have done in both of my articles. I believe my system serves these interests best in legal education.
11. Related to 10, some noted that my system makes everyone a winner or gives everyone a trophy. Alternatively, I am proposing we give grades just for participating and thus I’m compromising standards. E.g., @70 (JimfromBham), @73 (Alabama Lawyer), @117 (Brock Miscoski), @126 (CES). This is most definitely NOT the case. Law schools flunk people out all the time and I think we should continue doing so at roughly the same rates we have been. If you don’t meet the (varying) substantive standards set by the teachers at a school, you should be expelled. My current article is solely about labeling. I think we should label those students who get it as A and B students. Those who don’t get it should be C or lower. And the latter group should be academically dismissed. I’m not trying to water down standards, game the system, or do anything of the sort. I have always maintained, and will always maintain, standards that require that students perform competent legal work in my classes. I’ve given grades that got students expelled from school. And I will do so again. I simply want to change the labels we use because I believe that doing so will (1) improve fairness in employment, and (2) improve the well-being of our students, which should improve work effort. Moreover, any problems caused by my proposal are outweighed by the benefits. Finally, note that we can flunk people out just as easily (perhaps more easily) using Cs and below as we can Ds and below (which is what most of us do now). It certainly works quite well in the entire rest of graduate education.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 17, 2:41 pm CST
12. Several people asked something along the lines of “if everyone gets high grades, what is the point of working hard”? Alternatively, how will we distinguish among students? @61 (Joe Moore), @ (T4 to T1 student), @98 (Mark). I address these arguments in detail in Parts IV.B. & IV.C. of CFGI. To summarize, first, there are numerous incentives to keep working hard, including (1) it will be easier for teachers to distinguish among their students if they adopt all aspects of my system (including number grades), (2) the average grade will be closer to the flunk out line in my system than under the status quo, (3) inflation does not undercut the importance of class rank (class rank is more important than absolute GPA), and (4) the average grade in my system will be around 3.3, which means people will have plenty of incentive to fight for grades in the A range. How will students know they need to improve? Simple: If they get C’s, they know they are in big trouble. If they get B-’s, they know they are near the bottom of the class and have work to do. And so on. See Part IV.C. for a full discussion of these and other arguments. See also Part IV.B., which is about the dangers of grade compression. There I explain how it is quite easy to design grading systems that enable teachers to distinguish among students even in an inflated system like the one I support. @153 (John Ruskin) has it right on this – number grades are the best answer. But they are not necessary, for the reasons I explain in the article, namely that small numbers of letter grades have worked in every other graduate field for decades.
13. Related to 12, several folks said C’s make people strive and are a good wake-up call. E.g., @103 (Ken), @121 (teo). I think there is real truth to this. And I’m very glad that C’s helped many of the posters here. My claim is not that everyone is negatively impacted by C’s. Rather, my claim is that, all things considered, C’s do more harm than good, even when it comes to incentives to study. Again, see CFGI, Part IV.C. The evidence is close on this one, and there isn’t a ton of it. But here is what the evidence does overwhelmingly show: Inflation will NOT cause a significant decrease in work. Here is what I say in the article on page 556: “But the use of relatively high grading in graduate schools is so widespread that, yet again, my opponents shoulder the burden of proof to establish that second-, third-, and fourth-tier law schools are the ONLY subset of the academy where grade inflation will have truly deleterious effects. Until they proffer such evidence, I am comfortable recommending that all schools eliminate C grades. The placement and mental-health benefits of such a change are simply too great to ignore.”
13. Multiple people questioned grading on the curve. I strongly support mandatory curves too. But it is critical that such curves be defined carefully. My article, In Defense of Mandatory Curves, linked above, explains both why curves are so crucial and how to design them. I thought about including a detailed response to the folks who talked about the curve. But given the length of my posting and the fact that inflation is my real focus right now, I’m just going to have to refer you all to IDMC. The piece was published last year. And the final version is available on SSRN, Westlaw, Lexis, HeinOnline, and the website of my law review, as I noted above.
