Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

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rayiner
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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby rayiner » Sun Sep 16, 2012 3:11 pm

ksllaw wrote:
BruceWayne wrote:In reality the grading definitely isn't arbitrary. The problem is that most people don't know what the grading is based off of. i.e it feels random because people are basically taking a test but in an odd sort of way (outside of obviously, a certain base level of legal knowledge) they don't know what they are being tested for.


Hi batman :mrgreen:
Hmmm, do you feel that's fair, given the stakes of law school?

To clarify, you're saying that obviously students know the general content of the exam (e.g., Ch. X - Y of Book Z), but don't know:

a.) the format (how questions will be asked or what will be required)
b.) how grading will be done

Correct?

I've had a.) come up in undergraduate courses before, where the professor wouldn't tell us the format of an exam and just said to come prepared "knowing the material."


You generally have practice exams and model answers.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby ksllaw » Mon Sep 17, 2012 3:05 am

rayiner wrote:
You generally have practice exams and model answers.


Ah! So it's not a complete surprise. :!:

rayiner wrote:I don't think it's necessarily that law exams measure anything particularly important, but rather that certain skills that are helpful on legal exams (being able to break down a problem quickly, being able to game the system, being able to figure out what the professor wants to hear) are also helpful in being a lawyer.


"Gaming the system" and "figure out what the professor wants to hear" Hmmm...

rayiner wrote:So the law can in most cases be broken down into rules that are implicated in particular situations (issues). The rules are broken down into elements. Elements may be governed by rules which themselves have elements. E.g. a contract is formed if there is: 1) an offer; 2) an acceptance; 3) consideration.


I appreciated that lengthy post even though I didn't understand all parts of it (not having taken any law classes yet). But just a quick question. What did you mean by "elements" here? Thanks! :D

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rayiner
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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby rayiner » Mon Sep 17, 2012 3:26 am

ksllaw wrote:
rayiner wrote:
You generally have practice exams and model answers.


Ah! So it's not a complete surprise. :!:

rayiner wrote:I don't think it's necessarily that law exams measure anything particularly important, but rather that certain skills that are helpful on legal exams (being able to break down a problem quickly, being able to game the system, being able to figure out what the professor wants to hear) are also helpful in being a lawyer.


"Gaming the system" and "figure out what the professor wants to hear" Hmmm...

rayiner wrote:So the law can in most cases be broken down into rules that are implicated in particular situations (issues). The rules are broken down into elements. Elements may be governed by rules which themselves have elements. E.g. a contract is formed if there is: 1) an offer; 2) an acceptance; 3) consideration.


I appreciated that lengthy post even though I didn't understand all parts of it (not having taken any law classes yet). But just a quick question. What did you mean by "elements" here? Thanks! :D


Law exams are about precision. Precision is achieved by breaking down a complex inquiry (was a contract formed?) into a set of simpler inquiries (was there an offer? was there an acceptance? was there consideration?) then synthesizing an answer to the complex inquiry from the answers to the simpler inquiries. Those simpler inquiries are elements. Simpler inquiries might be broken down into even simpler inquiries, so elements might have sub-elements.

It's the process of breaking down complex inquiries that makes law exams pretty objective for essay exams. You're not just ranting for pages about whether there is a contract. You're breaking down the issue into simple elements (and how you break down the law is textbook, right-or-wrong stuff), and discussing each element. These simple discussions of each element are much easier to grade objectively.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby ksllaw » Mon Sep 17, 2012 5:01 am

So, if one does those things correctly, then they receive positive points.

Can you get negative points for doing them incorrectly?

And does writing style matter much? It seemed from what another poster said that profs. don't really care if you have bad punctuation and grammar? No points taken off for that either?

This is very interesting.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby Hutz_and_Goodman » Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:02 pm

ksllaw wrote:So, if one does those things correctly, then they receive positive points.

Can you get negative points for doing them incorrectly?

And does writing style matter much? It seemed from what another poster said that profs. don't really care if you have bad punctuation and grammar? No points taken off for that either?

This is very interesting.


I've read elsewhere that the ability to write cogently (writing clear well organized prose) is an advantage. It's hard to imagine it wouldn't be.

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TatteredDignity
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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby TatteredDignity » Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:33 pm

The best exam takers are the ones who are best at nitpicking. That's 90% of the difference between two answers that are both, on the surface, "correct."

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby minnbills » Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:36 pm

TatteredDignity wrote:The best exam takers are the ones who are best at nitpicking. That's 90% of the difference between two answers that are both, on the surface, "correct."


Can you explain this a little more? Do you mean going further in depth than the other guy and unpacking your answer to a greater extent?

