Monday, January 11, 2010

Ahhhhh.. the Memories.

So, I've been totally honest with my readers and explained that I fucked up my first semester.  I did well the rest of law school--never getting below a "B"--but the damage is done.  If you don't do well your first semester, as in top 25% at a first tier like my alma mater, it will be an uphill struggle.

So, around this time of year--during my first year of law school, grades were released.  It was plainly obvious at that time that a Professor's feelings for you didn't matter.  He didn't know whose exam he was grading. I was a number to him when he graded my exam... not an intelligent student who does well under the Socratic Method in class.  Also, it was plainly obvious that class participation counted for nothing. Not that I was ever "into it."  But there were surely people that were into it... that were a bit deflated to see that it wasn't even a factor in their grades.  It was eye opening time.

I ran into my Torts professor in the hall and he said, "Hey, how did you do????"  I told him I got a B- and he was a little disappointed... he was sure that I would get an A.  Oh well.

The other little tidbit of information that you knew... but didn't completely understand.. was the curve.  My school, considering itself competitive and difficult, liked to fuck its students in the ass.  I know, I'm a  bit vulgar, but this topic brings it out of me.  The curve was around a low C--about a 70.  I knew that when I started, but wasn't sure what that meant.

So, back to mid-January of my 1L year.  I get my grades off of some chart on a billboard with our ID numbers listed on the left and the grade on the right. I'm old, so it was low-tech at the time.  I think the tech transition happened by my 3L year.  I am checking the billboard for my Crim Law grades.  This was, and arguably still is, my favorite subject.  I am a True Crime buff, by the way. I love to read about serial killers.  When I started law school, I used to declare that I came to law school to be a criminal defense attorney--not a lawyer.  So, this topic was easy for me.  I studied it and knew it like the back of my hand.  I had an excellent back and forth with the Professor. He liked me.  My case briefs were in order.  I knew my stuff.  Frankly speaking, of all the first year subjects, Crim Law was the easiest to master for everyone.  So, I felt I needed this one in the bag.

But I got a D.  I was blown away.  I thought it must be a mistake.  It was the worst grade I have ever gotten. I don't even remember having gotten a C since middle school.

The Professor handed out some sort of answer key to the students.  I reviewed it and and I was confident that I had spotted all of the issues. ALL OF THEM!  How could I get a D?  I felt like my future was in jeopardy.  So, I went up to visit my Crim Law Professor during office hours to ask him to reconsider his mistake.

He explained it to me this way:

Angel, you spotted 100% of the issues I was hoping you would see, but that is not how you are graded.  This is how I grade exams.... I grade all of the exams and put a number at the top, standing for the number of issues that you spotted on the exam.  On the exam, there 50 issues that I expected the students to spot. You got 50.  You exam goes on the floor.  The next exam taker spotted 52.  2 more than I expected anyone to spot, or that I saw myself.  That exam goes to the left of your exam.  I pick up the next one and that person spotted 55. That exam goes to the left of yours and the other.  The next exam taker only spotted 40.  That goes to the right of your exam.  I picked up the next exam and they spotted 48 of the issues.  That exam goes on the floor between yours and one where 40 issues were spotted.  I go through this exercise with all of the exams on the floor in a big line.  The one in the middle gets a 70.  The one on the right gets a failing grade and the one on the left gets a 100.  So, although you spotted all of the issues that I anticipated, more than half of the students in your class saw more issues than you or I did.  Therefore you get a D.  Because of the curve, someone will get a 100 and someone will fail, and everyone else is distributed into a bell curve around a 70. I'm so sorry.  You did a great job, but others in your section did much better.

At least I got the reassurance that I knew my stuff.  But that is not how one is graded in law school.  Today, any experience in criminal law is sorely missing from my resume.  I did manage to move past this bad grade, never getting a C or lower the rest of law school. But my fate was decided.  So, if your grades were worse than expected, don't be sad.  It's not you, it's the system.


  1. Okay, at the risk that my question is going to cause a flurry of profanity and other assorted inanity from the commenters, I just want to see if I can get some clarification on this, as I will be in this position next year at this time.

    You explained how the crim law grading process worked, and it seems easy enough to understand (not that I like it). But then you ended with, if your grades were worse than's not you, it's the system.

    I am failing to put 2 and 2 together here, and I'm NOT saying I agree with the curve. But you said you knew the subject like the back of your hand--that it was easy for you. Then, somehow, over half of your section knew it even better than you know the back of your own hand, because they spotted more issues that you did. If that was the case, how can you blame your grade on "the system" and not on the fact that you did not do as well as the others (in issue spotting, anyway)?

    Forget about the fact that the prof only saw 50--that is largely irrelevant. The instructions for the exam probably said something generic like, "discuss all issues in the previous scenario" and not "discuss the 50 issues...." right?

    So while the "curve" did mean that what grade people in the middle got relied on "the system," where you fell on that curve depended totally on your ability to spot and discuss the highest number of issues.