14. On pass/fail grading, very briefly: I’m aware of no law school that uses true pass/fail grading. Yale, Stanford, et al, all they have really done is change the labels for grades from things like “A” and “B” to things like “Honors” and “High Pass.” (Well, most such systems also get rid of GPA and class rank too. But on the grades themselves, it is just new labels.) I have some sympathy for such systems, but, for reasons of time, I’m going to save that topic for another time.
15. One final point. @138 (sillyrabbit) wrote: “I am a 3L and I can honestly say that all my professors up to this point do not care if they injure students psychologically. Most see it as a badge of honor to inflict some pain.” I strongly suspect you aren’t being fair to your teachers. But if you are, I find this tragic. I oppose that philosophy and my grading proposals are an attempt to push in the other direction – the direction of humanizing legal education. For more, see CFGI pages 539-40 .
I truly want to thank everybody for the effort you put in to make comments. This has been a wonderful discussion.
I graduated almost 20 years ago, and back then, my law school had or appeared to have a mandatory C curve in the first-year classes. (I’m not sure whether it applied to the upper-level classes.) I was a victim of it my first year, when I got at least one C+ in something or other. I ended up graduating in the top 5 percent, though. At a job interview, a partner asked me how I made it into the top 5 percent with only a 3.5 or whatever my GPA was. I just laughed and explained that my school had a strict grade deflation policy. (I did get the job.)
Later, as a firm hiring committee member myself, I was frustrated to get resumes and transcripts that didn’t explain the school’s grading system. One school used a higher-than-4.0 GPA, but many applicants didn’t reveal that, so it made their grades look better than they were!
By American University Grad on 2013 05 17, 2:51 pm CST
Talk about grade inflation! Grading is a major problem, but the grade level C means that you met the expectations. Grades of A and B show that you have exceeded expectations. Also, C means average, so by eliminating the grade C you are refining statistics. I am reminder of Garrison Keillor’s description of Lake Wobegon where “all the children are above average”. Most of my students took the attitude that they started with an A and worked their way down. So unlike my days in school where you had to work your way up to an A.
By former professor on 2013 05 17, 2:55 pm CST
I teach at an “around # 50” law school. I was against inflating our required means in first and second year required courses until I learned that most law firms look at ranking, not GPA, since average GPAs are so different from school to school. One problem with raising the mean too far, however, as I experienced when I taught as a visitor at a top twenty school, is the compression in distribution. It got to the point that I had to give the same “B”, for example, to exams that I could still distinguish as significantly different in terms of quality. To the former student who suspects there is little difference between an “A” and “C” exam ... you couldn’t be farther from the truth. And we owe it to our students who work hard with their considerable talents and to the law firms looking for such students to identify them clearly. By the way, as someone who has taught for three decades, I really don’t care about my students’ feelings about the grades they earn. Who I really care about are my students’ future clients.
By Paul on 2013 05 17, 3:37 pm CST
Paul @179, the compression issue is a serious one, to be sure. See Part IV.B. of my article, where I deal with it in full. With either number grades or a carefully designed letter system, the problem can be resolved. Thanks for the thoughts.
By Joshua Silverstein on 2013 05 17, 3:50 pm CST
What about the D’s I got in Law School (Class of 1974)? I got 69.9 on my first Bar Exam. Passing was 70.0 or higher. Passed on the second try and admitted (1975). I think there need to be more ways to differentiate other than A or B or fail. Why don’t we go back to number grades rather than letters, so we’ll know 90 is better than 89 or 65 is better than 64. Anything 65 or above is a passing grade. If you want A or B or fail, it won’t be long until everything is just Pass or Fail. Then it will be very hard to compare because all graduates will just have “Pass” for each grade. The reality is that there are many people smarter than me. I accept that.
