Sunday, February 18, 2007

From Each According to His Ability...

So, I’m looking at Dean Ortiz’s email to 3Ls that we can now request our class rankings for purposes of clerkship applications. This is a bit perplexing to me. I’m almost sure I recall applying for clerkships SIX MONTHS AGO. Why am I getting this lecture from her again, and at a time when the information she’s (grudgingly) making available can do me little good? Maybe there’s a good reason; I just can’t think of it.

As long as I’m taking a break from my writing requirement to vent on this general subject, I’d like to comment on this purported prohibition on telling anyone your class rank for any purpose other than an application for a clerkship or academic job. Putting aside questions of constitutionality (which I don’t pretend I’m qualified to answer), this prohibition is pretty strange. More than that, it is, like our P, H & HH grading system, somewhat clandestinely redistributive.

high-rankers from disclosing to most employers deprives them of a benefit. Almost certainly, some of this benefit redounds to low-rankers, who can legitimately replace a piece of bad information with a piece of school-mandated uncertainty. So we have, in effect, a subsidy from high-grade-achievers to low-grade achievers. How you feel about this should depend on your views about the relative deserts of high- and low-grade-achievers. But it should also depend on the fact that our result is inferior to a full-disclosure regime in terms of the “employment welfare” of Boalties as a group. In the aggregate, employers wanting to know as much as possible about candidates will view the absence of ranking information about Boalties as a disadvantage. As others have pointed out, a similar analysis applies to our imprecise grading system (although I believe the subsidy in that case is "paid" mainly by middle-exam-raw-score achievers to low-exam-raw-score-achievers).

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two things.
(1) your class rank has changed since the last time Dean O gave it to you, since now your 3L fall grades will be factored in.

(2) the fact that we cannot disclose class rank to employers (as well as our strange grading system) may foster a less competitive school environment. That is an independent good that might outweigh your concerns. As a person with a high class rank, I'm still way happier at Boalt than I would be at a school where we didn't actively work to foster a less competitive environment.

2/18/2007 3:31 PM  
Blogger Isaac Zaur said...

Okay. If you've consciously considered the redistributive effect and balanced the overall welfare cost against the perceived benefit to the school environment, then I think you've reached your conclusion in a reasonable way.

My main concern is that I don't think most of us have done so. Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe my doubt just reflects my own naivete--I hadn't really thought about this very hard until recently.

I'll also come right out and admit that the calculus for me comes out differently. I'm not convinced that hiding this kind of information from ourselves contributes in a positive way to the atmosphere here, so I don't think the overall cost is warranted.

I like this place very much, but I think the "non-competitive environment" we congratulate ourselves for mostly has to do with the size of the general pie--not the social-engineering gimmicks we saddle ourselves with. See, e.g., lower-ranked law schools, whose students are equally good, kind, and fair-minded people, but where they do things like flunk out 20% of the 1L class to keep their bar pass rates up.

2/18/2007 4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Isaac's points and think they are eminently reasonable. When Boalt cost less than $1000 a year, perhaps the school has more leverage to impose social engineering, leveling policies such as the prohibition on disclosing class rank. But when Boalt starts to charge private school rates -- which it must if it is to remain competitive with other top institutions -- Boalt's top students have a legitimate claim to disclose more information about the extent of their academic success than the current rules allow.

2/18/2007 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand how Boalt's prohibition on disclosing class rank comports with First Amendment "prior restraint" doctrine.

And, how does a school's Honor Code have the reach to bind alumni? Honor Codes generally bind current students, who stand to be punished if they violate the code, not alumni. To my knowledge, there's nothing in the school's Honor Code that stipulates that the academic rules have any authority over alumni after we graduate. Sounds pretty fishy.

Perhaps DO should also send a mass email to alumni, whom Dean Edley is trying to court for money, reminding them that Boalt is ready to pounce on them for violations of Boalt's Honor Code. Oh, yeah, and you could send us a big fat check.

2/18/2007 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't think the prohibition even purports to apply to alums--and it'd be ludicrous if it did. In fact, if you browse around firms' websites a little, you can find a number of attorney bios that mention where they ranked at Boalt.

This may even make sense from Boalt's perspective. Their goal is getting as many people as possible jobs--whether through 2L or 3L OCIP. If this "redistributive" policy benefits students at the margins, Boalt is happy, since more people will be employed at graduate.

But, by the same token, once we all HAVE jobs, Boalt wants to see its grads climb as high as possible, so they probably don't care (or maybe even tacitly encourage) disclosure of class rank if it helps grads land better jobs up the chain, either at firms, USA offices, DOJ, non-law industries, whatever.

