Law in Contemporary Society

The Law School Grading System

-- By PaulaKim - 16 Feb 2012

Is it a good one?

Law students care deeply about grades. Our grades are supposedly a reflection of how much we know, and perhaps also of how well we will do as lawyers.

Law school grades are generally determined by a final exam taken at the end of the semester. These exams are written to test how much we have learned in each class. Although a timed exam might not be the best way to test knowledge, and knowledge is definitely not the only thing worth measuring, the system itself is not horrible. But I think the way many students, myself included, respond to the system is destructive. We have a tendency to let our grades define us, as Abby said here.

I’m not sure why this happens. For me, I think it may partly be habit and the way I was raised. In elementary school, my parents rewarded me for good grades with little toys and trinkets. By the time I reached middle school, they discovered it was much cheaper and easier to just guilt me into getting top grades by telling me they were disappointed in me whenever I got anything lower than an A. In high school, I no longer needed parental pressure to motivate me. The thrill of getting a good grade was enough.

The grading system was beneficial in that it got me to work hard in school. But looking back on it now, I think I was working toward the wrong thing. Maybe I’ve been working toward the wrong thing my entire life. Grades got me to work hard, but they also taught me to seek external validation of my own work, and of my own worth to an extent. No matter how much effort I put into a paper or a test, I couldn’t take pride in it until I saw the red letter scrawled across the top telling me I should be proud (or not). To me, grades were my teachers’ way of telling me what they thought of me. And if my teacher thought I was smart (or stupid), I believed him, because he was the teacher and he knew best.

Now here I am in law school, still depending on others to tell me whether I will be a good lawyer or not. The law school grading system is bad for me in the way all grading systems have been bad for me: it makes me focus on the results rather than the process. I forget that I am here to learn and that I can get out of my education what, and however much, I want to get out of it.

How can we change it?

Is there anything we can do to change the system? Honestly, I think it’s too late for us.

One way to mitigate the negative effects of the grading system is to opt out of the curve with Rule 3.1.2. Of course even with this option, there is still some determination of merit by the professor (whether the effort one put into the class was, or was not, enough to pass), but the pressure to get an A (or to avoid getting a B-) is no longer there. Maybe without the focus on letter grades, those who choose to use Rule 3.1.2 would focus more on learning and figuring out how to apply what they learn to become good lawyers.

I don’t think I will be one of these people. I am not brave enough to opt out of the curve. It’s not just that I fear I won’t be able to get a job. I know there are employers who don’t consider grades when hiring people. Eben tells us that as a hiring lawyer, he never looks at transcripts when he makes his decisions. Many of the jobs I applied to did not require transcripts and the place where I will be working this summer made me an offer before receiving my transcript. Even employers who purportedly only care about grades, don’t just look at transcripts (at least, I don’t think they do). If big law firms only cared about grades, they would only want transcripts. There would be no need for them to conduct interviews or look at resumes for past experience. So I know that I would be able to find a job even with a transcript full of CRs.

I think it’s more that I’m scared to do what no one else is doing. And I’m scared of change. I’ve been letting others define me my entire life. It’s much easier to accept someone else’s definition of me than it is to honestly define myself. It’s comforting to be put in a box and to know exactly where I stand within a group of people. But comfort and complacency are enemies of creativity, and though I’m not sure exactly what kind of lawyer I want to be, I know I want to be a good lawyer. And good lawyers are creative.

So for now, I won’t invoke Rule 3.1.2, because I’m too much of a coward and also because it won’t solve the real problem which is that I allow (invite?) others to tell me who I am and how much I am worth. I need to stop approaching my classes like they are just review sessions for exams, and I need to stop approaching my exams like they are just an opportunity to impress my professor. I need to start forming my own opinions on things, and have the confidence to share them with others. Maybe then, finally, I’ll learn to stop focusing on grades and start focusing on what I want out of law school and how to get it. (924)


Webs Webs

r4 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:46 - IanSullivan
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