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An Introduction To Law School Grades For New Students

Tell me if this assumption sounds familiar: If you’re applying to a law school, you probably graduated near the top of your class. In fact, I’m guessing your mom and dad slapped a “Proud Parent of an Honor Student” sticker on their car as they shuttled you to different activities. In school, your teachers flattered you, parading you around as the measuring stick. Sure, your peers secretly resented your gifts; some even lashed out at you. But as you look back, it was really a compliment. Even your critics knew that someday, you were going to be someone.
Enter law school, where you’re surrounded by 300 success stories just like you! Your classmates’ rooms were also littered with trophies and ribbons. Like you, adults told them how special they were. Some are grinders who faced down adversity and pulled themselves up. Others are forces of nature, wunderkinds buoyed by pluck and God-given talent. These are your peers—and your competition. As you’ll learn, law school grades don’t always entail transparent formulas and consistent expectations. It is often more subjective—and political—than that.
In other words, law school, like life, isn’t fair. That’s the message from a recent piece in Law School Academic Success, a website produced by Susan Landrum, the Director of the Office of Academic Achievement at the Savannah Law School. If you’re expecting a 95 on your final to equal an A, get ready for a surprise. Here are some observations from Landrum to help you understand what it takes to rise to the top of your class (grade-wise, at least):

  • Remember the Bell Curve: According to Landrum, “Many law schools have a policy for how grades are distributed in each course—in other words, how many As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs that a professor should assign, and what the median grade should be for each course. For example, the grading policy at Law School X might direct the professor to assign approximately 15-20% As, 35-40% Bs, 30-35% Cs, and 5-10% Ds and Fs. Consider law school grades to be like musical chairs. If you score or point or two lower than your peers on a final, it may mean the difference between an A or a B.”
  • Adjust Your Expectations: What worked as an undergrad won’t necessarily work in law school, says Landrum. “Some law students view the grade system I’ve just described as unfair because they believe that they’re being penalized by the limits on how many high grades can be earned in a particular class. In reality, the requirements for earning an ‘A’ are much greater in law school, and the same amount of work—or quality of work—that you did in undergrad to get an ‘A’ does not get you as far in law school . . . . The end result: you will have to recalibrate your expectations about what is required of you for ‘A’ work as a law student.”
  • Grades Aren’t Everything: That may be easy for Landrum to say. But she makes an important point:There are certain types of jobs that require high grades, like judicial clerkships and associate attorney positions at Big Law firms. But even the people who ultimately obtain those positions have generally not made straight A’s, and the vast majority of legal jobs do not require that you graduate in the top 10 percent of your class. Instead of obsessing over grades, you will be better served by focusing your attention on learning the law to become the best lawyer you can be.”

Moreover, Landrum reminds students not to get discouraged by first semester grades. “Sometimes, it just takes students longer to perfect their personal approach to learning in law school—if you’re disciplined in your approach to your studies in the long-term and strive to constantly improve, you have the ability to reach your full potential as a law student and future lawyer.”
Source: Law School Academic Success

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