Monday, November 26, 2007

Grades Post-1L at Berkeley Law

Today, David Lat over at Above the Law hit the gold mine of "comment cluster F*#ks" (his term, not mine) when he opened a thread entitled "Do Law School Grades Matter?"

I'm not one for throwing gasoline on the fire, especially given the fact I've seen what appear to be record numbers of you in the library studying diligently for finals. However, due to the number of people who mentioned the ATL thread to me today, I figured there'll likely be a number of you who may want to talk in an open thread about how our post-1L grades relate to our future success when we're "Berkeley School of Law" alums.

Obviously topics for conversation may range from the elitist perspective of "heh, we go to Berkeley" to how our unorthodox grading system may be our future savior (or demise).

Again, if you're not a fan of the topic, feel free to skip the discussion. For the rest of you, unload any anecdotes or reactions you may have, and we'll see if the topic generates a similar response here on N&B.

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Blogger La Mitotera said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/27/2007 12:23 AM  
Blogger McWho said...

In the spirit of Above The Law...


11/27/2007 12:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting thread.

11/27/2007 7:54 AM  
Blogger Armen said...

The topic has been beaten to death on this blog. But I suppose a new crop of students should get a chance to beat a dead horse.

11/27/2007 8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'll be the token red hot. boalt's system is a nice psychological security blanket (you know you can't ever really "fail"), but it does in large part subsidize slackers.

11/27/2007 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At best I think it subsidizes selective slacking. I dont think it's a good thing to go mostly H's to straight P's. Firms when you're trying to lateral come your fourth year may not be a fan of such. Under Yale's system, such slacking would be much harder to detect, but our system doesn't hide slacking as nicely as we all like to say it does...

11/27/2007 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good thing I got all P's first year, so it doesn't look like I am slacking when I P out.

11/27/2007 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think there is any point about worrying about grades now. If you are a 1L, just focus on studying and practice exams.

11/27/2007 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

more importantly, what happened to the diet coke and aquafina vending machines near zeb!!

11/27/2007 4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the vending machines were given to the student with the highest GPA in the class, in lieu of an "order of the coif" or similar designation.

11/27/2007 5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Previously beaten to death or not, there are 1L's now who would love to hear the experiences of either 3L's who have offers or recent graduates as to whether they have been asked for their grades.

11/27/2007 6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grades (still) matter. I have been asked by quite a few places for my transcripts, even though I graduated from Berkeley recently. My advice to 1Ls is study, don't pressure yourself, but have confidence that if you are at Boalt in the first place, then you can earn a great grade just as easily as the red hot sitting next to you.

11/27/2007 7:07 PM  
Blogger McWho said...

note that bad grades at berkeley still can net you 160k/yr. I know several people like that (all p's--top 100 firms.) relax.

11/27/2007 8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P = JD

But P ≠ JOB

11/27/2007 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The vending machines were moved to free up that space, which will be enclosed and converted into an office.

11/27/2007 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To where were they moved?

11/27/2007 10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need a thread on the Boalt space issue - N&B authors, please? Do you all know what is going on behind the scenes with all the shuffling of groups, faculty, centers, etc.? It's nuts and out of control!!

1Ls: the people who tell you to not worry about grades or tell you not to study probably have all Ps and they're just trying to make themselves feel better. Grades do matter (for the majority of students, that is - some people do manage to somehow do just fine with all Ps).

11/27/2007 11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right sir. The people saying to relax ARE the people that got P's. Guess what? We have those firm jobs too (if we even want them.) Guess what? My paycheck will have the same $ amount as yours (if we care to go that way.) And guess what? Getting a P may happen even if you work just as hard as people that got HH's. In fact, you will likely have a study partner that gets the opposite grade as you (HH/P).

Of course getting them is nice, but it doesn't mean you fail at life to get all P's at Boalt. In fact, you are doing quite well for yourself. So please for gods sake give the ego a rest.

11/28/2007 1:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:05 - Guess what? Your base salary may have the same $, but your bonus won't. In fact, straight P's may not be the end of the world, but they are not the top of the world either.

11/28/2007 1:51 AM  
Blogger Tacitus said...