    If over half of the class did a better job in answering what was asked, isn't it fair that those people all get placed above you in the grading distribution?

    What do you think you deserved? Or are you just saying that you think there should be the possibility that 100% of the people should get a 100 if they do what the professor expects, and damn the curve altogether? That would be nice, but I think it would just end up causing other problems (perhaps less severe though).


  2. Well, it was just shocking to me. In every other class I had been in, 100% mean an "A". I just didn't realize that creative license in spotting issues would be valuable. In another class, like civ pro, it would be a negative.
    I'm not a fan of the curve because it made me seem like I was a bad student, when I did fine.
    If you don't see my point, I can't help you.

  3. He can't see the point. When he gets a D in a class he studied his butt off for, then he will know. Right now, Doug is talking out of ignorance. And, no, you can't help him. They don't make brain augmentation pills.

  4. No, I saw your point, I just didn't see how you got there.

    It's fine, I just am wondering how you think it should have been graded (aren't most law school 1L grades on a curve?). That's why I asked if you thought that a majority of the class should have gotten As. If you had a 100% (based on the 50 issues), and if half of the section had 50+, then there should have been at least a simple majority of A grades.

    If the prof. is forced to grade on a curve, how else are they supposed to determine who is on what part of it?

    I'd be happy if they all got rid of the curve too, but from what I've read I just thought that was a standard part of law school--you are competing against the other law students, unlike undergrad, in most cases.

    I have always thought of it like running a race...maybe everyone is in the 90+ percentile when it comes to average speediness, but the participants still get ranked based on who is fastest among them.

    You don't have to get defensive...I am seriously not attacking you.


  5. Nando, you really are an idiot, aren't you? I can't help that you failed in life, bud.

    It makes no sense to say that because someone hasn't been in law school then they have no idea how any of it works and can't discuss it.


  6. This quote from the a WSJ article gets to what I'm saying, “If you were in the bottom half with a C and now you’re in the bottom half with B, the employer will still see that you’re in the bottom half. And changing our curve is not going to change that fact.”

    So, is just the "getting a 'bad (D)' grade" that bothered/shocked you? Or was it that half the people actually performed better than you on this exam?

    Giving everyone an "A" but still giving all of the people above you a slightly "higher" A is the same thing... or should all of you have been put in "bands" where differences didn't matter? If that's the case, then we're bordering on the "everyone gets a trophy" race again...


  7. I assumed that most people would be piled around 70. And there would be an outlying A and F. I was told that employers knew my school to be difficult and Cs abound there. But it's not that simple. I dunno. The point is really that most people don't fully understand any of this before law school.

  8. Okay. I agree that if I were in your shoes I'd have thought I'd have been at about a C as well, and I'm not down on you for being disappointed in your grade, as I would/will be too.

    I guess that's what all of the books mean when they say how competitive it is and how you can come out of a final and have no idea whether you're going to get an A or an F.

    I admit that doesn't sound reasonable and I won't like dealing with it either. That's all--I go in peace now.

    For future reference: I will not be responding to Nando's sure-to-come follow-up comment (or most comments in the future) but not because I have no blog-etiquette, just because it has come down to simple attacks and nothing meaningful.


  9. When I walked into my legal writing class; I rec'd the same lecture. The grades are based on a hard curve: only one "A" mostly "C"s, but at least one "F." She then went on to say that she could only give us limited help. What!? This was the first time in my academic career I was told," you are on your own."

    * * *

    The first year is the hardest. Probably like you, I had a 6 crd Contracts Class, 5 crd Property, 5 crd Torts etc.. getting a "C" or "D" in a high credit class is hard to undue with 3 crd upper division classes. Also, during your 2L and 3L year you are actively looking for P/T work, doing clinics, and looking for a graduation job; academics is pushed to the back. YOur GPA and class rank barly budge after the 1L year.

  10. If you aren't in the top 10% of your class your grades don't matter much. Employers care more about your ethnicity, family connections, good looks - a host of other things that will help or hinder you in promoting the firm and getting business.

  11. Doug, immaturity is your imprimatur. You rely on inanities, to make your point. And when did anyone here say "you can't comment on this because you haven't been through it"?

    You definitely are hopeless. Have fun buying the dean a new Mercedes M-Class, moron!

  12. hard curves happen at all top school in all majors (not just law).

  13. Angel n Nadno, you'z all bitchez! mother fuckin' bithches!!! JD 2 Be speaks truht. He know what it take to perform. I'm lookin' at law school and I trust Dug's blog more than any of you'allz cuz you'all lozers!!You may make fun of my spellin' but I be scoring 165 on the LSAT! I'm goin' to Indiana on a full ride and wen I graduate, I'm making bank $$$$$. Fuck you'll!

    Don't hate on Doug mothafuckaz!! he gonna make more money than youz. fuck you niggaz!

  14. @ 4:53, Maybe you can help Doug play with his little monkey. But you might need a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. Dougie tried "male enhancement" but it failed. It actually shrunk his penis, and his brain size.

