As competition for legal jobs rises, so do grades

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As competition for legal jobs rises, so do grades

Grade inflation in law schools due to professors’ attempts to give students an edge in the highly competitive legal market has called the law school system into question.

Universities and legal circles Tuesday expressed concerns that Seoul National University’s School of Law and other top law programs have used unconventional methods in order to facilitate higher grades for its students.

A higher number of those who passed the bar exam under the new system is contributing to the rampant worry regarding an influx of legal professionals into the market under the new law school system, which came into effect in 2009.

Grades for law school classes are appropriated so that on a bell curve, 25 percent of students receive As, 50 percent Bs, 21 percent Cs and 4 percent Ds.

But universities provide ways for their students to circumvent receiving a low grade by retaking the course, forfeiting the class or manipulating grade distribution.

At SNU’s School of Law, if 50 students matriculate in a certain class that 100 students registered for, the professor appropriates the grades based on the 100 students registered, not the actual number of students in the class.

Following the Korean Association of Law Schools’ regulations, however, the bell curve should apply to the students actually in the class - in other words, 12 students, or 25 percent of the 50 students, would have to get Cs.

With the current system at SNU, As and Bs are given to the 50 taking the class while grades below that are slotted for those who registered for but didn’t take the class.

“The law school grade distribution is simply following the university’s grade distribution policy,” a representative of the school said. “There are times when many students cancel registration, so there is no big problem.”

SNU does not allow students to retake classes. But many law schools allow students who receive Cs or lower in a class to retake the class, especially as there is no regulation from the Korean Association of Law Schools regarding class retakes.

“Retaking a class if you get a low grade is what you would really call ‘grade swapping,’?” an SNU law professor said.

At Harvard Law School, students are required to retake a class if they fail and both grades are included on the transcript.

But schools like Korea University and Ewha Womans University allow students to drop their lowest grades and even take easier classes to reach a higher grade point average prior to graduation.

In a report submitted to the Saenuri Party on measures to strengthen law school administration, SNU’s School of Law was revealed to have only two of its 415 students placed under academic probation during the spring semester of 2011. Academic probation at the school is issued to students who have a GPA of 2.0 or lower.

An average of 4.69 percent of students from 25 law schools nationwide, or one in ten students, are on academic probation compared to 0.48 percent at SNU last year. Of the 233 law students at Chonbuk National University, 18 students, or 7.73 percent, were placed on academic probation - 16 times that of SNU.

“It appears that each school is responding sensitively to the issue because passing the bar examination and employment impacts the reputation of the school,” a spokesman of the Korean Association of Law Schools said. “The situation is that each school can autonomously decide how grades are given and distributed based on their regulations, but pretty soon the association plans on discussing a unified grading scheme.”

By Jung Won-yeob, Choi Jong-hyeok [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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