(Additionally, I'm not sure how much harm the prohibition does to top students. A well-ranked Boalt grad is going to be competitive for any private or public interest job in the country, regardless of whether he or she has a number attached. And the two places where the numbers really matter because of the competition -- academia & clerkships -- are exempted.)

Bottom line, I'm not sure its such a big deal either way.

2/18/2007 4:51 PM  
Blogger Isaac Zaur said...

Anonymous 4:34, although I'm grateful for your comment, I don't think I understand the link you're drawing between the cost of tuition and the redistributive and welfare effects of the ranking policy. Unless, that is, you're assuming 1) that government's default role should be to perform as much redistribution as it can get away with, and 2) that when tuition was lower, the school could get away with more of it. As a practical matter, the latter seems likely to be true, but I reject the former presumption.

Anonymous 4:51, you may be right that this isn't such a big deal. It nevertheless gets on my nerves. I may cheer up once I'm done with my writing requirement.

2/18/2007 5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More importantly, when the heck can 2L's get their rankings?!

2/18/2007 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the other commentor noted, it's a prior restraint by the state of California regarding truthful statements. There is no possibility it is constitutional and it doesn't matter how noble the purpose.

2/18/2007 6:29 PM  
Blogger Isaac Zaur said...

I once met a lawyer in the UC's general counsel's office at a recruiting event, and he explained that there was a giant body of law concerning the status of the UC: that it is a state entity for some purposes but not for others. I really don't know any more than that, but isn't it possible that there are some contexts at least in which a rule like this one could be permissible? I mean, seriously, you can't disclose the answers to an exam question to someone who hasn't taken the test yet--that's a prior restraint, yet it seems not only reasonable but necessary to the proper functioning of the school. Does the Constitution require--in effect--that all exams be given in-class and that no make-ups be permitted?

Back to the other topic just for a second. Anonymous 4:51's comments are very helpful, I think, and made me realize that in effect I was considering a pretty weird metric for "aggregate welfare." Namely, I was stuck on the total quantity of employment-relevant credentials available to us as a group. If you look at hiring outcomes instead, it becomes obvious that a person getting a job instead of not getting a job (at the bottom end of the spectrum) may add more total benefit to the group than another person settling for a job with some organization one notch less selective than the ACLU or NAACP, or one tier down from MoFo (at the higher end).

I guess the simpler way to say this is that there's at least the possibility that there's a decreasing marginal utility of Boalt-distributed employment-relevant credentials.

Okay, I'll stop now.

2/18/2007 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess Boalt could respond by just not calculating rankings at all. Or refusing to release them unless you can point to a specific academic or clerkship position you're applying for. But how silly would that be? What a great recruiting message for prospective students, too (especially the ones who may be weighing acceptances at Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc.: "We don't like hierarchy here, so we're going to handicap your chances of landing a top legal job compared to your peers at other Top-10 Schools. Hope that's OK with you. Please come."

2/18/2007 7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Outside of clerkships and teaching jobs, the only other employers who really care about the class rank of *Boalt* candidates (as opposed to Hastings or USF) are a handful of super-selective law firms (and a particular fellowship one of them sponsors). Many of these firms set out each Fall recruiting season to give to Boalt students a set number of callbacks (or a number of callbacks within a narrow range). Grades may affect *which* Boalt students get called back but not so much the *total number* of Boalt students called back. Therefore, nondisclosure to firms (and that is pretty much all we're talking about here) has little aggregate negative effect on the number of callbacks Boalt students get. On the other hand, it may help effect a broader distribution of offers, which may explain why it is pretty rare for a Boalt student to leave OCIP without any good offers. This seems to me to be a much better outcome than the top two-thirds of students having way, way more offers than they can accept and students in the bottom third maybe not getting an offer. For similiar reasons, I'm also happy they don't allow pre-screening of grades during OCIP.

2/18/2007 9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Class rank is a useful feather in one's hat for purposes beyond getting an OCIP job, let alone clerkships and academic positions. If you're ranked at the top of the class, it would be nice to have the school sanction your putting that on your firm biography. Class rank, law review, editorial position, clerkship, and other feathers in one cap can have an impact (not necessarily determinative as rainmaking is far more important, but a positive impact nevertheless) on one's partnership chances.

