Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Rose Bird Scholar By Any Other Name

I'm hearing rumors through the grapevine that Boalt admin is considering some changes to help us in the Oklahoma land grab that is clerkship applications. Very speculatively, but specifically, there's a possibility of adopting something other commenters and I have advocated. As one commenter wrote in 2006:
We could also get rid of the optional class rank system and instead do what Columbia does. They have no class rank or GPA but for each year you're in the top 3%, you are a James Kent Scholar and for each year in the top 33%, you are a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. Getting rid of the optional class rank would allow you to list "my school does not rank" for clerkships on OSCAR. That cuts you into every search that a judge makes based on class rank. So a judge's search for "top 10%" would return every student who said she was in the top 10% and every student at Columbia, Yale and Boalt. And the students who really are at the top will still get the benefit of being recognized as an Earl Warren Scholar or a James N. Traynor Scholar.

We should have done this about fifteen years go. There's absolutely nothing gained by ranking students. On the contrary, even though we're only supposed to use the rankings for clerkship and academic purposes, you still have probably 90% of the student body asking for them just to satisfy a curiosity, which then induces anxiety when the results aren't ideal. With respect to the two stated purposes of ranking, I think the comment above illustrates how it actually hurts Boalties, and I just can't imagine how this helps us in the academic meat market. In fact, Boalties did quite well in academic placement last year in large part, I imagine, because we have Professor Harris quarterbacking a coordinated effort to help Boalties land those positions. A big kudos to her and others. Until then, landing academic positions was a bit of a mystery that you had to solve on your own, sort of like finding a working urinal.

This change, however, still doesn't solve the larger problem that we have, which, admittedly is from second-hand sources. That problem is that each August, our private (UVA and Michigan probably included) peer schools funnel all their energies and efforts into placing their students into clerkships. They've been doing this for a long time. The more you do it, the easier it is because you have more alumni who clerked for judges that you can then lean on to place current applicants. I don't know the results of this year's cycle, but I imagine as a percentage they're not up to where we ought to be.

Anyway, thoughts? Comments? Suggested names for awards? Suggested categories? Hubert Keller Award to the person who gets HHs for 5 semesters but doesn't quite cross the finish line?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your general point, with one exception. Ranking actually does matter in the case of the top 5 - 10 students or so.

For many judges there is a boost that comes from them thinking "this is one of the very 'best' kids from Berkeley" rather than "this kid did extremely well."

10/14/2009 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Label our kids as scholars you say,
for clerkship distinctions like night and day,
for ranking is useless and not much help.

. . . but that all depends on where MY ranking fell!

10/14/2009 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is a great idea. When I went through the clekship process three years I ago I told anyone who would listen that OSCAR hurts boalt students more than it helps for precisely the reasons described in this post. Glad to see something may finally get done about this. Oh, and for the first commenter, I'm pretty sure any new system would rank the top 10 or so students like the current system does.

10/14/2009 11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would also solve the problem of professors only wanting to help the very top students. Some professors were supportive of me even when they heard my class rank, and others' enthusiasm seemed to wane once they heard the number. Some of this is understandable--they don't want to put their reputation behind someone who might not be a good clerk. But if ranking were limited to, say, the top 10 individual students, professors would focus on aspects of student performance other than rank.

10/14/2009 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Dean Prosser Scholar" for those who attended every bar review?

10/14/2009 1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is an excellent idea and I really, really hope the administration is seriously considering it. I know they are at least considering some reform to the way that grades are weighted, and I think that's a positive move as well.

10/14/2009 1:48 PM  
Anonymous Boalt Alum & Former Clerk said...

10:35AM--I think one way to address your concern is to have two awards--one for the top 10 or 15 or so numerically, and then one for the top 10% or 15% or 25% or whatever. Where those lines should be drawn is worth discussing.

I'm so glad the administration is finally addressing this.

10/14/2009 2:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I think people are overlooking some of the major ramifications of this change. These awards will be on resumes _forever_ and thus rank will no longer be of concern only in the clerkships/academic hiring arenas. By advocating that students be unranked what you're very likely to end up with applying the changes proposed here with additional awards is a system where more students are ranked, and in such a way that follows them throughout their careers.

Maybe that's just fine. But it's worth thinking about; now you would have not just coif as a distinction, but markers potentially showing top 15 and top 25 percent. And jobs that maybe didn't care or expect students to be in the top 10% for coif might start to care a lot more when they can tell that applicants didn't even crack top 25%.