By Old Man from New Hampshire on 2013 05 17, 4:14 pm CST
I didn~t think any law school gave C grades. Personally, I think every graduating senior should be Summa cum Laude, and first in the class. I`m surprised that some Law School hasn~t thought of this before. Which will be the first? No doubt once one school does it there will be a steam-roller effect. It~s the next logical step!
By FOOL ME on 2013 05 17, 4:33 pm CST
How about dropping the grade crap and actually teaching students something useful, so they come out of the law school actually being able to work? And on employer’s part - how about dropping nonsense grades evaluation and actually hiring those who are able to work? Who would you prefer to see in your company - a smart a$$ with perfect grades and no working experience or a practical kid who knows how to make profit? Stop and think about it when another smart a$$ causes you yet another series of lost profits.
By Anna Gray on 2013 05 17, 4:36 pm CST
When I made my initial comments earlier, I thought I would see a wide variety of lawyers from types of law schools, all types of practicing attorneys and those who received top grades and lesser grades. What it appears is that most of those who commented went to top law schools, received great grades and work at top firms in big cities. Maybe I am wrong but that appears to be the impression given. Most here seem to snub their nose at those who received lesser grades, from 3rd and 4th tier schools and who practice at small firms or solo. Law School grades do not make a good lawyer. Some people go to law school to represent average folk. If your only concern in law school is getting a job at a white shoe firm on wall street, fine, but that is not most lawyers. Grades were never a concern to me because I had no desire for such a life. I worked for a medium size NY firm and hated it. I now work for myself, representing only individuals. I am moderately successful and enjoy what I do. If the suggestions posted here, ie. failing those who get grades below B-, eliminating 3rd and 4th tier schools, etc., were in place, I, and most other real practicing lawyers, would not be in the profession and many people would be unable to get representation.
By Howard on 2013 05 17, 4:41 pm CST
“First, low grades damage students’ placement prospects,” Silverstein writes. “Employers frequently consider a job candidate’s absolute GPA in making hiring decisions. If a school systematically assigns inferior grades, its students are at an unfair disadvantage when competing for employment with students from institutions that award mostly As and Bs….
With no respect due - I think that~s the proper phrasing - this is the kind of drivel that is ruining not only Law Schools, but education in American generally. Schools should release and employers should look only at the ranking of the student, if they want to evaluate performance in Law School. If a school¨systematically assigns inferior grades…¨they just might be doing it because they are insisting on an adequate work product from their students, instead of sending incompetents out to (a) fail the Bar after having borrowed tremendous sums of money (b) finally pass the Bar and advise unfortunates who hire them. Let~s at least be honest with ourselves. Law Professors who pass inferior students wouldn~t let them represent their dogs. Read ¨Failing Law Schools.¨We should all be ashamed of ourselves - A (once) proud to be Law Professor of 40 years.
By FOOL ME on 2013 05 17, 4:55 pm CST
¨...“Second, marks in the C range injure students psychologically. Students perceive Cs as a sign of failure. Accordingly, when they receive such grades, their stress level is exacerbated in unhealthy ways…”
My God! If I had known I was doing that, I would have never given C´s, much less D´s and even F´s. I~m sure my father - a member of the Great Generation - which lived through the depression and WWII - would have been ashamed of me. What drivel - in high school I wanted to play football. The football Coach looked at me (6 feet tall and 135 pounds) and told me ¨Boy you better go see the track coach.¨ I took one look at the monsters pounding each other on the field and thought it was the best advice I ever received. Now I know he¨... injured me psychologically… and exacerbated my stress level in unhealthy ways…” If I ever meet the insensitive brute again, I shall inform him of it. Maybe not - he~s at an advanced age now, and it may chrush him.
By FOOL ME on 2013 05 17, 5:09 pm CST
Well, look, in most doctoral programs you cannot get a C and pass the class. This makes sense.
Those who merit a C need to have a good talking to by the professor, and to consider dropping the class and taking it again over the summer term, or completing law school in four years instead of three. That should be enough incentive for anyone to improve performance.
