Monday, November 16, 2009

Attention. All honor students will be rewarded with a trip to an archeological dig!

. . . Conversely, all detention students will be punished with a trip to an archeological dig.

If you are a Boalt 2L or 3L you are likely aware that there will be a series of meeting this week to discuss how we can improve Boalt's clerkship placement rate. I just attended one, and I'd like to offer a rundown and open a forum.

This year was less successful than years past — not just for Boalt, but for every law school — representing a disappointment but also a moment of opportunity. There are a number of plans, proposals, and ideas floating around out there, but the most high-profile ones target our class ranking system. Two proposals occupy center-stage and I would like to share them here for feedback, encouragement, or rejection. Before I describe the proposals, let me briefly set forth the current system:
CURRENT RANKING POLICY
Berkeley Law does not generate or disclose class rank for its students with two limited exceptions:
Order of the Coif: This honor is awarded to the top 10% of a graduating class based on students’ 3-year cumulative grade point average (2-year average for transfer students).
Applicants for judicial clerkships and academic positions: Students who apply for these positions may obtain their 4-semester class rank from the Dean of Students. This class rank is calculated for the class of '10, '11 etc. and is reported to students in terms of top 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%, 25%, 30%, 33%, 35%, 40%, 45% and 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, and 90%.
In addition, students with the ten highest grade point averages in a class are ranked numerically, 1 through 10. If there is a cluster of students at some of the ranks, more than 10 may actually be ranked in this way. This numeric ranking is also disclosed to students applying for clerkships.
Under the Honor Code, both types of ranking information may be used only in the pursuit of a clerkship or an academic appointment. The information may not be disclosed, in any way, for any other employment opportunity.
The competing (but by no means final) proposals are quite complex and are set forth fully in a detailed memorandum you can obtain from Professor Evidence. The memorandum is intended for internal use only so I will not post it here, but I can distill it to roughly these two proposals:
  1. Rank students separately for each year (e.g., top 10% first year, top 20% second year) in 5% increments, down to top 25%, then top third, and top half. Provide a numerical ranking for top 15 students, and maintain the current honor code restrictions on disclosure.
  2. Break the classes into top 10% and top 40% and assign a special award to those students. Top 5 students would receive a numerical rank. Maintain the current honor code restrictions on disclosure.
The objectives behind these ranking systems are myriad. But they all revolve around the core goal to place more interested Boalt students into clerkships while maintaining recognition for those students who truly excel, and while also making sure we don't unnecessarily incentivize gunnerish nastiness. To the extent you have remarks, feedback, suggestions and the like, please feel free to share them here. Particularly if you are a current clerk or alum.

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25 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think other schools produce more clerks because of that gunnerish nastiness.

11/16/2009 3:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

"This year was less successful than years past — not just for Boalt, but for every law school"

It makes no sense that it could be a down year for every school ... unless the theory is that some judges just didn't hire at all (which is a problem no re-ranking system can fix).

11/16/2009 3:01 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Laura, this year saw a much higher number of people with several years of work experience applying for clerkships. So assuming Patrick is referring specifically to 3L hiring, it makes complete sense.

11/16/2009 3:02 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Yeah, sorry about that. I'm pretty confident that every clerk hired this year when to a law school. But many of them went to that law school several years ago.

Too, I am told almost every law school including ours had a record number of clerkship applicants this year. That pushes our placement percentage down, along with most other law schools.

11/16/2009 3:07 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yes, assuming a nonobvious unstated assumption is assumed, it makes complete sense. uh-huh.

Further, the number of boaltie alums getting clerkships should be relevant. They become part of the clerkship network and can help more boalt resumes get read, just like a straight through clerk. More to the point I suppose, alums are relevant because presumably a new ranking system will (if done right) benefit alumni applicants too.

11/16/2009 3:08 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Edit... Patrick -- percentage of applicants finding success actually makes lots of sense to me. Thanks for clarifying.

11/16/2009 3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not entirely clear to me how these proposals would help Boalt's clerkship numbers. Could you explain why the committee thinks the clerkship percentage went down (other than the fact the competition was greater this year) and how these proposals would help increase Boalt's numbers.

I thought that the main complaint was that because Boalt ranks, and some schools don't, a lot of Boalt's applicants (i.e., those not in the top 10%) were basically automatically dinged by OSCAR's search functions. These proposals don't seem to address that point. In fact, one seems to add even more rankings. Am I missing something?

11/16/2009 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL @ "Professor Evidence"

11/16/2009 3:26 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

3:17, the answer is yes and no and maybe and maybe not. There isn't really any clear "rule" for what it means to rank/not rank students in OSCAR.

The sense is that one place our school could do better is with respect to the top 11-30% students, and the perception (at least among students) is that this has to do in part with the OSCAR cutoff. That may or may not be true, but the two ranking systems are both supposed to give those 11-30% students better chances of consideration.

Whether and how much they will is very much on the table for discussion here.

11/16/2009 3:34 PM  
Anonymous Clueless 2L said...

So I have a question. What is the point of Proposal #2, which only tells you if you're top 10% vs. top 40%? Who cares if you're top 40% if you're applying for a clerkship? I feel like this would hurt everyone who is ranked between top 11% and top 20-25% or so. Or am I missing something here?