I'm not sure to be honest what the right solution is here. But I think a so-called solution where you actually make ranking more pervasive and potentially more significant is a very screwy one indeed.

10/14/2009 2:53 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

You'd be hard-pressed to find any employer that recruits from Boalt and so unsophisticated as to not be able to convert the grades into a numerical equivalent. Some firms care where you stand, other firms don't. I just don't see how the introduction of an award is suddenly going to increase the demand for students in the top 1/3 or whatever. This isn't an issue at peer schools. Yeah some firms use the Stone Scholar as a cutoff, others don't.

Second, an easy work around is requiring 3 semesters of coursework before someone's eligible for the award.

10/14/2009 3:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

right... because the job you get 2L fall is totally the job you keep for your whole career.

10/14/2009 3:37 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

So your argument is that some 5th year associate might not lateral because s/he wasn't a Warren Scholar? If so, that's pretty thin. I can appreciate concerns for OCIP. But beyond that, it's irrelevant. And again, we don't have to speculate. There are schools that actually do this.

10/14/2009 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

without taking sides or offending anyone who's posted here, it's odd, isn't it, that just when other leading law schools are adopting Boaltish modes of disguising or obliterating class rank, some Boalties want to introduce categories of class rank that would play out in visible ways. what would that do to the atmosphere?

10/14/2009 4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I agree with Armen on this one. The reality is that any job you apply to within 10 years or so of graduating that is considered competitive will ask for your transcript. So you are not going to be able to fool anyone because you went to a school that doesn't make grade distinctions. All the new change would really do would allow you to highly your grades on your resume, but the employer would know your grades regardless.

10/14/2009 4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think a Stone scholar at Columbia means your in the top 33%. I think it just means that you maintained a certain average throughout your time in school. In other words, if you've averaged a B then you're a Stone Scholar. Whether or not that would be good enough to place you in the top third would likely vary from year to year. At least that's the way I understood it, maybe someone can verify this.

10/14/2009 4:10 PM  
Blogger Armen said...


10/14/2009 4:12 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm not advocating that graduates can or should "hide" their grades. I just think if you are arguing that class ranks are bad, then a system that makes indications of rank more prevalent is problematic.

I'm also totally flabbergasted by the Columbia does it therefore it must be good argument. I'm not saying Colbumia's system is flawed, I have no idea, but I do think you need evidence beyond the fact of its existence before you can argue in good faith that Boalt should follow along. And by evidence I mean actually numerical evidence or at least significant anecdotal evidence of the benefits and harms, not off the cuff theorizing.

10/14/2009 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

even lower ranked schools like northwestern refuse to rank.

alum here. in my chambers, it was a clear sort by percentile in oscar, with a clear "delete" below top 10%. for schools like northwestern, it was a lot more confusing to do, which resulted in almost every app getting looked at.

that said, for the high-ranked people, you're better off with a rank.

10/14/2009 5:08 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

Rankings are bad in the sense that a large pool of Boalties are automatically excluded from the pool of clerkship applicants. But recognizing a certain level of academic achievement isn't bad. In fact, the award would dull any competitive tendencies by create a large group who are roughly equal, as opposed to the 5 percentile step-ladder that's currently used.

This isn't just Columbia, most other "top 10" schools use somewhat similar systems.

Chicago -- Kirkland & Ellis Scholars (page 17 of PDF) / No Ranking.
Harvard -- cum laude (top 1/3). Michigan -- cum laude (top 1/3ish) Stanford -- with distinction (top 1/3).

If I had the time, I'd dig up the other schools. Yet I have not heard ANYONE getting dinged from a job because s/he did not graduate cum laude.

Maybe a properly controlled, double blind empirical study on the effects of academic prizes and [insert whatever it is that you think will happen if Boalt adopts this] is called for. But whatever it that potential negative is, it already exists with OIC. I just don't see how buttering up our academic distinctions will do anyone any harm.

10/14/2009 5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think people are starting to miss the original point of this post. The post argues that adding grade distinctions would help out those who AREN'T in the top of the class because they would not be automatically weeded out by OSCAR. Currently, in regards to clerkships, Boalt does rank, and as such, students are requried to enter their rank in OSCAR. If Boalt moves towards the proposed system, then Boalt would not rank (or at least not rank as much), and therefore its students would not be automatically eliminated from clerkships that require a top percintle. Although some people may be upset that they don't get to put "Earl Warren Scholar" on their resume, this is a whole lot better than the current system which allows judges to not even look at your resume before rejecting you.