1:51: since when is bonus tied to law school grades? The best thing you can do in law school if you want to succeed in a law firm is to develop a strong work ethic. As noted by previous commenters, most students coming out of Boalt are able to get "Big Law" jobs, almost irrespective of their grades. But once you're there, successful law practice mostly just work (and not always intellectually stimulating work, especially in the beginning). If you work hard, get straight Ps, and still continue to work hard at your firm, you'll get the same bonus as Ms. Order of the Coif. Maybe more, if she doesn't want to put in the time.

11/28/2007 3:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11/28/2007 7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


No, you are wrong. People who tell others not to worry about grades didn't necessarily get all Ps.

Why would you say something mean like that to scare the 1Ls? Does it make you feel better about yourself because you did a little better on the curve?

11/28/2007 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't Believe the Hype

11/28/2007 8:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As is the answer to most of these types of questions, I think it depends on what you want to do. The more selective job you want, obviously the more important grades are. You want to work at just any ol' big firm, p's will be just fine. You want to work at Cravath, Munger, Latham, might want to throw a few Hs on that transcript of yours. Want to be a local prosecutor in Fresno, I'm guessing the Boalt name will be enough. Want to be an Asst. U.S. Attorny in SF, might be a good idea to study a little bit.

11/28/2007 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks, 854am. finally, a little perspective.

Everyone off their soapbox. I don't think it's "scaring" 1Ls to be honest. If you want to work for a "top" firm or clerk, you'll need better grades. But you'll do just fine even if you don't get all HHs.

GASP! Is that going to send 1Ls into panicky fits? It's hardly revelatory news. In fact, it sounds a lot like.... everything else in life.

11/28/2007 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For 1Ls freaking out about this nonsense, somebody please post the "Get a P" (Beatles parody) now.

11/28/2007 10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it nonsense to worry about grades, when the truth is that grades do matter to some extent. I don't think anyone is disputing that grades DO matter; the debate is to what degree they matter.

Grades seem to matter the most for clerkships, certain federal government honors programs, and prestigious fellowships. I don't think they matter as much for law firms and local government jobs (DA's office, for example).

My experience with clerkship applications is that professors will often go to bat for their students who have the highest class rank, so if your prof is writing for someone who's ranked higher than you, they will not use their contacts for you. So in that sense, grades matter two-fold.

11/28/2007 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few points to clarify debate:

-- The ATL post that sparked this debate assumed from the get-go that grades matter dearly for obtaining a judicial clerkship. That is uncontroversial. The issue is whether getting good grades in 2L and 3L year is important for obtaining other jobs years after you've graduated law school.

-- Few of the posts in our Berkeley thread seem to tackle the issue of lateraling to other firms. The principal thrust of the argument that 2L/3L grades matter in the ATL comment thread is that, when you attempt to lateral to other firms in your 3rd or 4th year at your BigLaw firm, grades will play a role in your lateraling options. Remember that, in your 3rd or 4th year at a BigLaw firm, you won't have a deal-book to take with you. In that vacuum, grades will still play a role in hiring decisions. Law firm recruiters and headhunters were posting such comments on the ATL thread. Most law students don't see beyond their first jobs, not realizing that you can expect to change firms or legal employers many times in your careers.

-- I'd venture that the notion that grades don't matter at all after 1L year is propagated mostly by current law students and perhaps young associates who haven't looked for a second legal job. That doesn't mean it's necessarily a false notion, but we should pause and think about the credibility of the narrow, self-interested ("I wanna' coast through the rest of law school") source before jumping to the conclusion that grades don't matter down the road.

-- To say that grades "matter" does not mean that grades will necessarily be decisive in our future job searches. Rather, it just means that they'll still be a factor -- a factor of indeterminate force -- along with our personal qualities, connections, other manifestations of work ethic, deal-book, etc..

11/28/2007 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Boalt alum over four years out, my thoughts are as follows:

Your law school name carries more weight than anything else. Some firms, like Gibson and Quinn, have hard grade cut offs. Most do not.

The reputation of your first employer carries great weight. People who started off at OMM will have an easier time moving laterally.

The experience that you get at your law firm matters as well. Not every associate gets the same experience. Some review documents for two years straight. Others work arm-and-arm with bigshot partners, and learn more.

Bottom line: grades are just a small factor (except at a few places) once you have a few years under your belt at a firm.

The hardest part was getting into Boalt. What you make of the opportunities that are handed to you is your choice.

11/28/2007 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The take-away is that everything depends. First, let's relieve some 1L stress: Assuming the legal economy doesn't totally tank, pretty much any 2L should be able to get a summer firm job paying over $3,000 a week regardless of grades (and even if the real economy tanks there will be lots of litigation and bankruptcy work). So you can stop stressing about it!

