Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Deadly Curves: Some People are Doomed to Fail

Alton and I use the "Shoutbox" to the right to communicate with each other.  I wish more of you would drop a line once and a bit, but it's mostly me and Alton.  He suggested I blog about the Grading Curve and its effects on law students, even in a good economy.  I think it's a worthy topic, so I will give it a go.

Silly me.  When I started law school, I didn't know about the grading curve.  Before you bash me, you must remember that I started law school before the Internet was widely used and I didn't come from a family of lawyers.  Some of the privileged folks in my class started law school with the family's law library.  That made me feel a little bit disadvantaged.  But when I walked into Con Law and the Professor explained the Grading Curve, I felt a little worse off.   I don't remember what the curve was based on, but I do remember it was in the low Cs.  So, Let's say it was a 2.5 at my law school.  It's my understanding that it varies greatly from school to school. So, my Con Law Professor gave the best explanation I've heard to date, so I'll reiterate it here:

Quoted, roughly:

Let's say I write the exam question and I spot 15 issues that I expect the students to discuss and IRAC.  I start with that number.  In the first exam I read, the student spots and discusses 13 of the 15 issues.  I put a 13 at the top of the exam and I put that one on the floor.  Then, I pick up the next, read it and see that this student spotted 15 of the issues.  So I place that exam to the left of the other.  Then, I read the next one, and that person spotted 10 of the issues.  I place that exam to the right of the first exam.  Then, I grade an exam from a clever and creative student that manages to spot two more issues than I did--17.  I place that exam to the left of the 15 exam.  Actually, I am pleasantly surprised by my students and I often  grade exams and find that more than a few students spot legitimate issues that I didn't see.  All of those exams go on the floor to the left of the the 15 exam, in numerical order from highest to the lowest. 
In the end, I have a series of exams.  18, 18, 17, 16, 15, 15, 15, 15, 14, 14, 14, 12, 10.  The students that spotted 18 get an "A" in the class.  The students that spotted 15 get a 2.5 and the student that spotted 10 gets an "F".  Someone has to fail when we use a bell curve.  And most students will get a "C".  That's the grading curve here at Fuck You School of Law.
When he explained that to us, we were all a little taken aback.  How can you get a 100% and have it result in a "C"?  In college, when you study hard and you know your shit, you get an "A."  Therein lies the false confidence that so many law lemmings suffer from.  Before law school, so many lemmings were accustomed to getting the grade with some hard work.  In law school, since you are graded comparably and not against a key--you have no idea whether you are studying enough or whether you know enough to get an "A" on the exam.  After all, to know that, you'd have to know how much the rest of the class studied and how prepared they are for the exam.  That's why law school is so cut throat.  There's not enough room on the left side of the bell curve for everyone to do well.

Well, here's the deal folks.  Because of tradition or reputation or some combination of the two, reputable law schools use a curve to grade the students and the curve can be around a very low grade.  And even if it isn't, the bell curve requires that a few students get an "A," a few students get an "F" and many students get "Cs" or or "Bs" depending on your school's grading curve.  So, because of the bell curve, and no matter whether the economy is thriving or dying, some students at every school are predestined to do badly.  As you may recall from my previous post, your first semester grades determine your future as a lawyer.  So, many of you will fail because the bell curve says you should.

Here's some GPA curves for those of you that are dying to know what grade you're most likely to get:

