We Graded The Law Students And The Law Students Won

John Hudson at The Atlantic

Catherine Rampell in NYT:

One day next month every student at Loyola Law School Los Angeles will awake to a higher grade point average.

But it’s not because they are all working harder.

The school is retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.

In the last two years, at least 10 law schools have deliberately changed their grading systems to make them more lenient. These include law schools like New York University and Georgetown, as well as Golden Gate University and Tulane University, which just announced the change this month. Some recruiters at law firms keep track of these changes and consider them when interviewing, and some do not.

Law schools seem to view higher grades as one way to rescue their students from the tough economic climate — and perhaps more to the point, to protect their own reputations and rankings. Once able to practically guarantee gainful employment to thousands of students every year, the schools are now fielding complaints from more and more unemployed graduates, frequently drowning in student debt.

Nathan Koppel at Law Blog at WSJ:

Law schools traditionally have strictly regulated the distribution of As and Bs awarded. The fact that they are now tinkering with their grade curves does not sit well with some.

“If somebody’s paying $150,000 for a law school degree, you don’t want to call them a loser,” said Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke professor who now studies grade inflation. “So you artificially call every student a success.”

Law firms, for their part, are wise to the ways of law schools. In assessing a job prospect, firms appear to be relying less on possibly-inflated GPAs and instead are paying more attention to other criteria, such as class rank and law-journal experience, NYT reports.

“Every year we do our homework,” said Helen Long, the legal recruiting director at Ropes & Gray. “And besides, if a school had a remarkable jump in its G.P.A.’s from one year to the next, we receive a big enough group of résumés every year that we’d probably notice.”

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

The relationship between students and schools has always been interesting. Students (their parents, usually) paid the bills, but the schools more or less terrorized the students. How did that happen? It was possible only as long as the demand for graduates was strong. Now that demand has weakened, in law as in other industries, the relationship is changing in ways that are not too subtle.

Glenn Reynolds has written about the “education bubble,” perhaps the next to burst. The “costs” of education have risen exponentially over the years, while the real costs of running a school–lumber, natural gas, telecom services, whatever–have risen more modestly. The bubble, seemingly, has now burst. Glenn wrote a day or two ago that he wouldn’t recommend that a college graduate go in debt to attend any law school other than an elite few–Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

Law schools that are worried about their economic viability have only a small number of options available. Grade inflation, which has been implemented by countless undergraduate institutions that felt the squeeze some years ago, is one of them. Will law firms and other employers be fooled? One wouldn’t think so, but in an environment of grade inflation, students at an institution that failed to go with the flow might indeed be penalized, for a while at least.

The reality is that any society–even ours–has a limited need for lawyers. I’m reminded of a cartoon in the New Yorker from several decades ago. Two people are talking at a cocktail party; one of them says to the other: “How did I know you’re a lawyer? Simple: everyone is a lawyer.” That was how things seemed to be going during the 1970s, but like all trends, this one couldn’t continue forever.

James Joyner:

Doesn’t telling the NYT you’re doing this rather defeat the purpose? Indeed, won’t it have the opposite effect, making prospective employers dubious of high grades from the school? And won’t this mostly harm the people who actually earned the good grades?

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

All this competition! Too stressful! Maybe you should just switch to the sunny climes of “Journalism school,” where life is sweet? Yes, you should, because journalism schools are now suspending the need for an “entrance exam,” because applicants thought that was hard. And journalism itself is easy, so hard things aren’t proper training.

Now go out and learn the world!

Ann Althouse:

I saw the NYT article yesterday and decided it wasn’t worth blogging, but I’m blogging it now because it’s getting blogged and only to say that I consider this news a huge bore in light of the fact that law students’ grades are always adjusted on a curve.

It’s not as if the students previously got the grades they deserved and now the grades are phony. When  lawprofs grade law school exams, we may start with raw scores that represent what we really think of them, but the final grades are determined by the school’s predetermined goals for averages and percentages at the various grade levels. If the school thinks those averages and percentages are set in the wrong place and it can reset them.

It never had to do with the actual performance of the students. It was always about where the school, as a matter of policy, decided the grades ought to be. It was always about communicating with law firms and other employers in the hope of advantaging our graduates in comparison to other law schools’ graduates. We’re all lawyers here. This is all advocacy. Are you actually surprised?


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