Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Grade Inflation, Paying Employers to Hire Graduates....What Will Law Schools Think of Next?

I've written before about how law schools mislead students about the salaries and career opportunities afforded by the legal profession. Law students often rack up six figure student loan debt to come out to a job market in which $30,000 starting salaries are the norm ... assuming the new attorney can even get a job.

Well, apparently the complete disconnect between law schools and the real world of practicing law is starting to close. Complaints are filtering back to the law school so they're trying to come up with measures to make their graduates more employable, including artificially raising grades and paying employers to "test drive" new lawyers.

The New York Times reports:

One day next month every student at Loyola Law School Los Angeles will awake to a higher grade point average.

A Dallas law firm will be paid for employing Zachary Burd, who graduated from Southern Methodist University’s law school.

But it’s not because they are all working harder.

The school is retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.

In the last two years, at least 10 law schools have deliberately changed their grading systems to make them more lenient. These include law schools like New York University and Georgetown, as well as Golden Gate University and Tulane University, which just announced the change this month. Some recruiters at law firms keep track of these changes and consider them when interviewing, and some do not.

Law schools seem to view higher grades as one way to rescue their students from the tough economic climate — and perhaps more to the point, to protect their own reputations and rankings. Once able to practically guarantee gainful employment to thousands of students every year, the schools are now fielding complaints from more and more unemployed graduates, frequently drowning in student debt.

They have come up with a number of strategic responses. Besides the usual career
counseling measures, many top schools have bumped up their on-campus interview weeks from the autumn to August, before the school year even starts, because they want their students to have a chance to nab a job slot before their counterparts at other schools do.

Others, like Duke and the University of Texas at Austin, offer stipends for students to take unpaid public interest internships. Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law even recently began paying profit-making law firms to hire its students.

“For people like me who have good grades but are not in the super-elite, there are not as many options for getting a job in advance,” said Zachary Burd, 35, who just graduated from Southern Methodist University. A Dallas family law firm will receive $3,500 to “test drive” him this August.

“They’ll get me for a month or two, for free, to try me out,” he said. “It’s safer for them, and it’s a good foot in the door for me.”

But the tactic getting the most attention — and the most controversy — is the sudden, deliberate and dubiously effective grade inflation, which had begun even before the legal job market softened.

“If somebody’s paying $150,000 for a law school degree, you don’t want to call them a loser at the end,” says Stuart Rojstaczer, a former geophysics professor at Duke who now studies grade inflation. “So you artificially call every student a success.”
I'm sure people are tired of my preaching the subject, but people thinking about law school need to talk to young practicing attorneys about what the salaries and job opportunities are in the profession and not rely on law schools, which make money off the students, to tell them the truth. Law schools lie...they lie a lot.


Guest said...

As Royko once said "We suffer from terminal jurisprudence"

Cato said...

This is nothing but a race to the bottom, where everyone will have higher grades, and the GPA will be meaningless.

Speaking of which, it is meaningless. You take one test at the end of the semester, and the "professor" (a term properly aplied only for Ph.D. recipients in the Arts and Sciences) conjures a grade out of the thin blue that reflects how well the exam comports with his politics and view of the law.

Law school is a sham. It ought not be required to practice law.

Downtown Indy said...

This happened at an area high school last year. I think it hit some students the opposite way, reducing their GPA.

I remember seeing the news story but don't recall the school.

Paul K. Ogden said...


I don't really have a problem with law school, though I would agree that it exists right now most classes are not worthwhile. What I'd like to see is law schools take the approach medical schools do and have real practitioners teaching students. It's insane that we have non-lawyers teaching people to be lawyers.

Marycatherine Barton said...

Absolutely agree with Paul. Professor Hughes, a very recent retiree from the very active practice of law, who constantly brought his experiences to the classroom, was my favorite and most appreciated teacher in law school.

Cato said...

Paul, let the market choose the best lawyers. Remove the requirement to graduate from an ABA law school prior to sitting for the bar, and the market will determine whether law school delivers a value, commensurate with cost, to attorneys and clients.

Let anyone take the bar, and the bar exam, itself, will determine winners and losers and the value of law school.

I wish I had the opportunity to skip law school and take the bar off my study of the MBE book.

Of course, if it weren't for law school, we'd have a whole bunch of lawyers thinking that the statutes were the law, when real lawyers know the reporters are the law.

Silly laypeople.