  15. fucc you to tha playa hatr above me!

  16. Angel, I've been a silent reader of your blog for a few weeks and I have to say this: you need to get over what happened to you in law school, stop blaming "the system," and move on. Do you think your poor Crim grade had just a bit to do with your over-confidence in your own ability regarding the subject?

    Law school isn't about knowing about crime. It isn't about knowing about trends and undertanding the dynamics of serial killers. That's what forensic investigators do. Law school measures your ability to analyze every textbook issue available and then go the step further to gain the edge over your classmates - because that's what you'll have to do in practice. You can regurgitate the model penal code all day long, but if you can't manipulate it to suit your client, you're not going to be worth the suit you're wearing.

    Maybe you weren't meant to be a lawyer. You can't blame "the system" for that. If you're so interested in crime and the justice system - you should try a career in it. You'll probably find it much more fulfilling.

    I think law school grading was the best judge of true "merit" I've ever seen. It's completely blind and based solely on performance on a completely equal test. I think you can learn a lot about yourself and how you'll practice law by how you do on your exams. My advice to those 1Ls who had a bad first semester is to not worry about how the curve screwed you over, but to try to learn where your own weaknesses are when taking the exams. That's the person I want working in my office.

  17. Thanks for your input. I am a True Crime Buff and I'm also well versed in the criminal justice system and the laws. But, it's okay. I didn't post this to feel sorry for myself. I am just putting an embarrassing story out there for my readers that are just getting their grades. I can do this because I'm anonymous. Otherwise, law school takes a big bite out of your ego--whether it be big or small. I'm totally over it. And, actually, I am a very good lawyer. I practiced for a number of years--albeit outside of criminal law. So, I won't let you put me down and tell me that law school determines what kind of lawyer you will be. The valedictorian of my class hardly spoke three words to anyone all three years. I can charm a judge with my knowledge, skill and articulation. BUT, my issue with practicing law is that it's hard to get a decent paying job doing it... or a job at all.
    I'm actively trying to get out of the law. Not because I didn't love going to court and having clients that adored me and referred me many cases, but because it's a dying industry.
    I don't have a big ego. I really don't. But the law school experience has a way of making otherwise extremely competent people feel stupid. And if I spotted all of the same issues as my Harvard educated Professor, then I don't think I did a poor job and neither did he.

  18. "Law school measures your ability to analyze every textbook issue available and then go the step further to gain the edge over your classmates..."

    Not in most of my classes. Though my crim law exam wasn't like hers, my torts exam was little more than an issue-spotting race. No hard curve in that class, but hard curves in other 1L classes. So it's beyond unfair to make such a sweeping statement about law schools when not every exam is measured the same not only among the different law schools, but among various classes within the same school.

  19. The real problem people like Angel had with law school, is that it was the first time in their life that being very bright AND working as hard as humanly possible wasn't enough to gain the success they wanted, and it freaked them out.

    There's nothing wrong with law school exams, except they have an uncanny way of proving to people who are very smart that being very smart and really, really, really, really, wanting something doesn't guarantee you will get it, because guess what, you don't deserve anything.

    This is the same reason the wash-out rate in big-law is so high. Everyone is very smart, and no one could possibly work more, but all of these super-overachieving douche bag praise whores find themselves in the "average" category for the first time in their life and it destroys their ego.

    99% of them never cared most about the money, they cared about "winning", the $160k is just a way to keep score. Of course, the game don't end there, it never ends.

    Angel's lucky though, she has a vagina. She can "exit" law for that face saving trump card of motherhood and never be forced to admit failure.

  20. Well, I can't top that one, but I just wanted to ask if there is a way to find out what the curves are at law schools for first year classes or can it all vary depending on what professor you get?

  21. I'm not sure.... I went to school before the internet was helpful. I think they told me in orientation and the curve was school wide--not just one class. I would call the school and ask.

  22. You know, MIT has a policy where your first semester grades are not put on your transcript, which I think is a great idea.

    I did an undergraduate in science and I went to an easy high school - therefore I found my first semester impossible - constant labs, class, homework, etc. It was also my first time away from home in a foreign city - I went to an out-of-country college.

    I did well the rest of my college career but I got an astounding 1.75 my first semester.

  23. Just because Angel was put on a grading curve on one particular exam does not mean she was outperformed by the other students who were placed above her on the curve. It means that this professor used a STUPID basis for trying to evaluate the differences between the exams. Creative license to issue-spot does NOT mean you outperform. If anything, it makes you OFF-TOPIC. i had a professor who would actually deduct points from your exam for going off-topic, and certainly didn't reward a student for not being able to recognize what is a criminal law issue and go through the proper analysis. My favorite exam ever in law school was an impossible test. The professor told us we couldn't finish. if we finished, we were not being detailed enough. out of the 5 page essay prompt, i made it through 1 and a 1/2 pages and made an A because of thorough, on-point analysis. spotting 50 issues as a benchmark to who will be lower or higher is STUPID.



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