Law Schools

Several top law schools adopt pass-fail grading plans after going online

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At least five top law schools have announced they are adopting pass-fail grading or giving students the pass-fail option.

Law schools are adopting pass-fail plans amid a switch to online classes, reports. All ABA-accredited law schools will be teaching classes online. identifies these five law schools making the move to pass-fail:

• Stanford Law School, which said all grades for the winter quarter will be based on a “mandatory pass” basis.

• Harvard Law School, which is giving students the option of pass-fail grades.

• The University of Michigan Law School, which is giving students the option of pass-fail grades.

• The University of California School of Law at Berkeley, which adopted mandatory pass-fail grading.

• Cornell Law School, which says all spring classes will be graded satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

There has been a lot of discussion about pass-fail grading among deans and associate deans around the country, according to Barry Currier, managing director of ABA Accreditation and Legal Education.

The ABA accreditation standards for law schools do not prevent them from having a pass-fail type of grading system, even outside of an emergency or disaster situation, Currier said in an email to the ABA Journal.

And schools that do want to depart from ABA accreditation standards have more leeway in disaster or emergency situations, Currier said in a Feb. 28 guidance memo.

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is not keeping a list of law schools making changes to their grading policies.

Nor is the section asking schools to formally report the accommodations they are taking to deal with the novel coronavirus, Courier said. The section may, however, “gather some of this information at a later date and review it for lessons learned for subsequent disaster/emergency situations,” Courier said. calls the move to pass-fail grading “a dramatic shift for law schools.” Grades play a big role in job opportunities and law review spots. Class rank—which is determined by grade point average—is important to many law students.

There also is a problem for law firms hiring summer associates under a pass-fail system, according to Gavin White, the global hiring partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

“Unless we change the timetable for hiring, you are hiring off of one semester of grades,” White told “That probably hurts the students who have a less-than-stellar first semester, but otherwise would have been able to show an improvement for the second semester. They are sort of being robbed of that opportunity.

“That’s something we look at—particularly students who don’t come from a privileged background [and who] may have a slower start at law school, but they figure it out in the second semester.”

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