Also, other top-10 schools offer top students far more rank awards than Boalt does, and it doesn't seem to disadvantage those at the bottom of the class. Columbia bestows the Fisk award on the top 1% and other awards for lower percentiles. Columbia doesn't seem concerned that the bottom half of the class will be shut out of opportunities by permitting public disclosure of ranks. Is Boalt's bottom half so bad that we have to come up with an elaborate system to obfuscate their less than stellar achievement? I like to think that our bottom half can go up against the bottom half of other top-10 schools.

2/18/2007 9:39 PM  
Blogger Callagy said...

I doubt that the lack of a ranking really costs Boalties jobs at competitive firms. They have seen so many transcipts that they can mostly ballpark your ranking based on your grades. In a recruiter's office, I once saw on the shelf a two-inch binder labeled "Law School Grading Systems." They have ways of finding out what they want to know.

2/19/2007 8:38 AM  
Blogger Callagy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/19/2007 8:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI, the Columbia system gives two awards for class rank. James Kent Scholars are within the top 1-3% and Harlan Fiske Stone Scholars are within the top 30-33% for a given year. Note that because they are awarded for performance during a given year (1L, 2L, 3L), class rank at Columbia is not cumulative. So you can have a bad first year and a great second year and judges will be able to tell just how much you improved. Sounds like a much better system to me.

2/19/2007 11:41 AM  
Blogger Tacitus said...

I'm vaguely agnostic on the rank discussion. I agree that Boalt's whole grading system is one in which the top, or even more frequently the middle, subsidizes the bottom. And sometimes it seems, as a result, that the bottom "undeservedly" leapfrog the middle/top in promotion and other opportunities ("undeservedly" in quotes because grades are clearly not the only metric in play in these decisions, nor do I think they should be). At the same time, I think that's often the case in large organizations (law firms included) and in life, whether rankings are a matter of public knowledge or a matter of public speculation, so people might as well get used to it.

But on a totally unrelated matter, does anyone know what this little bit from the BBB is all about:

"Third-year students please make sure that a (3)appears on your exam labels. We ask instructors to
hasten the grading for graduating third-year students for bar clearance purposes. Third-year students are also cautioned not to write anything additional on the
label. Such remarks are unnecessary and may violate the spirit of anonymous grading and the honor code."

"Such remarks are unnecessary...?" WTF are they talking about?

2/19/2007 12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand how instructors can "hasten the grading for third-year students" without hastening the grading for ALL students. How can a professor assign grades to 3L's in a class without also grading the 2L's in a class and knowing the shape of the curve?

2/19/2007 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think the point isn't the P/H/HH but just for the professor to assure to the registrar that they would not assign a failing grade. That way the school can certify to the various Bar organizations that the student has complied with all requirements for graduation, even if final grades had not been assigned yet.

2/19/2007 2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boalt should give out academic achievement awards (GPA-based) to its highest achievers (top 1%-5%) on a yearly basis, as Columbia and most every other school in the top 10 does. Understand that I'm not advocating that ALL Boalt students be permitted to list their ranks. 95% of the school should continue to enjoy the egalitarian protection of Boalt's mushy, foggy grading system known as the P-zone. Rather, the tip-top students, who generally receive Boalt's most precise grade (the HH) should be able to list this new academic award that distills their yearly cumulative distinction.

For one thing, 1L year is the hardest of our three years at Boalt. It's the only year where we all pretty much take hard classes and wrestle with a high workload. The curve is brutal 1L year, and students compete hard. There should be some recognition for those who truly excel during those seminal first two semesters at Boalt.

2L and 3L years allow students to choose whatever the hell courses they want. The curve and grade distribution varies depending on the nature of the class (some 2L and 3L classes practically have no curve). A separate rank award should be given for that year, independent of 1L year.

These awards would go only to the top 1-5% of students. (Sears-like awards would also be a possibility) This should put Boalt students in the middle and bottom of the class at no competitive disadvantage because firms can't fill their classes with the approximately seven or eight top Boalt students in the 5% who actually end up participating in OCIP (remember that a good number of Boalt students don't even participate in OCIP).

You ask, well, why can't firms and other non-judicial, non-academic employers tease out who's the top of Boalt by looking at our transcripts without aid of percentile awards? Well, in response, I ask you why Columbia, UVA, NYU, Harvard, and Michigan give out such awards for students to put on their resume, when their grading system is arguably more precise and accurate than ours? Those schools want to make sure that their top students have every shot to go up against the top students of other schools. Giving those students rank awards is an efficient way for all to recognize who the top dogs are without forcing employers to crack-open some 2-inch binder to deceipher the minutia of our transcripts.

2/19/2007 3:13 PM  
Anonymous Jenna said...