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby TatteredDignity » Mon Sep 17, 2012 10:39 pm

minnbills wrote:
TatteredDignity wrote:The best exam takers are the ones who are best at nitpicking. That's 90% of the difference between two answers that are both, on the surface, "correct."


Can you explain this a little more? Do you mean going further in depth than the other guy and unpacking your answer to a greater extent?


Sort of. I'm borrowing language from LEEWS (which has a specific but limited utility) when I say that. Nitpicking means figuring out why every single sentence is in the fact pattern and using it as part of your analysis. It's something that's hard to learn if you don't do it naturally. If you're a critical, active reader and not a passive reader, it's easier to do.

If a professor hasn't written a good, tight, issue-spotting test, this skill doesn't have as much value. But if they have, the people who can split hairs better than everyone else will do better. They figure out how to make use of seemingly irrelevant facts. Or they combine several facts into a new claim that no one else saw. If that's what you mean by "going further in depth," then you're on the right track.

It's hard to really explain this in the abstract. And you don't know if you're doing it well until you see it being done right. So start taking practice tests with smart people ASAP and marvel at how all three or four of you managed to take a different angle to the same paragraph. Then start developing all those angles in your own answers. Then profit.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby minnbills » Tue Sep 18, 2012 9:03 am

Awesome, that explains it well. Thank you

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby ksllaw » Sun Sep 23, 2012 4:44 am

Semi-random question, but if in-class exams are done on computers, then what happens if a person has a computer freeze or other malfunction? --ImageRemoved--

I've had various computers prone to that sort of thing before.

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DCDuck
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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby DCDuck » Sun Sep 23, 2012 6:23 am

I had my computer crash twice in my last law school exam. I had to leave twice, go to IT, have them fiddle with it, take it back and start over during the exam time. It sucks. That's why you save often during the exam.

The biggest problem I've seen is having your computer go kaput before finals with all of your outlines on it, unrecoverable. That is terrible. Back up your stuff!

You've got a long time to worry about this stuff! Focus on getting in to law school and learning the material before you worry about possible computer problems and arbitrary grading.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby ksllaw » Sun Sep 23, 2012 5:23 pm

I know! Last question (need to focus on my lsat after this). :mrgreen:

Were you able to get extra time at all? What happens if a malfunction takes...20 minutes to repair? Have people ever failed exams due to computer malfunctions?

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby ksllaw » Fri Oct 05, 2012 11:48 am

What about those in the bottom of the class at a school like Harvard?

There's the argument that since someone has to be at the bottom of a curved class, then even potentially brilliant students may end up at the bottom of a class. I choose Harvard for it's TOP 3 ranking and overall reputation as the place where the "best" and "brightest" go (overall, in all fields of study).

Suppose we took an incoming class of physics students comprised of the following members:

Paul Dirac
Leonard Susskind
Werner Heisenberg
Edward Witten
Isaac Newton
James Clerk Maxwell
Richard Feynman
Albert Einstein
Max Planck
Erwin Schrödinger
Steven Weinberg
Ernest Rutherford
Stephen Hawking
Frank Wilczek
Niels Bohr
Enrico Fermi
Galileo Galilei
Michael Faraday
Freeman Dyson
ksllaw :mrgreen:

And let's say they are graded on a forced class curve, where bottom 20% essentially fails. Would the four bottom students on this list somehow be viewed as defective (try randomly selecting any four)? Almost any four you select (except for a grouping that included me, lol), would yield four of the all-time greatest physicists.

Recall that Einstein was considered such a goof-off and slacker (cutting classes) in his physics class that he couldn't get a job for several years after graduating. And when he finally did it wasn't as a physicst, but as a lowly patent clerk. It was there toiling in complete obscurity in his off time that he came up with his four famous miracle year papers. So he could have easily been at the bottom of this class in his youth.

Ah, but maybe you'll say I've stacked the deck here with all-time greats, given too small a sample size of incoming class members, and may even argue that Einstein - at that point of his career - deserved to be jobless, based on his school performance (which didn't necessarily capture/measure what his greatest asset was, creativity).

Possibly.

We can analyze this more with those things in mind. For example, do those timed, once-a-semester law school exams really capture all there is to being a good lawyer (e.g. Would a mock trial competition not be better in some respects, by forcing students to utilize their comprehensive legal skills in a simulated legal situation......or a brief or moot court competition, etc.)?

