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Author Topic: Does anyone think class rankings are the wrong way to measure students?  (Read 2479 times)

bigs5068

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I know I female dog about U.S. News ranking on here a lot and that is another topic, but in reality does anyone think a law school exam should be the measure of how someone gets in the top 10 or 20%. As of now the system is a benefit to me, because I am highly ranked at my school and almost every solid job on our school's OCI requires to be in the top 20% to even apply. However, this system just seems so wrong to me. What bearing does being good at multiple choice tests have in the real world, I am excellent at MC and that  is helping me out, but choosing B instead of C seems to have absolutely no practical effect in the real world. Even regurgitating stuff I learned in class on an exam seems to have little correlation to the real world. The only class that has some practical application  is legal writing & research, but that is only worth 2 units at my school. So even if you aced legal writing, but on the torts final you picked A instead of B on some tiny nuance on a MC question, you would not be highly ranked. The whole system seems just so wrong to me. I understand the exams are an indicator for passing the bar and they should be given, but I don't understand why they have an effect on your ranking. If a school had some kind of mock trial competition amongst it's own students then that would seem to be at least some indicator of practical skills.  I just wanted to see if anyone else out their thought the way class rank is measured is wrong. 

Advocate

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Re: Does anyone think class rankings are the wrong way to measure students?
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2010, 08:21:33 AM »
There must be some easily applicable standard for judging applicants. Academic excellence seems as good a measure as anything else.  I disagree with your opinion about those tests being meaningless.  The ability to issue spot and apply the law under time constraints is a skill that should be useful to a new associate with a busy caseload, or to a litigator who must be able to immediately understand when it makes sense to stand up and object.  But, yes, I agree--the way employers judge applicants isn't totally fair. Maybe you'll come up with your own, better, system when you're a managing partner somewhere someday.

kenpostudent

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Re: Does anyone think class rankings are the wrong way to measure students?
« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2010, 01:09:09 PM »
Your contention that there is virtually no difference in selecting b as opposed to c on a torts exam is unfounded. Most legal issues that end up at trial are very nuanced in much the same way that the difference between selecting b or c is very nuanced. The ability to recongize a difference between seemingly identical shades of grey is the skillset for which clients are willing to pay. A paralegal can learn to write a motion or brief. However, a paralegal cannot necessarily see the difference between say why there has been proximate cause in one instance but not another. While I do sympathize with your most basic contention, that law school classifications are based on high stakes exams that are more indicative of performance on a given day than consistent performance over a period of time, I don't think that is inherently unfair. Law is a high stakes profession. You can be great up to the day of tria, but if you choke at trial, your client's rights will be adversely affected. That is the nature of the beast. You can be the best transactional attorney five days a week, but if you miss an important issue on a client's contract, your bad decision in one minute can result in costly litigation. In that sense, law school exams make more sense. Put another way, if I were on trial for a crime that I did not commit, whether my attorney could notice the difference between b and c on his criminal law exam might be of significance if the underlying issue in that question would be dispositive on my case.

bigs5068

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Re: Does anyone think class rankings are the wrong way to measure students?
« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2010, 03:22:52 PM »
I have nothing against the exams I think they are very important, and they should be there. However, if I was on trial for a crime I would also want to be sure they knew how to write a motion properly etc. I have just heard from numerous places that law school teaches you the theories and not necessarily the practice of law. Maybe the exams could up make 50% of your ranking, and there could be a school wide competition where you file motions and perform a trial to make up the other 50% of your ranking. That way it would be based on both knowing the theory and the practice of law. The current system is benefiting me, but all I am saying is I don't know if I will or will not be a better lawyer than some of my classmates based on a few 3 hour exams. It is a level playing field, and you have to deal with whatever situation you are in.