I don't think anyone has fully addressed Isaac's first question. I think Dean Ortiz is offering to give 3Ls ranks again in case people want to apply for a clerkship for the year after next, i.e. once they have had the year experience that so many judges seem to value. So for people who want to apply or re-apply this coming fall, it might be useful to have an updated rank including 3L fall grades.
2Ls: I went back through old emails just for you all to see when we got our ranks last year. If history repeats itself, you can expect your rank in the second week of March.

2/19/2007 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, for people on the cuff of the coif, we need to know how hard to study or how blissfully to slack as the semester winds down. Perhaps this is less noble than a post gap year clerkship, but any excuse to relax is welcome.....

2/19/2007 10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tip my proverbial hat to those 3L's who have done so well academically for the past five semesters at Boalt. You marched through Boalt's 1L year through the present and have done far better than I have done here. Whoever you folks are - and Boalt doesn't make it easy to figure that out - I'm impressed. Congratulations. If Boalt fails to accurately recognize your achievements at this school or restrains you from telling others about the academic rank you've achieved after nearly 3 years at Boalt, I want you to know that at least I recognize and applaud it.

2/19/2007 11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Current clerk here. Interestingly, Boalt is one of the very few top law schools that permits disclosure of class rank AT ALL. As I recall looking at applicants last September, only one other school in the top 15 disclosed rank (I'm not counting honors like Columbia's, but those are also somewhat rare).

Based on this, and the fact that Boalt fills a disproportionately low number of clerkship spots, I think it might honestly hurt Boalt students to have their ranks disclosed. For most schools, it's nearly impossible to see where someone stands, so the top 30% all have a lot of very good looking grades, and tend to get clerkships. Once you break it down very precisely and numerically, I think the Boalt applicant who is "only" top 25% might not look so hot next to the UVA grad with a lot of As.

I worked hard to figure out what the median gpa was at each school and what the GPAs were for the top percentiles (there was a website I found that helped), and it yielded some surprising results (median GPAs in particular vary wildly from school to school). But I highly doubt most other clerks screenings apps care that much about being fair and making fully informed comparisons to go to the trouble - it was time consuming and a huge pain in the ass.

My point is, you might want to consider lobbying for _less_ disclosure, not more. I agree that honors for being at the very, very top are a good idea (because it's also something you can put on your resume or firm bio without sounding like a complete jackass, unlike rank, which has especially divisive connotations).

2/20/2007 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo, 1:20. You deserve a cosmic point for bringing in some comparative data.

Which is the other top 15 school that allows disclosure of class rank? Is there a centralized source of info on how different top schools deal with class rank? That would be very interesting to see.

2/20/2007 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of our competitiors give many more GPA awards at the top of the class than Boalt does, which is tantamount to permitting students to disclose rank, assuming an employer is familiar with the award (which they generally are).

2/20/2007 7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Boalt does participate in Coif, so at least we recognize the top 10%. That's pretty good. It's just that we don't give cumulative awards (except for AmJurs and Prossers)along the way. There are pluses and minuses to that. I'm sure many Boalties are relieved that we don't make such distinctions during Boalties' 1L and 2L years.

2/20/2007 7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few quick thoughts:

Prior restraint: I'm pretty sure that the prohibition on revealing your rank only applies to potential employers (not family, friends, fellow students, etc), and only applies while your in school. I don't purport to know much about first amendment law, but doesn't the honor code constitute something of a contract between us and the school? Aren't we only agreeing not to disclose a specific piece of information to a contained group of people for a limited period of time? If that's prohibited by the first amendment I don't see how the state, or any of its organs, could impose any non-disclosure rules on anyone ever.

Rankings: I find it hard to believe that there are only two schools in the top 15 that allow any disclosure of rankings. OSCAR requires all applicants in indicate a class ranking, and many paper judges require this information as well.

2/21/2007 3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you go to a school that doesn't rank, you just tell OSCAR "my school does not rank," an option on the pull-down menu. Then you get included in the results of any class rank searches done by the judge. If the judge searches for "top 10%" and you have straight C's at Columbia, your still gets returned with the rest of your classmates and anyone who listed "top 10%" as their class rank.

2/21/2007 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

meant to say *your application*

2/21/2007 9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have always assumed the prohibition on revealing rank continues after we leave boalt.

2/21/2007 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Caliboy said...

If you're looking for comparative info on law school grading, check out this annual guide that BCG Attorney Search (a legal recruiting firm) puts out describing the grading practices at the US News Top 50 schools and suggestions on how firms should interpret grades from each school/

2/22/2007 3:33 PM  

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