Law in Contemporary Society
After our discussion on Thursday I thought it would be helpful to explain why I care so much about my grades. Grades have caused me a tremendous amount of “fear and anxiety” over the past 14 weeks and I would love to stop caring. I’m hoping that Eben and the rest of the class can lift this mighty weight from my shoulders, but I’m not optimistic that it can be done.

I care about grades because other people care about grades.

That’s the short of it. It’s a horrible cycle. Let me explain what I mean.

I care about my grades because it will affect what other people think, and I care what other people think because I believe it has an effect on my happiness.

A little bit about my history with grades may help clarify and explain what I mean:

I didn’t always care about my grades. In high school I wouldn’t bother turning in term papers, because I didn’t care whether I got an A, a B, or even a C. The only slight reason I cared is because my parents cared and would scold me at the end of each semester when I did poorly and being scolded made me unhappy. When it came time to apply to college I found out the hard way that college admissions officers also cared about my grades. I felt that being rejected from the colleges of my choice had a negative effect on my happiness.

In college I started to care about my grades. Graduate schools would care about them and I cared what graduate schools thought because it would be tied to my admission or rejection (or maybe even scholarship money), which I viewed as directly related to my happiness. Am I happier here at Columbia than I would be at Brooklyn or Cardozo? Maybe, maybe not, but at least I had the choice whether to come here or go there.

If I am happier, it’s because other people think that going to Columbia makes me “smart” or “intelligent.” My grandparents can say “my grandson, oh he’s so smart, he goes to Columbia Law School.” I get some joy out of that. Then there are women, who somehow seem more infatuated with a Columbia guy. Employers will view me differently coming from Columbia as will future clients if I should start my own practice.

It seems my college grades have been related to my happiness if for no other reason than that they have allowed me an increased amount of choice in my life. I will have more choice over what job I take and I had more choice in which law school to attend.

Now in law school I care more about grades than ever, because these will be my final grades in life. For the rest of my life my resume will say that I either made law review or I didn’t, that I was a Stone or Kent Scholar or that I wasn’t. Other people will read these and make judgments about me. I view getting a good clerkship, a job at a prestigious law firm, or a job at a prestigious public interest organization as tied to my happiness. Pawnshops aren’t the only places that care about grades.

Will getting these jobs really make my happy? Or happier? Just like going to Columbia makes people think certain things about me, so will the next job that I have.

There are only two ways I see out of this horrible cycle: 1) other people stop carrying about my grades; or 2) I stop carrying what other people think, because I decide it’s not tied to my happiness.

1) Other people stop caring about my grades.

I have little control over what other people think about grades. I can only try not to care about other people’s grades. A task I will work on, but is easier said than done. If I’m making a hiring decision will I completely ignore a person’s grades? I probably can’t avoid judging a person with a 2.0 differently from someone with a 4.0.

The other possibility is that other people don’t care about my grades; it’s just all in my head. While I will admit that my head is a strange place where all sorts of imaginary events occur, I don’t believe this to be one of those events. Other people caring about my grades I believe to be very real, but feel free to disagree.

2) I stop carrying what other people think, because I decide it’s not tied to my happiness

People often say that you shouldn’t care what other people think. I have trouble doing it. My 25 years of experience have ingrained in me an understanding that what other people think will affect my happiness. Other people will employ me, or clients will choose whether or not to hire me. People also choose whether or not to socialize with me. These decisions are made based on what people think of me and the decisions have an effect on my happiness. Humans are social beings.

I see grades as a horrible cycle. One that I am firmly entrenched in and powerless on my own to escape from. If you can set me free please try.

-- JoshLerner - 08 Feb 2010

I would challenge the assertion that women are more infatuated with Columbia guys. But, don't take my word for it. I propose a test.

For Guys:

Do You Have A Date For Valentine's Day?
leftbarmainbarrightbar No 0% (7)
leftbarmainbarrightbar Yes 0% (5)

For Girls:

When you meet a guy, you first notice his:  

In all seriousness, I think the easy way to stop caring about what other people think is to define success and happiness in a way that doesn't rest on outside approval.