University of Akron School of Law2.78[2]
University of Alabama School of Law2.67[3]
Albany Law School3.07[4]
American University Washington College of Law3.28[5]
Appalachian School of Law2.50-2.67[6]
University of ArizonaJames E. Rogers College of Law3.29[7]
Arizona State UniversitySandra Day O'Connor College of Law3.30[8]
University of Arkansas School of Law2.67[9]
University of Arkansas at Little RockWilliam H. Bowen School of Law2.87[10]
Ave Maria School of Law3.08[11]
University of Baltimore School of Law2.86[12]
Barry UniversityDwayne O. Andreas School of Law2.71[13]
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law3.16[14]
Boston College Law School3.32[15]
Boston University School of Law3.44[16]
Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School3.30[17]
Brooklyn Law School3.25[18]
Chapman University School of Law2.80
Columbus School of Law2.67-3.20[19]
Cornell Law School3.35[20]
University of Dayton School of Law2.80 (1L); 3.00 (2L, 3L)[21]
University of Denver Sturm College of Law3.00 (median); 2.85-3.15 (mean)[22]
Duke University School of Law3.30[23]
Elon University School of Law3.39[24]
Emory University School of Law3.18
Florida Coastal School of Law2.50(1L mean); 2.70 (2L, 3L mean)[25]
University of Florida Levin College of Law3.15
Fordham University School of Law3.17[26]
George Mason University School of Law2.85-2.95[27]
Georgetown University Law Center3.15[28]
University of Georgia School of Law2.90[29]
Gonzaga University School of Law2.60-2.90[30]
University of Idaho College of Law2.70[31]
University of Illinois College of Law3.20 (1L mean)[32]
University of Kansas School of Law2.80-3.00 (1L mean)[33]
Louisiana State UniversityPaul M. Hebert Law Center2.60 (1L); 2.80 (2L / 3L)[34]
University of Michigan Law School3.19 (1L mean)[35]
University of Minnesota Law School3.25-3.31[36]
University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law2.68
North Carolina Central University School of Law1.67-2.33[37]
Northwestern University School of Law3.26[38]
Ohio Northern UniversityPettit College of Law3.00[39]
Ohio State University Moritz College of Law2.70[40]
University of Oklahoma College of Law2.84
Oklahoma City University School of Law2.17-2.60[41]
University of Oregon School of Law2.95-3.00[42]
Pennsylvania State University - Dickinson School of Law2.90-3.10[43]
Quinnipiac University School of Law3.02[44]
Rutgers School of Law - Newark3.00[45]
St. John's University School of Law3.30 (median); 2.95-3.05 (mean)[46]
Saint Louis University School of Law2.80[47][48][49]
University of San Diego School of Law2.95-3.05[50]
University of San Francisco School of Law2.73-2.99[citation needed]
Seattle University School of Law2.89[51]
Seton Hall University School of Law3.20 (B+ Curve)[52]
University of Southern California School of Law3.30[53]
Southern Illinois University School of Law2.55-2.80[54]
Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law3.04[55]
Southwestern Law School2.90 (1L mean); 3.00 (2L, 3L mean)[56]
Suffolk University Law School3.16 (mean); 3.02 (median)[57]
Syracuse University College of Law2.90-3.10[58]
Temple University Beasley School of Law3.05[59]
University of Texas School of Law3.30[60]
Texas Wesleyan University School of Law3.00[61]
Thomas M. Cooley Law School2.00-2.40[62]
University of Tulsa College of Law2.50-2.67[63]
University of UtahS.J. Quinney College of Law3.38[64]
Valparaiso University School of Law2.50-2.70
Vanderbilt University Law School3.13[65]
Vermont Law School3.00
Villanova University School of Law3.25[66]
University of Virginia Law School3.30[67]
Washington and Lee University School of Law3.34[68]
University of Washington School of Law3.40[69]
Whittier Law School2.50-2.75 (1L); 2.50-2.88 (2L, 3L)[70]
Widener University School of Law2.30-2.75[71]
William Mitchell College of Law2.67[72]
University of Wisconsin Law School2.85-3.10[73]
University of Wyoming College of Law2.60-3.00


  1. man i wish i had this to read 4 years ago.

  2. Great job Angel. Since here are about 45,000 law grads every year (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/blog/too_many_law_schools.php)

    and the median debt is $92,000 upon graduation, that means over 20 thousand students are graduating "below median" i.e. "sub par" EVERY YEAR with difficult-to-nonexistent job prospecs and six figure debt.