I really compared the exams to the NFL, NBA, combines where they measure someone's ability to bench press, 40 yard dash, etc. Then they tend to ignore the player's performance in actual games if someone can bench press 300 lbs a few times, sign them up. However, mere strength is only a small indicator of game-day performance. Jamarcus Russel was a STUD in the combine he is a 6'6 280 LB beast, but he cannot play quarterback and if you watched him in college you would see he cracked under pressure, had minimal leadership skills, and his teammates did a lot of the heavy lifting. Tom Brady on the other hand is not a physical specimen by any means he is 6'2 215 lbs and does not have a great arm, but he knows how to play quarterback. He is accurate under pressure, he is a great leader, and he knows how to win games. He would be better if he had Jamarcus's physical attributes no question, but strength and speed are a significant component of your ability to play a sport, but it is not the end all be all. Just as you need to be able to see the nuance between B and C is important it is again not the end all be all of your ability to be a lawyer.

marcus-aurelius

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Re: Does anyone think class rankings are the wrong way to measure students?
« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2010, 04:50:58 PM »
The analogy you used makes perfect sense.  Game day ability is more important than the workout warrior's strength

kenpostudent

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Re: Does anyone think class rankings are the wrong way to measure students?
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2010, 11:55:06 AM »
I have nothing against the exams I think they are very important, and they should be there. However, if I was on trial for a crime I would also want to be sure they knew how to write a motion properly etc. I have just heard from numerous places that law school teaches you the theories and not necessarily the practice of law. Maybe the exams could up make 50% of your ranking, and there could be a school wide competition where you file motions and perform a trial to make up the other 50% of your ranking. That way it would be based on both knowing the theory and the practice of law. The current system is benefiting me, but all I am saying is I don't know if I will or will not be a better lawyer than some of my classmates based on a few 3 hour exams. It is a level playing field, and you have to deal with whatever situation you are in.

I really compared the exams to the NFL, NBA, combines where they measure someone's ability to bench press, 40 yard dash, etc. Then they tend to ignore the player's performance in actual games if someone can bench press 300 lbs a few times, sign them up. However, mere strength is only a small indicator of game-day performance. Jamarcus Russel was a STUD in the combine he is a 6'6 280 LB beast, but he cannot play quarterback and if you watched him in college you would see he cracked under pressure, had minimal leadership skills, and his teammates did a lot of the heavy lifting. Tom Brady on the other hand is not a physical specimen by any means he is 6'2 215 lbs and does not have a great arm, but he knows how to play quarterback. He is accurate under pressure, he is a great leader, and he knows how to win games. He would be better if he had Jamarcus's physical attributes no question, but strength and speed are a significant component of your ability to play a sport, but it is not the end all be all. Just as you need to be able to see the nuance between B and C is important it is again not the end all be all of your ability to be a lawyer.

I agree with your analogy regarding Jamarcus Russell and Tom Brady. However, law school's only measure of "game day" is your performance on exams (save say writing or moot court competitions). As far as the mechanics of law, there are classes such as pre-trial litigation and trial advocacy that teach the mechanics of motion and trial practice, along with the skill of depositions and trial work. There are also clinics to learn these skills. Ultimately, however, the real skill of an attorney is not in writing a brief but in crafting the arguments that go into the brief. In other words, you pay a lawyer because he can think like a lawyer. Although, writing is an essential skill, and I'm certainly not downplaying that in any way; the ability to think like a lawyer is just as important. Law school exams are a good measure of one's ability to think like a lawyer under pressure. However, I don't necessarily believe that those who do well on law school exams will always be the best attorneys.

Law school exams are graded on a "shotgun theory", in that, you get points for coverage of issues. So, the more issues that you spot and discuss, the more points that you get. If you argue both sides and make creative arguments, you get points. However, a well-crafted brief or oral argument that wins a tough case is not necessarily based upon the coverage of many disjointed issues (in fact, that would make the brief chaotic and incoherent). A good brief may require a few well-thought, creative arguments that go to the heart of the issue. It also may involve a careful weaving of policy into the client's story to create a compelling narrative. Those are skills that are not necessarily adequately rewarded on a law school exam. So, a good brief may be more akin to one or a few shots from a sniper than a shotgun discharge. Yet, a law school exam is probably still the best measure of "thinking like a lawyer" that we currently have. Maybe we should scrap the third year of law school and make it all clinics instead of classes. Maybe class ranking can then compose one's practical as well as academic skills.

bigs5068

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Re: Does anyone think class rankings are the wrong way to measure students?
« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2010, 12:43:35 PM »
The issue spotting under time pressure is important and the exams are an indicator of your ability to be a lawyer. I think that these trial advocacy and pre-trial litigation classes should be required and create a separate ranking system for your performance. You could rank everyone in all three of this categories i.e. this person finished in the top 17% in the exams, finished in the top 34% in trial advocacy, and top 8% in legal writing.