Second, even if you bomb 1L year, you are not out of the running even for a clerkship. Lots of judges (including federal appellate judges) are impressed by a sustained upward trend in an applicant's grades. The Supreme Court may be out but that's about it.

Third, there is a huge difference among firms regarding how they view grades. At one extreme, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher didn't hire a lateral partner with about $8 million a year in highly portable business because of his law school grades. My impression is that most firms tend toward the other extreme for laterals. Regardless, if you have a decent job starting out and do good work you should not have trouble making a move later. If things don't go so well at your first job, that will probably be a problem no matter how good your grades were. And the bottom line is that there are ton of jobs in this profession and you should be able to find something good to do with your Boalt JD so long as you are willing to work.

11/28/2007 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Law School of Rock said...

I'm in the same career position as Anon 3:45 and I essentially agree. When I went in-house as a fourth year, they didn't even ask to see my transcript. It was pretty cool.

11/28/2007 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Law School of Rock said...

PS--I'd also echo the comment that doing poorly as a 1L is not the end. Scoring some good grades later will help if you want to lateral, which most of the people I graduated with ended up doing.

11/28/2007 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to the alums for their perspective. It's always helpful to base important decisions on more than just a couple 3 minute conversations by the lockers.

11/28/2007 5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Boalt alum out more than 20 years who can still remember vividly his paranoid feelings as a 1L before 1st semester finals, here is my perspective.

Grades do matter. They matter a lot for those who want jobs in big law firms and sought after clerkships. They matter much less for mid-size to small firms, state/county/city positions, and many in-house positions.

You competed to get into Boalt and the world outside will still be a competitive place when you leave Boalt. All of your future employers want to hire the best candidate they can.

For the most part, they define "best" as someone who has excellent legal skills which, coming out of law school, means legal analysis and writing, and grades are a good (although not perfect) indicator of those skills. (Of course, a lot of other more subjective things go into making a good lawyer, including personality, verbal skills and work ethic, but it's pretty hard to compensate for lackluster legal analysis and writing.)

Usually, the students who have the best legal skills will get the best grades overall and vice versa.

However, it's relative. All or nearly all Boalt students will be sought after and will be able to pick and choose from at least several good employment opportunities.

But don't fool yourselves into thinking grades don't matter, because they do. Study hard, learn the law more deeply than you've learned anything else, and do your best -- and then don't worry about it because you're going to be fine.

One final interesting thing I remember from my Boalt experience is that many times the 1L students who got the "HH"s on first semester finals did not continue that streak. Taking law school finals is a knack that does take getting used to and there is really no way to learn how to do it without actually doing it.

In my case, my first semester grades were good, but not great, and I was disappointed because, like you, I was an A type person and had studied as hard as I could all semester, but after first semester, I think I got the hang of law school more and did better gradewise.

The saying in my class was that most of the time you can get an "H" by studying very hard, but there is no way to study hard to get an "HH" because that just happens and you'll never understand why. But sometimes, even though you study really hard, you may get a "P" -- go figure. 60% of you will get "P"s in any class, and everyone will get some "P"s at Boalt. Some of you may get mostly "P"s but you'll be just fine and I'm sure you'll be great lawyers.

Boalt is a terrific place. You are lucky to be there. Take advantage of the incredible opportunities to learn.

Good luck, work hard and don't worry. You are the cream of the cream to be at Boalt.

11/28/2007 7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:14's comment is quite unhelpful. I guess things have changed a lot in 20 years In particular, this quote is total BS:
"Usually, the students who have the best legal skills will get the best grades overall and vice versa." Your grades will primarily reflect your ability to take a law school exam and there are not any law school exams in practice. Also, even if you don't learn any law in law school, you will learn a ton from Bar Bri. In recent years, pretty much every Boaltie who wanted a job at a big law firm got one. The only part of 7:14's "blast from the past" that seems to still be the case is that you do need good grades for a sought-after clerkship.

By the way, has anyone considered that you might want to think twice about an employer if you are few years out and looking to lateral and they really care about your law school grades? Doesn't it suggest they don't know what the hell they're doing in terms of hiring?

11/28/2007 8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:19 - Stop being such a little bitter bitch. While maybe literally true, grades aren't only an indication of your ability to take apart a law school exam. More importantly they show how you perform relative to your peers in a more or less standardized environment.