What I’ve found is that law school professors rely too much on upperclassmen to do the real teaching, and the evaluating. (This is how most law reviews work, and that’s how most students obtain access to the best jobs.) I’ve always considered that a disgrace. At least the teaching assistants in undergrad already had the degree their students were seeking. The profs need to be more involved, and to ensure that everyone who passes is indeed mastering the material.
Isn’t it also true that the highest-rated law schools have dispensed with grading entirely? But we have to get tough with those who aren’t so elite, right? Perhaps none of these programs are as rigorous as they should be. I don’t see how slapping a “C’ on a transcript does much to change that. That’s the lazy way of addressing what may be wrong.
I also think advocating use of the normal curve is laughable. This means you presume that in every examination, a small group of non-randomly selected people will perform according to this pattern—and if they don’t, you’ll force the data to conform. In science, a normal distribution is something that either does or does not emerge from the data. Here, you advocate presuming it a priori, for every single exam, and for a preselected small population. How funny! Is it really impossible for everyone in the group to do very well? Or pretty badly? Could 20 of 30 people deserve an A? Could it happen that only one does? A curve is another lazy strategy, to hide behind so that the professor’s performance can be sheltered from scrutiny. Who would dare argue with the curve?
(Maybe social—and medical—science research methods, including a unit on statistics, should be required in law school, right up there with accounting for those who haven’t had it. This would be useful for any area of the law that relies on expert testimony.)
By Sonja (real name, real spelling) on 2013 05 17, 5:14 pm CST
Oops. Sorry, I didn’t see how far this discussion had progressed before posting. My older computer doesn’t always give me the link to all comments, rather than the first fifty.
I’m sorry about that.
I am still highly skeptical of “the curve.” It presumes what you’re trying to prove. There are better and fairer ways to achieve fair evaluation. Be less opaque about the nature of the performance desired. Ranking the performances you get (or creating a lattice, which is closely akin to assigning grades) is mathematically different from forcing the results into a preconceived curve.
By Sonja (real name, real spelling) on 2013 05 17, 5:25 pm CST
When I was in law school (early 1950’s) we had a saying: “Those who make As become law professors, those who make Bs become judges and those who make Cs make all the money.” If we eliminate the grade of C, who is going to make all the money?
By An Old Guy on 2013 05 17, 7:48 pm CST
I think the schools take care of making the money now.
By B. McLeod on 2013 05 17, 8:16 pm CST
Most commenters are treating this issue as grade school social promotion. It is not that. One has to assume everyone who passed the LSAT and had a high average in college will be able to learn law school subjects.
The problem is that schools are inconsistent. Some give all A and Bs while others give only 70’s and a few 80s and some under 70s. That makes those who go to job interviews start at an unfair disadvantage. The average law student will earn a B because he or she is a little smarter than the average college graduate.
Everyone has heard stories of transfer students with high grades at schools such as UT Austin transferring to schools like Texas Tech and flunking out.
By Arne on 2013 05 17, 8:55 pm CST
May it please the Professor:
I am not a lawyer. I have had many occasions where I needed to interact with a lawyer and I have never inquired as to the “quality” of the school he attended. It really matters very little. All law schools produce lawyers. What does matter is how bright I come to think he is in representing me in some action. I should say grading systems imply some students are smarter than other students. And they probably are. So it follows some lawyers are smarter than other lawyers. I think we should do away with grades and produce lawyers as was the practice in the medieval period. A person became a lawyer by attending a given number of lectures. The theory being that if he attended and listened he must have learned enough to be a lawyer.
By Martin Kessler on 2013 05 17, 9:29 pm CST
as a follow to #29
It appears most who screen resumes know the curves for the “top” schools and their own alma mater.
Any other school’s graduates are essentially evaluated as if that school used the same curve as the screener’s alma mater
Of course, we COULD just treat it like the bar exam… you can score high.. low.. or somewhere in-between. But in the end, it’s just Pass or Fail If anything, those who have taken a bar exam should be allowed and EXPECTED to put a bar exam score on a resume to employers. It’s the closest they’ll ever get to be measured against other applicants on the same unbiased yardstick.