Another thing they might have you do is put you with 5 or 6 people and you have to argue a case together, which is also something that happens in the real world. You need to learn to work with others, of course you might get a straggler or two or get unfairly rewarded by having awesome people in your group. However, that happens in the real world. I just really feel as though law schools and from what I know about the bar don't necessarily teach you the skills to be an effective attorney. Some classes are available, but I think a lot of people avoid them and think that if they get a J.D. they will be set and know exactly what to do. I guess I just don't think law school is hard enough in it's current system and that professors are not hard enough on students. I had one that was tough and she was a crazy b***h, but I learned property really well. 

This is just a random tangent that blows my mind is when people get freaked out about getting called on. If you can't read 20-30 pages that you were told to read and be able to speak somewhat intelligently on a subject where you won't even get penalized if you are wrong. Then I have no idea how you will be able to handle the pressure of being an attorney.


Morten Lund

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Re: Does anyone think class rankings are the wrong way to measure students?
« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2010, 12:56:14 PM »
So even if you aced legal writing, but on the torts final you picked A instead of B on some tiny nuance on a MC question, you would not be highly ranked.

My first reaction to this was "whaaa...?"  But then, of course, I only went to law school once, and I tend to extrapolate from my single data point.  I didn't have any multiple-choice exams in law school (actually, one - and it was quite scandalous).  Our exams were all written issue-spotting exercises rather than MBE-style exams.  Most people I talk to seem to have had a mix of written and multiple-choice.  I find this somewhat interesting, since the two test methods really test different things.

Anyway, on to the actual question.  Sorry.


The analogy you used makes perfect sense.  Game day ability is more important than the workout warrior's strength

I think everyone would agree with this.  But, as someone pointed out, we use the workout as a predictor of game day ability - simply because that's all we have.  If we didn't use academic performance to distinguish, what would we use?  Employers will demand some type of proxy, and will create one themselves if they have to.


Your contention that there is virtually no difference in selecting b as opposed to c on a torts exam is unfounded. Most legal issues that end up at trial are very nuanced in much the same way that the difference between selecting b or c is very nuanced. The ability to recongize a difference between seemingly identical shades of grey is the skillset for which clients are willing to pay. ... if I were on trial for a crime that I did not commit, whether my attorney could notice the difference between b and c on his criminal law exam might be of significance if the underlying issue in that question would be dispositive on my case.

This is true, at least in concept, and raises the interesting question of what exactly we are trying to teach in law school.

In Wisconsin there is "diploma privilege."  If you graduate from UW or Marquette law, you don't have to take the bar exam to be admitted to the Wisconsin bar.  Just moral character and you are in.  As a result, however, both Wisconsin law schools have a fair amount of "practical" classes.  The theory is that you should be able to hang a shingle right after graduation (which I think is horrific, but different topic).

Most other law schools take more of a theoretical approach, and figure that you will pick up the real-life "a vs b" as you go along.  And, as it turns out, that bar exam helps you along the way.

I'll be perfectly honest:  about 80% of the "black-letter law" that I know I learned from BARBRI, not from law school.  Studying for the bar exam was the most dense information-acquisition exercise I have ever done (twice).  And I am definitely better off for having done so.  And I do agree that being able to tell a from b is important - but also useless without the underlying ability to analyze and evaluate, which I DID learn in law school.

I do think "a vs. b" is important - but I also think this is easier to learn than learning how to "think like a lawyer" - and I think issue-spotting written exams do a better job of testing this than do multiple-choice tests. 

