Rule11 wrote:Yes, there are some folks who don't excel at law school who nonetheless excel in practice (usually transactional practices). Yes, you rarely receive an exam fact pattern and issue-spot for three hours in biglaw practice. And yes, attention to detail and ability to focus for long periods of time are very useful traits to have in biglaw.
But in my experience, those who understood that law school exams weren't just a "typing race" to see who could transcribe their outlines the fastest generally also come across as the brightest associates. First, just because you're thorough doesn't mean that quickly narrowing down the issues doesn't provide an enormous advantage. And if a partner asks you a question, the partner wants the answer as soon as possible, and with as much analytical detail as possible. That means spotting potential additional issues and addressing them.
As between issue-spotting and attention to detail, the fact of that matter is that an effective associate needs both, but issue-spotting ability is the more important of the two, not the less.
I think the issue here is that we're not talking about vastly different levels of issue spotting abilities here. Given that its not an uncommon occurrence for someone at the top of the class to get the occasional random below median grade, it'd conclude that overall the level of ability is pretty tightly clustured. I don't think variation within that range has major ramifications to ones' performance as an associate.
This is a really god post. If law exams were really a reliable measure of anything, the same people would routinely be getting similar grades in every class, so long as they prepared sufficiently for all their classes. Any given subject doesn't really require a different set of reasoning/writing skills from the others.
I know it doens't happen to everyone, but my grades were all over the map. Preparation had nothing to do with whether I did good or bad, how many practice tests I did, how often I met for office hours, etc. I was ahead of the curve with outline preparation, reading treatises, etc. in all my classes. So I really don't know what the difference was between my top 10% grades and those below median. My highest grades were often the classes I prepared least for and hated the most.
Law school classes are already clustered together by LSAT score, which is a fairly decent measure of reasoning ability, which is probably closely related to issue spotting skills. Issue spotting seems to have two different main components to me: 1) preparation and knowing the materal, and 2) recognizing an analogous set of facts, which is similar to a lot of questions on the LSAT. But you can spot most of the issues and still get a median grade because you didn't do enough "analysys." In looking at model answers, there's a lot of what I would call irrelevant analysis that gives you points, such as saying stuff about a subject just to prove that you know it even though it has almost zero value in assessing the legal problem. There's also a lot of points awarded for simply saying things the way the professor wants you to say them. It may be that the harder workers that are constantly meeting for office hours pick up on these nuances more. But that's not really testing a legal analysis skill.
The bottom line is that any good test of skills is going to be somewhat reliable, in that people generally score the same every time they take it. If you're getting top 10% one time and bottom 25% another time despite equal preparation, there's either 1) a lot of noise in the system in that the test is measuring a lot of random, unstable factors, or 2) what the test is really assessing is severely muted by restriction of range in the testing population, so that the difference between top 10% and bottom 25% in any given administration of the test is random error.
I don't think it's all random noise, as I know some people who were able to continually able to ace every exam thrown their way. But in any test, there's always some measurement error. I also think restriction of range is a huge factor, especially at the top schools. I think some people are just able to pick up on what things on top of legal analysis get you points. Whatever that is, I haven't figured it out enough to be consistent.