    This is insane. The bottom 10%, over four thousand young people every year, are completely screwed. A handful are going into daddy's law firm, but many were hoping that, by attending the local law school on loans, they were going to be a licensed professional with a solid, steady, middle class income.

    This just can't go on.

  3. Sorry for the double post, I'm just so worked up about this one. Many people attend that local school thinking "well, it's no Harvard, but what's really important to me is staying at home with my friends and family." They don't know that a significant fraction of their entering class are, indeed, doomed to fail.

    I say fuck the curve. Admit as many students as you have summer positions for. Let the employers evaluate the students. They'll either hire them or write a recommendation for them. If anyone doesn't impress their boss then, well, that's the work place. But the mandatory curve means some people don't even get the opportunity to prove themselves at an actual firm!


  4. Who you gonna call? Curve busters. Sorry, I had an 80's flashback. Where did I put my Simply Red cassette again?

    The curve does seem inherently unfair. I mean some women are born with them, others can work out to get them, while there are some that are forced into the world of androgynous clothes.

  5. What about the bastion of higher learning, Thomas Cooley? (I may be attending there in Jan. Yeah. Go me. I am also looking for some Enron stock and a new coke if anyone has some. (Not kidding about the maybe Cooley part.)

  6. Alton, right on!
    Read This, don't do it. A large portion of the 1L class flunks out. I consider them the lucky ones. Cooley is a joke. Wait, at least, until you get into something better.

  7. Boston University's curve is looking pretty sweet right now.

  8. By the way, don't go to Cooley. Even on a full scholarship, it's still 3 years of your life. You only get to do law school once. Again I have no problem with the "lower tiers", I have a problem with Cooley. Their self-published ranking system is dishonest and a complete joke, it completely undermines their credibility. I have problems with USNWR too, but Cooley is like USNWR if they skewed their ranking criteria so that "USNWR School of Law" placed way higher than any reasonable estimates.

    If you don't care about that, keep in mind that you'll be competing with U. Michigan grads. Cooley has one of the lowest grading curves so you'll have to work doubletime to pull the grades just to get you noticed. You'll have to put yourself out there everywhere, make a great impression, be charismatic, "network", etc. You'll be climbing uphill the whole way. On the other hand a UMich grad has a solid chance at a job in Mich just because they got average grades at UMich and didn't bomb the interview. Granted, though, if you do all the extra legwork you have a chance at a solid paying job. You might even do backflips and somersaults at the job you manage to land, impress some people, and move up. You, too, could live the TTTT dream.

  9. Actually I found this pro-Cooley article:


    If what it says is true, I laud Cooley's policy/philosophy. I think a school that accepts students liberally but then lets them sink or swim on their own work ethic and ability is an excellent practice. And if Cooley grads built a reputation as students that "know the law and how to practice it" then good on them.

    Unfortunately it sounds like the ABA stepped in to put an end to that. Anyway, enjoy "Read This".

  10. Great stuff Angel.

    The curve is definitely a key component to the scam vis a vis pulling scholarship money, maintaining control, and failing out students.

  11. Unless things have changed since I graduate in '05, Rutgers-Newark's curve is a B-, not a B.

  12. I actually have other reasons for going to Cooley, and am in a very unique position. If it goes my way, I could be one of the only people that has this opportunity. I will not bore your board, ha...with it. Drop me an email, strongerthansome@gmail.com if you want the rest of the story. Is Paul Harvey still alive, or is he in a freezer next to Disney somewhere?

  13. I hope your curve looks great at this time

    College Grant for Mother

  14. When I teach undergraduate classes and the students start begging me to curve their grades, I explain this to them. They don't understand that a curve goes both ways.

  15. OH, wow...don't go to Cooley. I really wouldn't even go there with a full scholarship unless you're independently wealthy and won't have to work ever in your life. My husband (thankfully!) turned them down after seriously considering it; he is not going to law school at all and is getting a degree in a practical field now.

  16. I was a Bio major in undergrad and we were curved to a C, so my GPA was lower than a History majors although I was on Dean's List. And I noticed that the non-science majors got As so easily, and I got As in my non-science courses as well.