And, still, what of the basic common counter-argument that since someone has to place at the bottom of a curved class then even great students may be at the bottom of a class if the class is comprised with great students across the board? We could expand that class of great phycists above to include other greats as well (although, admittedly, that one does have literally some of the best of the best of the best of the best :P ...I threw in a few contemporaries, such as Susskind, who may or may not end up being viewed that way when he retires - probably soon).

Is the point system for law exams really capable of accurately telling apart students? What if Top 20% scored a 99, 2nd 20% scored a 98, third 20% scored a 97...and so on. If the scores are close together overall, then are the exams really capable of differentiating students adequately? Would it not be that possibly just the fastest writers of the bunch may have been the ones who did the best?

Just pushing the question further.

[ETA: I'm aware of some counter-arguments to this line of reasoning as well (e.g., law school admissions doesn't always adquately factor in rigor of program of study - due to an eye towards the USNWR ranking criteria - so that a person with a 4.0/168 LSAT in Women's Studies from Southern California Tropical Paradise College may not have been a better incoming student than the person with a 3.4/177 LSAT from Cal Tech in Physics), but just asking for the sake of discussion.]
Last edited by ksllaw on Fri Oct 05, 2012 12:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby dingbat » Fri Oct 05, 2012 12:10 pm

^This is why the prospects of the bottom 1% at Yale is better than the prospects of the top 1% at NYLS

It's not that a C at Harvard is worse than a B at Cooley, it's just a relative ranking against each other. Paul Dirac will get a lower grade than Niels Bohr, while Al Einstein would have a better grade still. They're graded relative to each other, but every hiring committee (or other employer) knows that they all are at the upper echelon of what's available.

Compare that class to a potential Nova class consisting of Larry, Curley and Moe. Even the best of thè bunch isn't nearly the scientist as even the second dumbest at Harvard

Of course, every school can make a mistake, so even though ksllaw somehow managed to get in (apparently he had some compromising photos of the dean), s/he'll sink to the bottom, which is why event the best schools, the worst students are capable of striking out, while if golden gate has a class consisting of Swiss patent clerks, it's entirely possible to have a supergenius among them, and the best ranked student has a chance at glory (aka biglaw/fed clerkship)

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby rayiner » Fri Oct 05, 2012 7:11 pm

Ksilaw,

LSAT/GPA doesn't do such a great job of selection that the spreads on exams are that tight. I'm not sure about Harvard, but many of my exams have had enormous spreads. Most people don't get anywhere near all the available points. I took a class that was 75% law review and full of clerkship gunners, and the highest score on our graded midterm was like 150/175. Second highest was like 10 points lower, and median was 20 points below that.

Even though LSAT is the best single indicator we have, statistically it explains less than half of the difference in grades. A group of 172/3.8's is going to have wildly different abilities in terms of figuring out what professors are looking for, how to write good outlines, etc.

I'm quite firmly of the opinion that differences in hiring between tiers of schools are more exaggerated than differences in law exam taking ability. Median at Harvard is going to blow away blow away median at NYLS, but bottom 10% at Harvard genuinely doesn't get his to take law exams and they would not do well against top students at lower ranked schools who do get how to take law exams.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby ksllaw » Fri Oct 05, 2012 8:58 pm

rayiner wrote:Ksilaw,

LSAT/GPA doesn't do such a great job of selection that the spreads on exams are that tight. I'm not sure about Harvard, but many of my exams have had enormous spreads. Most people don't get anywhere near all the available points. I took a class that was 75% law review and full of clerkship gunners, and the highest score on our graded midterm was like 150/175. Second highest was like 10 points lower, and median was 20 points below that.

Even though LSAT is the best single indicator we have, statistically it explains less than half of the difference in grades. A group of 172/3.8's is going to have wildly different abilities in terms of figuring out what professors are looking for, how to write good outlines, etc.

I'm quite firmly of the opinion that differences in hiring between tiers of schools are more exaggerated than differences in law exam taking ability. Median at Harvard is going to blow away blow away median at NYLS, but bottom 10% at Harvard genuinely doesn't get his to take law exams and they would not do well against top students at lower ranked schools who do get how to take law exams.



Hmmm, I'm still debating this issue in my head.

But, I think it would definitely help to see how large the spread was between exam scores that resulted in the various grades of students in these classes. I almost feel it should be open to public viewing, lol, if so much is riding on law school exams. As an employer/hiring manager, I'd be more willing to hire from bottom of the class at Harvard if I saw that the spread was tight between grade categories.

But even in situations where there the spread was wide, I think I'd have to ask whether the exams across schools were of comparable difficulty and graded similarly. Otherwise, "mastery" over an easier exam (or more lenient grading) at a lower ranked school may still not reflect a greater aptitude for law over the bottom 20%er at HYS.

