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Making The Grade By The Letter Of The Law

, , , , , , | Learning | June 1, 2021

About twenty years ago, I was attending law school part-time during the day while still keeping my full-time job, which provided tuition reimbursement. Despite that, my grades were just below the top ten percent of the class. To minimize classroom time, one summer I requested permission for a one-credit research class that I could work on during my free time.

I was directed to a professor in my area of interest who agreed to supervise the project by email, though we never met. I suggested a topic, with which he was amenable, and he emailed over the rubric for the paper so that it would fulfill the requirements.

After five or six weeks, I completed the legal research and began writing the paper. A week later, I emailed a draft that had some edits, but the email back was reasonably positive about the paper. I showed it to some of my colleagues at work, who also gave very positive feedback. I incorporated all of the edits and suggestions and submitted it by email to the professor.

He gave me a C+, my lowest grade in Law School (before or after). I emailed him and asked for feedback but got no real explanation other than that he wasn’t impressed.

I was quite annoyed. Around the same time, I happened to notice a contest in a law school journal where the best student-written paper would get published and win a significant cash prize — $2,500. Second and third place also received money and publication. Since I had the C+ paper I’d just written, I sent it in, just for kicks.

Sometime later — at least several months — the journal called me to let me know that my C+ paper won first place in the contest out of more than forty or fifty submissions. It was published and I got the check. The award ceremony was in California and I was on the East coast, so I wasn’t able to attend.

As a coda, I wrote a letter to the school newspaper detailing this story and explaining how paper grades were very subjective. The professor was apparently annoyed; in that letter, I did use his name. He took the trouble to email me that he’d purported to show the letter to a judge friend of his, who supposedly would have only given me a B.

I don’t care because I had $2,500 extra in the bank. Honestly, if he had given me an A, I’m not sure I would have submitted it to the contest, so I can’t really complain.


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