Law School Grades

Let’s talk about law school grades.

Grades are one of the main sources of stress in law school. Many law schools, mine included, place grades on a curve. Students are compared against each other. Some will end up at the top of the curve, and some on the bottom. Everyone could turn in the exact same answer, and we would all get different grades.

Grades are an especially big source of stress during the first year, because they play a large role in the On-Campus Interviewing (OCI) process in the fall of second year. I will share about my experience of OCI at another time, including what is was like not getting a job offer from a single law firm. Grades play a big role in the outcome, and so people stress over them.

But law school grades can seem so arbitrary. Last spring, I took Privacy with Professor Lior Strahilevitz and Legal Profession with Barry Alberts. I studied hard for both classes, stayed engaged in class, took notes. I enjoyed both classes; Barry Alberts even told me after class one day that he thinks that I would make a great lawyer. I felt prepared for both exams. When grades came out, I got a high grade for Privacy and my lowest grade in law school in Legal Profession.

Looking back, I’m not sure if I could have done anything differently. Maybe I’m not inherently an ethical person? Maybe I should have studied more for Legal Profession? Or maybe I should have studied less and got more sleep, more exercise, and focused on rest? There’s no reason to believe that studying more would have resulted in a better grade.

Maybe this experience is preparing me for practice. Grades can seem like an arbitrary decision, made in an opaque process by someone without complete information, based on a work product created under intense time pressure, that can have a significant impact on my future. So in this sense, it’s sort of like getting a decision from a judge. You can do your absolute best work and still lose. Only in the real world, a loss doesn’t mean a bad grade, but that your client loses her housing and becomes homeless.

Not that I’m blaming professors, as grading 50 exams and laying them on a curve is no easy task. Or blaming judges, for that matter.

Last fall, I took Constitutional Law: Equal Protection and Due Process with Professor David Strauss. Strauss is an amazing professor with an expansive knowledge of the Constitution. He has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court 18 times, an impressive feat. There was a waitlist of 40+ students for the class. We read interesting cases like Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges (last year’s same-sex marriage decision). I learned a lot from the class.

I got my grade for that class yesterday. I did OK, but not as well as I would have hoped (below median). But I refuse to have a single number dictate my memories of this class. I want to look back on this experience and say that I was fortunate to tackle interesting questions with an amazing professor and a great group of classmates, instead of “Oh, that’s the class in which I got grade X.”

And if an employer rejects me because my grades are “not up to our standard,” that’s fine. Having worked in recruiting, I know how difficult it is to differentiate between candidates. In the end, it’s their loss, not mine.

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