MU law school not following national grade inflation trend, dean says

With more graduates competing for a shrinking number of jobs in the slumping economy, law schools around the country say they are using more lenient grading systems to better their graduates’ job prospects. The MU School of Law is also using a curve, but its dean said the MU curve has a different purpose.

In a June article, The New York Times detailed grading curves at the University of California, New York University, Georgetown University and other colleges that have softened standards to raise grade point averages.

MU Law School Dean Lawrence Dessem said in an interview this week there is a grade curve at the law school, but said the school wasn’t inflating grades with future employers in mind.

“The main concern is to put all students on an equal footing,” he said. “The grade curve is not to increase the chance of getting a job, but rather to insure students in both [first year] sections are equal in class rank and grades.”

The MU School of Law came under fire from alumni in April when the U.S. News & World Report ranked it as 93 in a list of the top law schools in the country, a significant drop from its 2008 ranking at 68. Dessem and other law school officials met with students to hear suggestions and reassure them that the law school’s career counselors could help them find jobs.

Dessem said the law school does not want students to be treated differently due to professors, courses or the section they are in, which is why the grade curve is in place.

Nancy Slonim, a spokeswoman for the American Bar Association said the law school can’t soften their standards very much because the ABA sets its own criteria for what schools its member firms should be looking to hire from.

“Scholastic achievement of students shall be evaluated by examination of suitable length and complexity, papers, projects, or by assessment of performances of students in the role of lawyers,” states a copy of ABA policy for approving law schools provided by Slonim.

Shabnam Nouraie, a third-year student at the law school and vice president of the MU Student Bar Association, said she is satisfied with the law school’s grading system and that students don’t need inflated grades to get jobs in the state.

“A majority of the law students look for jobs in Missouri and most Missouri employers know how the schools in the area calculate grade and class ranks,” she said.

Dessem said curves are not an issue in the law school because most of the students that look for a job after law school have help from the alumni network. Nouraie also said that students have help from the career services program at the School of Law.

“Our career services is strengthening by taking a more hands-on approach with students," she said."They seek the students out and stay more on top of each student's areas of interest.”

The Office of Career Development is receiving two additional professors this summer to help counsel students, create programming, arrange for student job interviews and reach out to legal employers. Despite the efforts of the career services program, Nouraie said that the only way it will work is if the students take the first step.

“Everything comes down to the student making the first step to contact career services, and after that, career services will contact alums to help the student out in any way possible,” she said. “Generally, career services takes the first step, but if a student is interested in relocating outside of Missouri, it is probably in their best interest to be proactive and let career services know where they would like to work.”

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