BruceWayne wrote:WhatWouldHolmesDo? wrote:
The short answer is really uncommon, but quite damaging.
Though I believe the official curve recommends that the bottom 10% of the class receives LPs, it seems that professors are actually discouraged from giving them. How the administration views LPs is a bit hidden from us, but most professors understand them to be discretionary. When asked, every professor I had this year basically said something along the lines of "to get an LP, you have to earn it." In other words, unless you really blow it (i.e. not study, not complete the test, never go to class), you will pass. That seems to be most professors' approach, though there may be a few outliers who more strictly conform to the curve or believe in giving LPs on principle. One of my professors said he "didn't like" to give them. Others just said not to worry about it. What that translates to is probably 1-2 LPs handed out in most large classes...they'd be even more rare in seminars.
One of the reasons professors are so reluctant to dole out LPs - and this gets to the second part of your question - is because they really do screw you over. I haven't gone through EIP (the early interview program in August) but what I've picked up from others makes it sound like an LP is a really serious blot on your resume that is difficult to overcome. My sense is that it will likely kill your chances at a top-tier firm and generally make the job search significantly tougher. It's a red flag, plain and simple. That said, as long as you have some other stuff going for you or an otherwise decent transcript, you'd almost certainly still be able to get a BigLaw job. And if your transcript is otherwise filled with H's, it would do significantly less harm. All of that assumes one LP. If someone had multiple LPs. I'd imagine it would be basically impossible to get a BigLaw job unless you're a fantastic interview or are otherwise extremely impressive.
But yeah, as noted above, it's really not a serious concern, even for classes you might struggle in. It's scary first semester when you haven't taken any law school exams yet, but then you realize it's not much to worry about it.
I hate to say it, but this does make all of those Stanford trolls seem more legitimate.
In light of the Stanford trolls comment, I feel like it's worth coloring in HLS's grading culture a little more. While it's true that the specter of the LP is overblown, I think the internal acceptability/desirability of a P as opposed to an H is also overblown. Here's what I think happens. Most Harvard 0Ls are thrilled just to "be there." You study hard for the LSAT, you do quite well, you write a personal statement, gather LORs, go through the JR1....by the time you get in, you feel like the hard part is over and you're well on your way to professional success. The various tiers that are ever-present in your mind throughout your cycle are those that separate law schools, and when you get into Harvard, you've made it into the top. Correspondingly, while you are eager to learn a lot, you are not necessarily too concerned about what your transcript will look like. You figure that you'll get a lot of Ps, some Hs, and who really cares, because you're at Harvard, right? Objectively, there's a lot of truth to that. Just by virtue of being at HLS (or another top law school), you have a significant head-start on the competition.
That was my mindset at least. But I think what happens to many similarly-minded people is that the things that got us here in the first place (drive, ambition, a desire to be "at the top") kick in quite quickly. By the time finals roll around, you want those H's and you are willing to work hard to get them. You want to have your hard work validated; you want to prove yourself to professors that you like and admire.
Another contributing factor relates to what I described above re: how 0Ls view selectivity and being at the top of their field. At that stage in the game, it's about what schools you get into and where you enroll. Once you're actually in law school though you are introduced to all these other self-sorting prestige mechanisms. Are you on Law Review? Are you clerking? Where will you clerk? State court? Federal District court? Circuit court? What firm are you at? What government job did you score?
This is not to say Harvard is a cut-throat place - I don't find it to be at all. But it is a place where there is a lot of ambition and achievement in the air, and the natural response for many is to want to keep chasing that prestige.
None of this is necessarily a bad thing. Personally, I think the collective desire to do well academically will probably makes students better lawyers and gives HLS the kind of academic electricity, which makes it such a great place to study law. My point is that, in some sense, the 0L fear of the LP is replaced by the 1L fear of the P. That is not to equate what the two grades mean at all; just to illustrate the way perceptions of the grading system change once you hit HLS.
A qualifier: I am speaking for myself here as well as a group of friends who I know relate in a similar way. There are many ways to approach grades and much is probably determined by how well you do first semester, which sets expectations for the rest of your time here. I know quite a few HLS students who are cruising through law school, for whatever reason. They're not affected by the phenomenon I've described above or they make a calculated decision to enjoy their social life during law school more and rest on their HLS credentials when they get out. Or maybe you're just fine working at any BigLaw firm and know you can get there by putting in the minimal effort to pass your classes with the occasional H. (A few years ago, you could cruise and go work at a V10). I am simply describing what I think happens to many 1Ls and what I perceive as characterizing the grading culture in general. Very curious to hear what other rising 2Ls have to say...