Law Students

Law schools should toughen and standardize grade curves, while teaching resilience, prof says


Sure, many law students are miserable, but don’t blame a tough grading system, according to a senior lecturing fellow at Duke Law School.

Writing at the Careerist, Duke lecturer Daniel Bowling acknowledges that many students are shocked after receiving their first-year grades. “Over-achievers since toddlerdom, it is their first experience with something less than perfection,” he writes.

But many are able to bounce back, says Bowling, who teaches a course on lawyers and personal well-being at Duke. “Researchers on resilience and post-traumatic stress have demonstrated there is a bell curve distribution among those who undergo an event they find traumatic. Some suffer mightily and never recover; others—the majority—bounce back after a while. And a certain percentage thrive in the aftermath of trauma.”

Bowling says law schools should give incoming students resilience training, and should develop strengths awareness and alignment. “We are happiest and most productive when we are aware of our strengths and use them in our lives and jobs,” he says.

As for grades, the curve needs to be toughened up, he says. “You heard me right. Toughen up but standardize grade curves across faculties and between schools to the extent possible. Level the playing field. It isn’t the presence of Cs that is ruining things for the bottom half of the class; it is the almost random way they are assigned among professors and schools.”

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Law schools should mostly ditch C grades, law prof argues”

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