By Steve on 2013 05 17, 10:11 pm CST
This whole discussion, which is extensive, is another outstanding argument for return to apprenticeship alternatives. Train them up yourselves, and you will know them, and you will know their capabilities. Then, you will not have to care about curves or grade inflation or law schools gaming the system. You will know what you need to know.
By B. McLeod on 2013 05 17, 11:28 pm CST
Bad idea. Law school is not Lake Woebegon.
By Dave Peck on 2013 05 18, 11:27 am CST
Why not eliminate the “B” grade and make it A or bust. That’s right, any student persevering enough to show up or even to just register for a class gets an A. Exams would then become superfluous and unnecessary. Attendance, students have better things to do. Competition, gets in the way of academic freedom not to mention career advancement. Come to think of it, why not eliminate law school all together? After all if it is only a free pass and a one size fits all proposition, whats the point of the empty passage?—-Robert A. stok
By Robert A. stok on 2013 05 18, 11:57 am CST
In real life, all the B+ students become teachers; and the A students work for the C students.
By Lygeia on 2013 05 18, 12:26 pm CST
To Robert A.Stok :
Not a bad idea, but I think my earlier comment is a better alternative. Make every student summa cum laude, and first in his class. I’m surprised some enterprising (word chosen carefully) Law School hasn’t already done so.
By FOOL ME on 2013 05 18, 12:57 pm CST
The problem isn’t what actual grades are awarded for a given level of performance, the problem is consistency. The ABA should promulgate rules to ensure consistency in grading schemes among law schools to even the playing field, and allow employers to make an apples-to-apples comparison of graduates from different law schools.
By Marc Pederson on 2013 05 18, 5:40 pm CST
I’m just grateful that my client wasn’t in time to get the first comment in.
By B. McLeod's Dressmaker on 2013 05 18, 7:20 pm CST
Let’s face it ... twenty years down the track no one cares. Why grade people at all? If anyone is willing to slog out three/four years then the important issue is attendance rather than grades. Show up, pay your money, get the qual. After all, A’s may be impressive to university professors but they are no indicator of skill, emotional intelligence or competence in the workplace. Worse, they may be indicators of obsessive personality which may display itself in aberrant ways twenty years on - mid life crises, alcoholism etc. The other thing about grades is that people can become bitter when it doesn’t pan out as they liked. Give someone an A then give them ten years working in the back room of a superlawfirm and they will despair. Given them C’s and they will strive, think outside the box, find jobs in small firms and be happy. Frankly, I think it takes all sorts to make up the world and stamping out cookie cutter graduates is no help to anyone - least of all the clones.
By Realist on 2013 05 19, 2:11 pm CST
A law school that gives C and D’s only hurts his own school since that lawyer can’t get a job and the rankings suffer.
It should be pass or fail
By tim17 on 2013 05 20, 9:06 am CST
Mr. Silverstein - I appreciate your efforts to bring forth a true problem - the lack of meaning to the grading system and the damage it inflicts. I went to the “other” Arkansas Law School and graduated 33 years ago. I graduated in the top third but did not feel that good about myself. During my tenure there, I made one “A”. My last semester I made a B+ in oil and gas law. I talked to my professor and he said “Oh yeah. I remember your paper. It was excellent and I had you down for an A until I read another student’s paper and he was so head and shoulders above everyone else, that I gave him the only A in the course. That did not feel right. My objectively measured knowledge of the subject was degraded because of a better paper. As another commentator stated, I should have been graded on whether I knew the material and if everyone did, then everyone should have received “A"s. And as it turned out, the grading system was not an accurate measure of success. I am a recognized authority in my field and have received recognition as a “Super Lawyer” and “Best Lawyers in America” etc. Maybe I deserved those grades and I was simply a late bloomer. I do know, however, that even though I felt a great accomplishment in going to law school, I certainly felt like a failure and that did not help anyone, including my clients.