Admittedly, grades are important, especially when it comes to short-term job prospects. But there is a limit.

I'll volunteer an example. I would like to be a good father someday. My kids won't particularly care what grades I earned in law school or how prestigious my job is. They will care if I'm not present at their birth because my firm was sending me on a business trip. I had jury duty over break and overheard a lawyer trying to justify just such an ill-timed trip to a colleague.

To his credit, he dressed well.

-- RonMazor - 08 Feb 2010

Wow. I just spent a half hour writing a response and my browser closed. Use the save and continue editing function people!

-- RorySkaggs - 08 Feb 2010

On second thought, ignore my post. Read Thoreau's speech.

Sneak peak: "The curse is the worship of idols, which at length changes the worshipper into a stone image himself..."

-- RonMazor - 08 Feb 2010

I care about grades to the extent that I need them to get what I want. The example above of getting into graduate school fits how I saw grades in college, too. I don't think my law school grades are important, and I sincerely hope the rest of you have the wherewithal to think about how much you care (in a value hierarchy) whether the guy next to you got A's vs. whether he's a jerk, and how that thought process (or at least unconscious judgement) is repeated by fellow humans millions of times every day. That judgement matters in real life, too...not just now.

-- DRussellKraft - 08 Feb 2010

I see grades as "access to choices", similar to Derek's "I need them to get what I want." And yes, likability is crucial to life and at the end of the day grades don't matter.

But Josh is right on one very basic point - people do judge you based on your law school grades. These people might not be your children or the person sitting next to you, but those who have the power to let you get where you need to be going. So if getting into Columbia was the goal, then you're lucky. You can relax now. If a prestigious clerkship or big law job are the goals, then you are still stuck in this grades mess. One of the things, I think, this class helps us with is figuring out why we want that big law job or that clerkship or whatever. And once we are aware of what those goals entail, we can make a real choice.

When you're thinking about a career choice, that kind of clear-headed, open-eyed analysis is really helpful. But I'm not sure awareness of the uselessness of grades, or their inability to reflect our human side serves a larger purpose than making me feel ok about my mediocre first semester performance. If I still want the kind of access to choices I came here to get, I still feel, like Josh, the pressure to perform. Any takers?

Speaking of access to choices, Ron, I think the options are a little limited on the Girls' Survey! Eyes and a pleasant smile are nice to begin with, but intelligence may be important too. Also, the quality that gets noticed first may be different from the quality that infatuates. Or maybe I really need to get some sleep!

-- KrishnaSutaria - 09 Feb 2010

I appreciate the honesty in all of this, Josh, and it makes it a little easier for me to understand where you're coming from. I hope that (especially to the extent it ends up being destructive rather than productive) you can stop caring so much!

This may relate a little more to the anxiety thread, but I'll throw it out here, because it's something that's been frustrating me. A lot of law school obsessions are embarrassingly detached from what's going on in the world. Lots of people "out there" are dealing with serious problems. People are sick, people are dying, people (people smarter than us, as Eben has pointed out) are working shitty, dangerous, low-paying (low-prestige!) jobs just to feed their kids. I am damn lucky if the biggest worry in my life at present is whether I have a 3.0 or a 3.5 from Columbia Law School. Humility isn't the law student's (or the lawyer's) strongest suit, but we could all use a healthy dose every now and then. So maybe keep caring, but in perspective. . .

And Krishna, I totally agree about the survey options for women!

-- CourtneySmith - 09 Feb 2010

I confess the survey may have been geared towards avoiding a specific result, rather than providing meaningful choice or directly addressing Josh's assertion. I was also uneasy about drawing such rigid gender lines. I've revised the survey accordingly.

