Tuesday, October 07, 2008

HLS Geeks To Be Disadvantaged In Clerkship Market?

Orin Kerr, analyzing the repercussions of Harvard Law School's move from letter grades to a High Pass/Pass/Low Pass system, remarks:
What will the impact of the change be? Assuming Stanford and Harvard adopt the Yale model, which seems likely to me, I suspect the real difference will be a slight shift in focus from grades to recommendations. If grades tell judges less, professors need to make up the gap. I suspect the new system will make impressing a connected professor who knows the judges and Justices an increasingly important part of the clerkship process. The recommendation from the connected professor will help tell the judges and Justices that the student with all or mostly "H" grades is really top law clerk material.

More broadly, I tentatively suspect that this shift will slightly favor Stanford over Harvard in the competition for top clerkships. Stanford is smaller, and the chances that a student will have a close relationship with a professor are greater than at Harvard. Harvard is large, and at least in the past has been infamously impersonal. Faculty enthusiasm for helping students has traditionally not been the school's forte; at least when I was there, the attitude was more than you were supposed to succeed on your own. Perhaps that has changed with Elena Kagan as Dean? I don't know. But in a wold in which personal relationships are the key to scoring a top clerkship, I would think the advantage goes to the smaller school with a better student/faculty ratio.
Within HLS, the advantage will go to the more gregarious. Whereas before a quiet, inconspicuous student (perhaps with family obligations) could count on distinguishing himself through his transcript, there will now be a much greater push to raise one's profile in the eyes of the faculty, perhaps by working as a research assistant, conducting independent study projects under a professor's supervision, or even through increased class participation. Will this new system (further) polarize classes into gunner clerk-wannabes and lazy ticket-punchers? Will shy nerds be elbowed out of the clerkship market by louder, more forceful classmates?
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