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NY Times: Law School Grade Inflation and What it Means


We (and by “we” I mean “Colin”) reported a while ago that Loyola Law School was in the process of artificially inflating its grades to ostensibly put Loyola grads on a more even playing field than they had been previously (apparently Loyola averaged grades to a mean that was far below the mean at other schools). We posited that, instead, the powers that be at Loyola were actually looking to give their students a better chance at employment survival in the face of a broken economy.

Because we like to take advantage of any time we can appeal to authority while also flexing our confirmation bias, The Paper of Record has given us a little validation.

As Catherine Rampell writes in her article in the New York Times yesterday:

“Law schools seem to view higher grades as one way to rescue their students from the tough economic climate — and perhaps more to the point, to protect their own reputations and rankings…the schools are now fielding complaints from more and more unemployed graduates, frequently drowning in student debt.”

The main gist of the piece is that grade inflation is just one of many responses law schools have had to the growing reality that there are more people graduating from law school in the next few years than can be adequately employed by a diminished legal job market.

Grade inflation actually may serve to help out some students in the first couple of years that law schools do this. The obvious trouble, however, is that even the most insular employers will adjust their employment practices as it becomes evident that everyone’s grades have been inflated.

To give an analogy, it would be as if various college basketball teams (USC, for example) suddenly raised each of its players scoring averages by three points to give them a better chance of employment in the NBA. A caveat, of course, is that USC is known for being a bunch of cheaters while these law schools are simply desperate to maintain the illusion that there are plenty of legal jobs for everyone.

But ignoring the trees, and examining the forest, this does not serve to actually solve the problem of diminishing jobs vs. increasing graduates. Artificially inflating grades will maybe help a few law school graduates get jobs who otherwise would not. But unless there is a fundamental change in the job market, there will still be the same finite number of jobs available, and a greater-than-that number of people graduating from law schools.

The issue law schools are facing is that, outside of stop gap measures, the real solutions to this problem are a little extreme, ranging from lowering tuition significantly so students have a lower debt burden upon graduation to actually admitting fewer students. Law schools in general will have a tough time doing either, so the hope apparently is that the economy fixes itself and the legal job market becomes as prosperous as it once was.