1L Grades

Good posts: Orin Kerr, Thought on First-Year Law School Grades and Lyrissa Lidsky, Emotional Distress and 1L Grades.

Our first year grades are due the 25th 28th and will be released soon thereafter all in a lump. This is a big change from previous practice where the grades were due on a rolling basis related to when the exam was given, and the size of the class. And they were released as they came in. This, we suspect, spread the pain for first years and interfered with second semester studiousness. Perhaps, we hope, people will have settled down into second semester routines and be better able to weather any jolts the grades may deliver.

As my exam was on the very last day of the exam period, and my section (IJ) has the most students, I get the worse deal here, but that's life.

Anyway, now that I've used up all the pills they gave me for my dental surgery, I'm back to grading. Which is a different sort of pain.

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4 Responses to 1L Grades

  1. hambone says:

    michael,
    what are you thoughts on the discussion by the conspirators over the ‘randomness’ of law school exam grades and also the importance of 1L grades generally?

  2. michael says:

    I think Orin is basically right. Employers — especially summer jobs for 1Ls & 2Ls, but also bigfirm first-job-after-law school — care about first year (not just first semester) grades, especially when those are refracted into membership on law reviews. Employers who see themselves more about scrappy litigating, e.g. Legal Aid, care some about grade averages but also a lot about what sort of experiences a student accumulates during law school. Then again, smart employers also care about trends: if you did well then collapsed, that isn’t as good as doing not so well and then improving dramatically.

    On ‘randomness’ there’s obviously some luck of the draw — did the exam ask about the things you studied or remembered best? On the grading end, I think that I grade fairly consistently, that an exam that gets a given grade one time would get the same the next — except maybe in the very middle (C+/B-/B), where different types of muddle might on different days be seen as slightly higher or lower.

    There’s no doubt that maybe a different prof might be more forgiving of one type of error and less forgiving of another. (I’m not sure if that’s properly called randomness, though.)

    For example, I suspect not everyone treats this common situation the same: The problem calls for Argument A based on a line of cases directly on point; there’s also an alternate Argument B, based on general principles that one might make if one didn’t know about A, or was afraid A might not apply. The good students discuss A. They get at least B+’s. The brilliant students discuss A, and then say that if for some weird reason A didn’t apply, there’s always B, but it’s not as good for P because of the defenses to it.

    Then there are the students who show no sign at all of ever having read or recalled anything about A, or the relevant cases, but do a great job (or a medium job, or an adequate job) of deriving an answer based on general principles. Even the best variety of this answer isn’t as good as one based on Argument A because Argument B, unlike A which is an exception to the general rule, is subject to more defenses. Some of these student talk about those too, which has the perverse outcome of being more thorough but leading them to a result farther from the correct answer.

    How do you grade that group? I’m pretty hard on all of it — although least harsh on the folks who at least treat Argument B fully and correctly — if A was in the assigned reading and especially if I mentioned it in class. Some other people might be more impressed by some variations on the B theme.

  3. Cyndee says:

    The thing that law students and law school administrators and professors don’t consider well enough is that transcripts are forever. There must be a better way to determine and communicate the abilities of students in a particular area of the law in the current economic climate.

    I am both a tax (sales tax and other non-income taxes) and trade lawyer practicing in the private sector at a medium sized firm (over 100 lawyers) and I am a law professor and teach a course on NAFTA. From a hiring perspective, I need a junior who understands the key tax concepts and what they do not know from law school, they are able to research and understand quickly. The key for a tax lawyer is to be able to identify issues and solve the tax problems quickly and effectively. Even more importantly, clients want a lawyer who can assess tax risks and give options. Professors need to find ways to teach these skills (in addition to the basic concepts) and assess the skills.

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