10/14/2009 5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would argue for no numerical rankings at all, even for the top 10 people. Really the whole point of these "awards" or distinctions is to prevent people from buying into the belief that grades are so precise that students can actually be ranked, one by one. The point you want to convey to chambers is "this student is truly exceptional." You can create an award for the top 3-3.5% if you want, so you know who the tippity top people are, but it's hard in my mind to honestly justify any further gradation. I imagine we'd also still keep the award for the #1 person.

And one potential problem with following Columbia's top 3% or whatever award is that that handful of people will still be basically the only ones to get 9th Circuit interviews. If judges can only tell, say, #1, top 10%, and top 33%, then I think they're going to look at other qualities, life and work experiences, and more people are going to get a shot. (For one judge I know of, for the last three years the only people to get interviews from Boalt were those ranked 1-10, whereas students from other schools "only" in the top 10% have gotten interviews and been hired because you can't figure out their ranks.)

10/14/2009 7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a 3L in the top 5% and I support this change. Very few other T14 schools rank. By ranking, we are giving judges and their clerks a very easy way to exclude 70-95% of Boalt students. We are also telling judges that we aren't like the other top schools who have done away with ranking -- it effectively communicates that we are a second-rate school and only the top students should be considered.

On top of this, Boalt's three-grade system doesn't lend itself well to averaged grades and ranking. In our system, you can be the worst person in a class of 100 and the 10th best in a second class of 100 and your average grade between those two classes is 4.0. Or you can be the 11th best person in both classes and your GPA is 3.0. There isn't enough granularity to make a ranking work.

It helps no-one to have the size of the Boalt applicant pool shrunk this way -- well, it might help those in the top of the class a tiny bit, but it hurts everyone in the long run.

10/14/2009 8:46 PM  
Anonymous Former Clerk said...

4:01, it's hard to get more visible than when you can sort Boalties by class rank on OSCAR and you can't sort students of other schools. A lot of chambers won't even open Boalt applications if the rank is below their planned cut off.

Don't misunderstand the point here. The current system reinforces the advantage that people at the top of the class have. This idea will allow students with the "awards" to maintain their grade-based advantage but give all Boalt applicants a chance to have their resume and transcript reviewed.

10/14/2009 9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Not to nitpick (which is what people say when they're about to nitpick), but if you were last in one class and 10th of 100 in the other, your GPA would be a 3.5, assuming equal units, not a 4.0. Your point still stands.

10/14/2009 11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HH = 5
H = 3
P = 2

10/15/2009 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:15 here. That was supposed to be directed at 11:53 to show that 8:46 got the math right. I won't be posting on blogs before my first cup of coffee anymore.

10/15/2009 8:54 AM  
Blogger Armen said...

Or your second cup? (5 + 2) / 2 = 3.5.

10/15/2009 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think general point is right on, mainly in the sense that this proposed system will help more people than it will hurt.

For those outside the top 1/3 (i.e. Me), prospects for a fed clerkship are already dim, and thus not earning a distinction will hurt only our pride, not our prospects.

For those at the very top of the class, again, there will be a way to convey this via some high-honor or designation.

But, for those ranked between 25-90, this system could yield far more interviews by avoiding what sounds like an ubiquitous top 10%-cutoff for Fed. Clerkships.

And as for those who want to see some #'s to back this up, look at Columbia (what seems like the most comparably-ranked school instituting this system) compared to Berkeley. Obviously, I can't account for other factors which may affect this disparity, but it's worth noting, if only anecdotaly.

Administration, if you are listening, please think about this.

10/15/2009 4:16 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I was going to object to stats just counting appellate clerks, but let's play it your way, 4:16; take a look at your own source, but the most up to date numbers: (showing the Berkeley placed more appellate clerks by percent than Columbia)

10/15/2009 6:11 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

But less than Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, or Washington & Lee. Yes, I guess we can only go down from here.

10/15/2009 6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From reading this comment thread, I don't think there is any dispute that the article's main point is correct. Laura's contention, however, appears to be that the addition of awards will bring ranking into a sector where it was previously verboten. But in my mind, Armen's point effectively resolves that issue--most employers sophisticated enough to recruit at Boalt are also sophisticated enough to rank based solely on grades. And any employer not sophisticated enough to rank on their own won't notice the lack of an award. What is left to discuss? This change seems like a great idea.