One of my hiring partners used to joke (or maybe not) that they gave YHS graduates an extended grace period to become useful before firing them.  This on the theory that those graduates had less immediately useful knowledge, but (hopefully) had a solid foundation that would make them better off in the long run.

I have no data on whether that theory pans out, except to note that I was certainly completely useless on the job for a long time.  But so was everyone else - because here's the thing:  NOBODY learns in law school what they need to know to be useful the first day on the job.  No matter which law school you attended, no matter how well or poorly you did, you will still be learning on the job.

Ok, that turned into a long random rant.  My specialty.  Sorry.

On point:  We need to distinguish by something, and academic performance seems to work fairly well but is far from perfect.  If you have a better idea, we would love to hear it, believe me.

Morten Lund

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Re: Does anyone think class rankings are the wrong way to measure students?
« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2010, 01:01:27 PM »
The issue spotting under time pressure is important and the exams are an indicator of your ability to be a lawyer. I think that these trial advocacy and pre-trial litigation classes should be required and create a separate ranking system for your performance. You could rank everyone in all three of this categories i.e. this person finished in the top 17% in the exams, finished in the top 34% in trial advocacy, and top 8% in legal writing.

Not a bad thought, and I understand your thinking - but reality check:  Employers probably won't care.  Reality check #2:  Trial advocacy classes don't really relate to the practice of law any more than exam classes (at least not in firms), and what they teach as "legal writing" in class makes me tear my hair out.


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I just really feel as though law schools and from what I know about the bar don't necessarily teach you the skills to be an effective attorney.

Very true - see my post above.  But I am not convinced that it is possible for law school to truly prepare you.

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This is just a random tangent that blows my mind is when people get freaked out about getting called on. If you can't read 20-30 pages that you were told to read and be able to speak somewhat intelligently on a subject where you won't even get penalized if you are wrong. Then I have no idea how you will be able to handle the pressure of being an attorney.

Indeed.  The ability to face sudden inquisition, whether or not you are prepared - THAT is a useful skill on the job.   :)

jack24

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Re: Does anyone think class rankings are the wrong way to measure students?
« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2010, 01:10:05 PM »
Just for your information, I'm a 3L at a T2.

I think Bigs is a little off course on this.  Sure, grades from essay finals are not perfect indicators, but they are indicators.   Can we at least agree that someone ranked in the top 10% is a better student than someone in the bottom half?
I think that's correct 99% of the time.
Now that doesn't mean that a student ranked 50/150 is  that much better than a student ranked 70/150.  The rankings aren't perfect, but they can be helpful in certain cases.
Clinical experience can be valuable, but summer internships are basically clinical experience.  The interns can learn practical skills and get a real-world view of the legal field.  Employers can see what kind of worker the intern is, and learn how teachable she is. 
Employers aren't generally crazy about the quality of legal instruction in schools today, but I don't think too many of them are saying, "Shoot, these law review kids just suck, we should really mine the bottom half of the class next semester."   

Humor me and answer this hypothetical question.
If you represented a firm with around 50 attorneys, which of the following would you hire for a 2L summer internship?

Option 1: 
Rank: 10/145
Grades: Mostly A's
Law Review, A grade in Legal Writing.
1L Summer: Interned as an assistant researcher for a professor.

Option 2:
Rank: 75/145
Grades: Almost all B's
Winner of a speech contest, winner of practical writing competition,
1L Summer:  Participated in a clinic through the school at the local courthouse.


First of all, If you interviewed both of these candidates, you'd be able to get a feel for their personalities, and it might be apparent that option two is a better fit.  It might also be apparent that you like Option 1 more.
Second, a firm like that gets hundreds of resumes.  They have to make a distinction somehow and they figure they'll do fine if they get to choose from 10 people on law review.  At least a couple will be normal enough.

I totally choose option 1.   I'm willing to bet that someone in option 1's position is usually a quicker learner and probably harder working.  I'm also willing to bet that option 1 has a broader understanding of the law.   Yes, I will want him to do a good job writing motions, but real-world briefs and motions are not scrutinized nearly as much as law school briefs and motions.  I'm also fully convinced that someone ranked that highly can learn to write a brief.