11/16/2009 3:41 PM  
Blogger Kuru said...

3:41,

I think that's a fair point, and something the committee seemed concerned about. They seemed interested in where the line should be drawn.

11/16/2009 3:55 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

The point of each of these proposals is to make it so that students can click 'does not rank' in OSCAR. Both proposals mirror what other top law schools do.

11/16/2009 4:06 PM  
Blogger Kuru said...

But Prof S*ift also said that it's not clear whether either proposal will actually allow us to do that.

11/16/2009 4:16 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I think it's downright dishonest and actually pretty appalling if the powers that be at Boalt think either of those proposals should allow students to check "my school does not rank." You can't have it both ways -- either we rank and let the top kids have numbered ranks (and score coveted clerkships more easily) -- or we don't. If it were only top 10% and top 40% awards then maybe that can be called a non-ranking system. But any system that gives individual numeric ranks or splits people apart in 5% increments is a system that ranks. It's dishonest bullshit to claim otherwise, and there has to be a better way to get the many awesome and qualified students at Boalt clerkships than these types of semantic shenanigans.

11/16/2009 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's an idea, why don't we look to see what our peer schools do to be able to say they do not rank despite giving some students some form of distinction and do that. I'm not sure if its useful to create a new confusing system just to be different (see e.g., Chicago).

11/16/2009 4:44 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I'm not the authority on this, but I'm pretty sure option two replicates almost exactly what Columbia and a couple other schools do.

11/16/2009 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Columbia's is a little different. Their distinctions are based on maintaining certain minimal GPA requirements, not on maintining a a certain percintile class rank. Not sure about other schools.

11/16/2009 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize if this question is annoying or has been answered before, but previous to this year, very generally speaking, did top 10% give you a decent shot at an appellate clerkship?

11/16/2009 7:29 PM  
Blogger Miles said...

Another key point for proposal #2 is that it (like #1) would rank students for each year instead of the cumulative thing. Though there is some uncertainty about whether this change will permit OSCAR applicants to check the "does not rank," my understanding was that the lack of a cumulative rank (based on four semesters) is the substantive change that would move us closer to a "does not rank" school.

11/16/2009 9:20 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Interesting suggestion from a professor this evening:

Why not look to see when other schools switched from ranking to non-ranking systems, and then compare their clerkship placement rates before and after the switch? Some of this may be muddled by the fact that OSCAR (allegedly the source of much of the problem) went online only a few years ago. But if we can find a handful of schools that stopped ranking post-OSCAR, an analysis of their placement results might give us a clue as to whether changing our rankings is really the ticket. It might also give us a clue as to what kind of changes actually work.

A second suggestion, from the same professor:

Assuming our placement is weak compared to other schools, we still don't know where the problem comes from. It may be that while Boalties get fewer clerkships they also get fewer interviews, yet have higher success when it comes to closing the deal. Boalties, in other words, might have a higher offer to interview ratio that other students. If that's the case, then the most effective place to devote our efforts would be landing interviews, not necessarily restructuring how we represent ourselves. But if our offer to interview rate is the same (or lower) then simply getting more applications across more desks might not be the best place to put our energy.

11/16/2009 10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 7:01: in years past 10% put you squarely in the running, particularly outside the 9th Circuit. It still does in my opinion, but there are people who may disagree.

11/16/2009 10:15 PM  
Blogger Camille said...

Hi fellow Boalties,

First, I really want to encourage folks to contact their Curriculum and Clerkships reps on this proposal, including with questions.

Second, answers/clarifications:

1. What does ranking mean?
OSCAR has a filter that allows it to screen out applicants who do not rank in the top 10%, 5%, etc. This filter is based on cumulative rank.

None of Boalt's peer institutions uses a cumulative ranking system anymore. Instead, they report performance by year, or provide awards for annual performance for 1L, 2L, or some other combination or iteration (and Yale does not rank at all).

2. (if you use an annual rank) Why and where do you mark the cut-offs?
There are a lot of excellent policy and other arguments for where these cutoffs should fall, and how much gradation there should be. We have to ask ourselves what information is helpful, what is speculative, and what is necessary for students when they plan their own application strategies, etc.


These proposals are an attempt to broaden the number of Boalties who receive a full application review. Right now, if you are from NYU, or UVa, or UPenn, or Harvard, someone within a judge's chambers has to read your application regardless of your relative "place" in your class because people are gaming OSCAR. Boalt applicants are not afforded the same review because our current ranking system keeps us from even getting there. Cumulative ranking is no longer a viable option.

I also want to state that there is a (in my opinion reasonable) third option - to abandon rank altogether.

We (your BHSA reps) really need your comments, questions, opinions, and feedback. Please contact me, or the committee reps, directly. I wish I could, but I can't (and don't) keep up with N&B.

Best,
Camille

11/16/2009 10:15 PM  
Blogger Camille said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/16/2009 10:25 PM  
Blogger Camille said...

P.S. My email is camille[dot]pannu[at]gmail[dot]com. I can release the Clerkship/Curriculum reps' contact information if you email me directly. Thanks!

11/16/2009 10:42 PM  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Some perspective on this year's clerkship market:

http://legaltimes.typepad.com/blt/2009/11/online-federal-clerkship-applications-see-alltime-high.html

11/21/2009 11:29 AM  

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