10/15/2009 6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing left to discuss is that without rankings (i.e. if Boalt were to adopt a system like that suggested above, where only the top #1-5 students in the class are ranked, and then the top 33% receives an award), judges will look to other factors as they try to simplify their lives by reviewing less applications. Some of those factors will be legitimate, such as strong recommendations or interesting work experience. Others will be less legitimate and just as arbitrary as rankings, such as CLR membership. A system like this might disadvantage students in the top 10% or even top 5% who are not on CLR, because without their rank, they will have nothing to distinguish themselves.

I think that any new system needs to be careful about where it draws the lines for these awards, and it would be helpful to keep some sort of designation for students in the top 10% and those ranked numerically 1-10, who deserve recognition whether or not they are on CLR.

10/15/2009 10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hate CLR much?

10/16/2009 7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:03, If you are in the top 10%, or one of the top ten students, I think your marker of distinction will be your actual transcript. We are acting as if a reader will not be able to tell the difference between the transcript of the number 3 person in a class, and the number 30 person. I agree with ranking the top 10 or 20 so people, but if we give a distinction for the top 10%, then we haven't solved the problem of keeping judges from only looking at the applications of those in the top 10%, which I think is the whole point of the proposal. Don't forget that if you graduate in the top 10%, you will still get the distinction of being order of the coif (albeit you have to wait until after you graduate to get that award). Plus I think it's contradictory to say that "rankings are arbitrary", but then argue for the ranking of some students. I think what you meant to say was that the cutoffs judges apply maybe arbitrary, as rankings are actually quite precise.

But to bring this back to a basic level, judges are struggling to find ways to distinguish applicants. Although "interesting work experience" sounds all well and good, the reality is, most applicants don't really have interesting work experience. Speaking as a former clerk, 90% of applicants I saw had the exact same work experience: (1) worked at some non-profit/judge/gov't internship their first summer; and (2) worked at a firm their second summer (or a different non-profit/judge/gov't place). If they worked before going to law school, they usually didn't anything that interesting (i.e., paralegal, ibanking, small town journalists). This, of course, is subjective, and there are people who have done some really interesting things (I'm assuming you are one of them), but they are the exceptions.

And in regards to letters of rec, they are also all pretty much the same. "This student would make a good clerk, he/she is smart and works well with others, and got an A on my exam, which is hard to do". There are exceptions (i.e., "this is the best student I've had in 50 years", "this person will be the next President"), but again, they are exceptions.

I guess the whole point of this rant is to say that making changes the faculty and students think will help is a good thing, but there is no cure all.

10/16/2009 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

schedule out.. why are both evidence classes WTF am?!?!

10/16/2009 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any chance the change could be made retroactive to recognize people already graduated, or are us old-timers screwed?

10/17/2009 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zeb has been getting pretty wild with the soup selection lately, eh? Salmon bisque and cream of artichoke today!

10/19/2009 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those interested, one of our esteemed profs got a shout out in this Slate article today:

10/20/2009 6:48 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

Uh, Dan (the author) is Boalt '08. But good job at least recognizing a Boalt professor.

10/20/2009 6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is anyone writing for this blog anymore?

10/20/2009 8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a surprise that Boalt profs got a shout-out since the author of that article is an '08 Boalt alum.

10/21/2009 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where was the food at the CA Bar informational meeting?

3Ls should not be over this so quickly.

10/21/2009 4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not over the lack of food at the meeting. That was a travesty.

Also for the love of Chief Justice Earl Warren, now that the ihouse ATM is gone we are stranded up cash-only creek without a paddle! Help!

10/22/2009 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there's one in the Haas lobby by its library.

10/22/2009 1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that this idea is really interesting, and I think it could help Boalties in more than just the clerkship context. My thoughts are not as fully-formed here as they probably could be, but it seems to me that Boalt tries to have it both ways. The whole "We don't rank students (but really we do)" creates all kinds of frustration, especially since they allow you to find out your ranking, and then you are sworn to absolute secrecy unless you're applying for a clerkship or professorship. For example, I recently saw a job posting where you had to verify in your application that you graduated in the top 1/3 of your class. Had I applied, I would have had to say that Boalt doesn't rank students, but that *wink* I make your cutoff, I just can't prove it or tell you why. Or even just Boalt doesn't rank students, and I leave it to you to figure out where I landed in the class - but please hire me!! At least if there were some kind of award for top 30% or 25%, a grad could say Boalt doesn't rank, I don't know my number, but you know I fall within your cutoff. That seems helpful to me; but maybe the reasoning is somewhat selfish...

10/23/2009 7:29 AM  

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