Gender-Neutral Survey:

Do You Feel Attending Columbia Has Made You More Attractive To Desired Partners?
leftbarmainbarrightbar No 0% (5)
leftbarmainbarrightbar Does Nerd Hot Count? 0% (2)
leftbarmainbarrightbar Yes 0% (2)
On A Scale Of 1 To 10, How Satisfied Are You With The Dating Scene At Columbia?  

-- RonMazor - 08 Feb 2010

"I’m hoping that Eben and the rest of the class can lift this mighty weight from my shoulders, but I’m not optimistic that it can be done."

I think the point of the class is to show us that it's possible, not to do it for us. We all have to lift our own weights.

Also, I think there is a huge difference between whatever significance grades have and how much you care about them. Just because you think an employer will look at them, doesn't mean you need to obsess about it. My opinion about grades is this-- if you just do your best, that is all anyone can ask. If you give it your all and leave it all on the field, then I don't think you need to worry so much about grades, because nothing you could have done would make a difference. If you did your best and maximized your potential, then nothing would have changed the grade you ended up with, so what is there to obsess about? Accept them, and move on. At that point, whatever will be will be, and worrying about the grades won't change them, so what's the point? Like anything else, stressing about something over which you have no control is just wasting energy that could be better used elsewhere.

-- RorySkaggs - 10 Feb 2010

I would like to re-iterate more coherently what I said in class last week about grades. I am nine years out of school. Based on experience, I don't believe that your grades can possibly matter beyond one to two years after graduation. Getting a job depends on having already been successful at a similar job and on intra-industry political issues surrounding your reputation and who likes you. A person who had straight As in school whose projects fail, who has whatever management considers a bad attitude, and/or offends someone important will not be able to get the jobs s/he wants. A person with terrible grades who gets things done and is liked by at least some influential people will have a lot of mobility and options. Who would ever want to hire the good-grades person when they can have the bad-grades person instead? I have hired people and that is always what we looked at, not grades. Also, people are often hired based on peripheral skills, such as speaking a foreign language or knowing in addition to law a lot about hospital work/TV industry work/whatever is important to the organization you want to work for. Takeaway: next year, take a language class or something else that has nothing to do with law but that will make you stand out from other candidates (and, I hope, that will make you happy).

-- AmandaBell - 11 Feb 2010

PS I would like to add that I really like what Mr. Lerner and everyone else wrote, and that if I had received my first-semester grades back when I was in a situation closer to the one most people here are in, I would have flipped out and probably needed to be sedated or something.

-- AmandaBell - 11 Feb 2010

I agree with Rory's comment that the point of the class is to let us know that we are the ones who should determine our own careers. I definitely understand what you're saying Josh. Both my brothers are attorneys and my parents are pretty successful people.

But I think that caring so much what other people think will only lead you to a station in life that you don't want to be. I think grades are less important than determining what exactly it is you want your career to be. We've all heard stories about the guy who freaked out during Legal Methods who is now the Attorney General or Prof. Sanger shared how she got a C in Torts and now she's now a professor at Columbia. There's a torts professor I think who was in the bottom of his class after 1L but graduated # 3 in his class. I don't think grades are at all determinative of your ultimate station in life and while they may have something to do with accessing opportunities, I believe that is probably more hype we create in our own minds than something that really exists.

I guess you should ask yourself what you will think of yourself if in 10-20 years, you are working in a job that you hate and feel unfulfilled in because you wanted others' approval. What will you think of yourself vs. what others think? Being miserable is something you'll have to deal with alone while others have the satisfaction of your "success".

At a young 22, I think more than anything, I want to define my own career and hopefully at some point change someone else's reality for the better.

Like Rory said, if you do your best in courses, all you can do is accept the grade and move on. I also think you have to learn that they are not determinative of your destiny and that they may get you "in" somewhere but that's not what will keep you.

Oh, and for the record, I don't think going to Columbia makes a man "sexier"....but maybe that works for others. (lol).

-- KrystalCommons - 16 Feb 2010



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r15 - 17 Apr 2010 - 14:59:52 - NonaFarahnik
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