The Talent

June 23, 2010 11:00 AM

The Careerist: What's Wrong with Grade Inflation?

Posted by Vivia Chen

Grades still define careers. More precisely, grades define who gets their foot into the door of a prestigious practice and who is shut out.

It took a while, but law schools are catching up to this game. The New York Times reported on Monday that "in the last two years, at least ten law schools have deliberately changed their grading systems to make them more lenient." The impetus for this change, the article says, is "to rescue their students from the tough economic climate" and "to protect their own reputations and rankings."

The NYT names some schools that have blurry grading systems, including Harvard and Stanford (the two have eliminated traditional grading altogether). "Like Yale and the University of California, Berkeley, they now use a modified pass/fail system, reducing the pressure that law schools are notorious for. This new grading system also makes it harder for employers to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, which means more students can get a shot at a competitive interview," the Times says.

Law schools at New York University, Georgetown, Golden Gate, and Tulane also recently changed their grading systems, according to the article, and Loyola Law School Los Angeles is adding 0.333 "to every grade recorded in the last few years."

Personally, I'm all for grade inflation. I definitely could have used it when I was in law school. More importantly, I also believe that employers should take a more holistic approach to hiring. In fact, sometimes employers, who are not allowed to prescreen, are so impressed by interviewees with less than perfect transcripts that they end up giving them offers. Even Skadden's hiring partner recently admitted his firm does this. So a little attention to such frivolous things as personality might not be a bad thing. 

But will grade inflation and obfuscation benefit all law students?

Click here for more on how meaningful the grade inflation is.

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail Vivia Chen at

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What's wrong with grade inflation?
Nothing in grade inflation, as long as everyone knows what the average is - it's a nuisance (unless everyone gets an A, in which case it becomes grade obscuration).
But a lot with grade obscuration - it changes the emphasis from "how well is a student doing in law school?" (something hopefully predictive of ability to be a good lawyer) to "what school did you get into?" (something, to my mind, far less predictive - although clearly of some value). The idea that some law schools would deliberately obscure distinctions in ability/effort between their students I find intellectually dishonest and damaging to those who put in the effort to do well.

You "could have it when I was in law school."

It used to be you had to earn a grade.

What a silly article.

But if you've worked hard to get into a top school, why should you have to compete for traditional grades when you and your peers have already proven your abilities to succeed?

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