In In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That, the New York Times reports today that some law schools have artificially boosted grades. It’s hard to know where to begin assessing what this means – and why it is awful. 

The article reports that

“In the last two years, at least 10 law schools have deliberately changed their grading systems to make them more lenient…. 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.”

What disturbs me most is the perhaps not so subliminal message that lawyers can fix problems simply by changing appearances without changing substance.

The schools argue that the grade adjustment is a competitive responsive. Inflating grades changes nothing except appearance. How about competing by changing the curriculum so that graduates are more valuable to employers?

With law schools saying, in essence, it’s OK to fake grades, surely it’s OK for lawyers to take other short cuts and ignore inconvenient facts or whole areas of knowledge.

With law schools ‘adjusting’ grades to make them look better, no wonder clients fear that alternative fees are just papering over old fashioned bill by the hour.

If it’s OK to paper over grades, then it’s OK to paper over ignorance of key aspect so law practice. (See, for example, Craig Ball’s excellent commentary on lawyers failing to understand digital data in Show No Fear – Lawyers need to — and can — learn the language of e-discovery, Law Technology News, 1 June 2010).

It’s OK for law schools to adjust grades to look better. After all, there’s no law against it. So it’s OK to advise clients to take imprudent and immoral course of action; after all, there’s no law against it.

Or perhaps by “adjusting” slightly what words really mean, it’s OK for lawyers to advise that acts long-considered torture are really, after all, not torture.

The public view of lawyers is already bad. The practitioner’s view of the academy is already bad. Gimmicks like adjusting grades can only contribute to cynicism.