By Something needs to change on 2013 05 20, 9:27 am CST
Just give everyone an A for every class and I’m sure they’ll all get great jobs.
By Crabby Old Man on 2013 05 20, 10:21 am CST
The issue of grading and school rank is complex, particularly for the schools who are below the top 50. Having said that, I agree that a forced “C” curve is too low, but our school has the opposite problem, our forced curve is too high. In the years since it has been implemented, I don’t think we have forced any student out for academic failure. In a class running between our old 400 and the new 325, it is almost inconceivable that no student in that group is having academic difficulty. It is almost impossible to give a student a “D”, even if they earned it as you have to adjust the top end to eat the value of the “D.” In a first year class of 100 students, if I give more than 10-15 “C” grades, I will most certainly have to start creating some additional “A” grades. The two main reasons our school adopted the high curve was to help students get jobs and so they will not feel bad about themselves. There was no data whatsoever that suggested our students could not get jobs, and in addition we are the flagship school in the state. Our students, above all, get jobs if there are jobs to be had. The issue of student self-image should not be handled by grades. It should be addressed by correctly introducing students to the idea that they will not always win, they will not always be first, they are not always right and that some lessons and development in life come through experiencing failure. But, they need to learn that way before coming to law school.
By profjacobs on 2013 05 20, 11:57 am CST
I should add that one of the associates I went to work with when I got out of law school was law review, order of the coif, MBA, and a CPA. In other words, he earned some great grades and had some excellent paper qualifications. And he was a terrible lawyer. The other associates, not the managing partner, who were dissatisfied with his work ethic, ran him off.
By Something needs to change on 2013 05 20, 12:45 pm CST
I like this article…I’d give it an A-.
By SME on 2013 05 21, 12:39 pm CST
It just occurred to me—this may be valuable in assessing what law school grades really mean. This is an experience I had when I took the California bar. I already had another bar and a two-year federal clerkship when I took it. I studied entirely on my own for five months, except for a three-day crash course to brush up for the MBE.
All right. There was one very important hypothetical that involved a relatively inexperienced attorney agreeing to take a criminal case that involved a flagrant conflict of interest. The conflict was grave enough, and her representation so deficient, that it probably amounted to constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. (I’m sure of this, having worked on numerous such cases at a federal appeals court.)
A law professor in California wrote a “model answer.” One point he mentioned was that the attorney could have associated herself with an experienced criminal lawyer in order to “cure” her deficiencies in that area. Mind you, not that an experienced lawyer would have told her that she had no business taking this case, and that what she proposed to do could even amount to ineffective assistance of counsel. Nope. Only later did the “model answer” acknowledge the severe conflict, and point out that it couldn’t be cured. It presented the issue as being divorced from the suggestion that she consult someone who would know something about what she had gotten herself into. (Obviously, such consultation would have been pointless, unless it led to the knowledgeable attorney telling the inexperienced one that she had an incurable conflict.)
In other words, the answer simply involved writing up a mindless checklist into essay form.
The fact that the social costs of a possible constitutional violation (the harm to the client, the harm to society, the possibility of retrial or a successful habeas petition, and the attendant costs, many of which are, after all, economic as well as “moral”, etc.) are serious, and thus merit a mention, did not occur to the professor. Or, at least, this never appeared in his model answer.
I never used to write up straw man arguments on my law school exams, only to show that they can be easily knocked down. I know I lost points for that.
Just how many law professors grade based on model answers like this one? I hate to think about it. Judges do not want you to waste their time like this.
(Oh, BTW, I did pass the CA bar. They never tell you your score.)
By Sonja (real name, real spelling) on 2013 05 22, 1:04 am CST
We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy.
© 2013 ABA Journal and the American Bar Association | ABA Home
Questions, comments, or concerns? Contact us
Visit our desktop site