Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

JD2B talks about law school grades being some combination of legal ability, burnout, and luck, with the perceived arbitrariness of them enhanced by the fact that there are so few grades to give out at the top that minutely fine distinctions must be made, and the rest of the stack just gets shunted off into the B-range. I suppose I agree (although I'd probably collapse "burnout" into a broader category called "studying skills" and call my components of grading (1) legal skills, (2) writing skills, (3) study skills, (4) luck and/or fate). The way I think of it is not so much that the grades are arbitrary but that they are valid but with a margin of error larger than the distinctions between grades. So the B+ may in fact (as if there's an objective "fact" as to the quality of an answer) be an A- or a B without proving the invalidity of the whole process. The other thing is that grades may not be measuring what they intend to measure. Being asked a handful (or, on one of my spring exams, just one) question that touches on themes/topics/issues/facts brought up in the class may not cover the breadth of material adequately enough that luck isn't a factor as far as which pieces you understand better and which show up on the exam. Writing ability to the extent that you can cover up a lack of understanding and depth can also be helpful for some questions -- although I'm content with the justification that writing ability can save you in a real legal setting too, even if you don't really know what you're talking about -- especially if the professor is grading the exams quickly, or the questions are easy enough that everyone's nailing the concepts and the only clear way to separate and rank is through clarity and quality of the writing (a note on this point: to the extent that someone's "writing skills" being greater than their "legal analysis skills" could play out on exams, I would think it would play out more in policy-related classes with relatively easy-to-comprehend law, like contracts, as opposed to more complex and hard-to-grasp subjects like civil procedure. Not enough data to support or reject this hypothesis, so it's just a thought for now). And perhaps some sort of exam-taking skills.