While you are correct that there are "not any law school exams in practice" there are still going to be many situations where you are forced to learn something new and apply that knowledge under time pressure. Even if all you end up doing for the first two years is discovery and doc review, someone who knows how to kick ass on law school exams is probably going to do it faster and better than their buddy who rode the P train all the way to the station.

Legal employers ostensibly want hire employees who have outperformed their peers. Grades are one way for them to figure out who is better at law school, and all things being equal, who will figure out how to be a better attorney/clerk/etc. (Law Review is another way, although that has become much less merit based (and more political) at Boalt than at many schools.)

Obviously high grades are not going to indicate if someone is good at drumming up business, negotiating, or trial advocacy, but I don't think anyone was arguing that.

Your comments are quite unhelpful.

11/28/2007 9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to echo the "little bitter bitch" comment about 8:19. What the hell is your problem? Trashing an alum who was trying to offer advice to current students? Seriously?

Even if that alum's comments don't apply as much now, do any current students really know that for sure? Probably not, given that none of us have actually entered the real world of actual legal work yet.

11/28/2007 11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:19 - what crawled up your butt and died? If you ever treat someone with 20 years perspective like that in the real world, you will get nowhere. I found 7:14's comments very helpful, particularly as it is someone like him/her who actually hires us.

11/28/2007 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anyone else catch the story about Dickie Scruggs, the legendary plaintiffs attorney (and brother-in-law to Trent Lott), being indicted for bribery? Isn't there something off about a major plaintiffs attorney supporting the party that is always trying to shut down plaintiffs attorneys? I guess it is Mississippi, where even Democrats run as Republicans... The most interesting point is that the judge participated in the investigation and actually ruled for Scruggs.

11/29/2007 5:29 AM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Boalt 2003 with a big law firm. Mostly P's with some H's and 2 HH's over 3 years which reflects the what most of my peers earned.

My 1L grades were almost all Ps with an Hs in Property (1st sem), Con Law (2nd sem) and Torts (1st sem).

In 2L I hit the H jackpot and got 5 of them plus an HH. In 3L I had mostly P's, 1 H and 1 HH. I think, for Boalt, this is a decent transcript. I worked hard in all my classes but did not make the H lottery most of the time.

Am looking around to lateral and was told by 2 different firms that I did not have enough HH's.

It's ridiculous, especially 5 years out, going to a good school, to hear this kind of nonsense.

11/29/2007 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, 2003. Was it really a jackpot for 2L year? I mean, knowing how 3L's tend to uh, not like to work that much (which is great), didn't that play a role for you?

11/29/2007 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

isn't this all just a little silly? do what works for you. try your hardest. then, whatever grades you get, you can feel good about it - because you know you did your best.

and nice to eachother! exams are tough on everybody. but they're easier when we're all committed to keeping boalt a positive and supportive place. you'd be surprised how much a smile can brighten up even the darkest corner of the library :o)

11/29/2007 11:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:14 here. Sorry to drop in again, but I'm reliving parts of my Boalt experience through reading your posts. As challenging and demanding as Boalt was, I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. It was simply an incredible experience that stretched me beyond what I thought was possible. I'm sure most of you will have a similar experience. One of the wonderful hallmarks of Boalt then -- and probably still today -- is that although all of your classmates are really competitive, and all of you want to do really well, most folks remain friendly, helpful and decent human beings with (usually) a smile on their faces [thx, 11:49]. No "Paper Chase" at Boalt -- thank heavens!

Hang in there.

11/29/2007 6:06 PM  
Anonymous caprizula said...

Hi, all. Another alum here, also about 20 years out, mostly spent at a big, well-known firm. Several years spent on hiring committees, with lots of on-campus interviewing, including at Boalt.

The best advice I can offer you right now is a bit of dime store wisdom most of you have probably heard a million times, though it bears repeating for those who haven't and, around finals time, even for those who have: Worrying is like paying interest on a loan you may never take out. Trite and somewhat overstated, but it has the power to change lives for the lucky few who can take it to heart. It applies to how you will do on your tests, as well as to how and how much the results will matter in your career.

The best thing you can do for your future is use your present productively. That means that when you're not getting useful studying done, much better to go have some fun than waste time worrying. There's a time and place for everything, and the days before exams are not the time for contemplating the exams’ significance.

11/30/2007 12:32 PM  

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