    So I naturally assumed in law school I'd finally get that level playing field. And that sorta kinda worked. For essay exams I got mostly A-s when I cared. But for multiple choice, if you got 3 questions wrong that was the difference between an A and a C. I hate MC on law school exams. The law is vague to begin with. Any good attorney should be able to argue both ways and most do, because it is intentionally designed that way---so that the judges can side with whoever gave them more money and then pretend they made the better argument.

    Also you need to understand that lower ranked schools assume students are morons, and so the curve is harsher. At top schools the students are assumed to be intelligent, especially in undergrad, and the professors are considered failures if a large percentage of students underperform. I have had friends at Harvard and know of a teacher that was forced to re-teach a class because he failed a lot of the students, Harvard reasoned that this professor must have not taught the material correctly.

    Same situation happens at another school, and the students are called morons and it stands.

    My sister got screwed over by her undergrad on a test, they claimed she wasn't there, and she had to fight for the grade, got so angry afterwards that she left---she had a full scholarship there.

    So it's ultimately the name of the school, and you need a top one. The lower ones all suck.

    Incidentally, when schools talk about raising the GPA, morons complain about that and say they had it harder or this shows some sort of watering down of the "educational process." What a load of shit, there never was a process, it was all the name of the school to begin with.

  17. Anyone have any inside info on Touro LS on Long Island? Just finished my last final of my first semester. It was absolute hell and I'm doubtful of a passing grade (which I understand to be a "B"). Anyone know the curve? Can't seem to find info on Touro.

    much appreciated

  18. Most of those schools claim not to have a curve. Where did the info come from (wikipedia I bet) ?

  19. They can claim it all they want.
    Cooley claims not to, but they do.

    I know, I am a 3L there right now.

    The average grade is around a 2.5 GPA for students from what I can tell. They will like and claim to all have a 4.0 but if you look at the actual school stats it shows otherwise.

    I've seen people claim to be deans list and then get kicked out for failing too many classes. People lie. What can I say, lawyers are what they are.

  20. If you're going to steal wikipedia's chart, at least give them credit for it. I mean, you've got the links and the footnotes. ;(

  21. The author's conlaw professor forgot to mention that at least some of the 17s and 18s actually go to sons and daughters of well-connected lawyers and donors to the school. At least in smaller TTTs, anonymous grading is a fuzzy myth, like the Easter Bunny or privacy. Welcome to the legal profession.

  22. What a joke, Ohio Northern's curve is much lower than a 3.0. The average gpa is a 2.33. Anybody who wishes to transfer out must explain such a low curve in an annendum with their application. This is only if the student transfers to a law school that does not require any recommendations either...as there are no recommendations written by faculty at ONU law for transfers. FYI

  23. People are still going to law school???

  24. My first semester at law school I got a C+ in Property. I read through all of these blogs, threads, etc. and it was so discouraging. All of these sites basically made me feel like I wasted my time and would never succeed in law. But I still tried. I brought my grades up so that my GPA was above the curve, I networked my ASS off, made it onto Law Review and the Moot Court Board, and still got four OCI interviews despite a 3.0 GPA. I recently accepted an offer at a mid-size firm at a salary of $2,000/week this summer.

    Basically, law school is what you made of it. If you don't let your grades define you, they won't. Don't be a sore loser about it, improve. Network. Work harder. Show them something that makes it clear that you are more than your grades. And stop reading posts like these that say law school is not worth it. You know what isn't worth it? Moping on a computer instead of making the best of your situation. I mostly wanted to give hope to those of you that are in the position I was in about a year ago. You're not hopeless if you don't want to be.

  25. Attended law school in last century - exited after year and half (grades not high enough) - did not get any special treatment (classroom support, mentoring, etc) - worked my ass off to no avail - ultimately, was told that it came down to numbers - too many students accepted into class - being out of state, without support (connections) and identifying myself as wanna be transfer - IMHO - doomed me to fail - typical / atypical?



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