Just how comparable do you think law exams are across schools?

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby dingbat » Fri Oct 05, 2012 9:35 pm

ksllaw wrote:
rayiner wrote:Ksilaw,

LSAT/GPA doesn't do such a great job of selection that the spreads on exams are that tight. I'm not sure about Harvard, but many of my exams have had enormous spreads. Most people don't get anywhere near all the available points. I took a class that was 75% law review and full of clerkship gunners, and the highest score on our graded midterm was like 150/175. Second highest was like 10 points lower, and median was 20 points below that.

Even though LSAT is the best single indicator we have, statistically it explains less than half of the difference in grades. A group of 172/3.8's is going to have wildly different abilities in terms of figuring out what professors are looking for, how to write good outlines, etc.

I'm quite firmly of the opinion that differences in hiring between tiers of schools are more exaggerated than differences in law exam taking ability. Median at Harvard is going to blow away blow away median at NYLS, but bottom 10% at Harvard genuinely doesn't get his to take law exams and they would not do well against top students at lower ranked schools who do get how to take law exams.



Hmmm, I'm still debating this issue in my head.

But, I think it would definitely help to see how large the spread was between exam scores that resulted in the various grades of students in these classes. I almost feel it should be open to public viewing, lol, if so much is riding on law school exams. As an employer/hiring manager, I'd be more willing to hire from bottom of the class at Harvard if I saw that the spread was tight between grade categories.

But even in situations where there the spread was wide, I think I'd have to ask whether the exams across schools were of comparable difficulty and graded similarly. Otherwise, "mastery" over an easier exam (or more lenient grading) at a lower ranked school may still not reflect a greater aptitude for law over the bottom 20%er at HYS.

Just how comparable do you think law exams are across schools?

I don't know what you're trying to say here.

Are you saying employers are more likely to accept a higher ranked student from a lower ranked school?
This is really a matter of which schools you're comparing.

The difference between a student at, say Harvard and Columbia, is not that big, so it stands to reason that a highly ranked student at Columbia is probably better than a low ranking Harvard student and employers hire accordingly, but if relative rank is equal, Harvard has the edge in employment.
On the other hand, the difference between a student at Harvard and at Northeastern is much bigger - it is highly unlikely that anyone who goes to northeastern could have gotten into Harvard. Employers take this into account as well and will almost always pick the low ranked Harvard student over the top ranked Northeastern student

Now as for whether the exam at one school is easier than another, that's the wrong question. Exam difficulty varies even within a school, from professor to professor. Not only that, students are graded compared to their section, not the entire class, so if by chance the smartest kids all end up in one section and the dumbest in another, some of the smart ones will be ranked toward the bottom while some of the dumb ones will be ranked near the top (as an aside, this is likely to happen at TTTs that section stack scholarship students)
So, not only is the "spread" not consistent from school to school, it's not even consistent from section to section within a school. However, while a very small number of students might get the short end of the stick (or get a lucky break), overall, the system works quite well (based on what is being measured, being how well one does on a law school exam. Whether this is the right thing to measure is a different debate altogether)

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby rayiner » Fri Oct 05, 2012 10:14 pm

ksllaw wrote:But, I think it would definitely help to see how large the spread was between exam scores that resulted in the various grades of students in these classes. I almost feel it should be open to public viewing, lol, if so much is riding on law school exams. As an employer/hiring manager, I'd be more willing to hire from bottom of the class at Harvard if I saw that the spread was tight between grade categories.


My point is that the spread is usually not tight. You seem to have this impression that everyone at Harvard is so smart they must do very similarly on exams and the spread must be tight. But performance on law school exams isn't really a measure of how smart someone is. It's a measure of how good someone is at discovering unwritten rules and figuring out what hide-the-ball professors want. There is a very wide spread in the ability of even students at top schools to do these things. One of my friends 1L ended up way below median because he straightforwardly answered the questions instead of obtusely arguing both sides of every point. He came in with above-median stats.

Now, exams are generally more complex at higher ranked schools, but if you look at the practice exams that are out there on the internet, they aren't that much more complex. There is a more dramatic difference between a top 10% and a bottom 10% response at a top school than there is between the exam prompts at a top school and a lower-ranked school. By and large people in the bottom 10% of any school don't really get how to write a law school exam. Those same people wouldn't suddenly perform great on a moderately easier exam.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby 09042014 » Fri Oct 05, 2012 11:34 pm

1) Like people have said, they definitely are not arbitrary. Otherwise, you'd see a regression to the mean, which you do not see at all. Honors at schools like U of C or UVA would be damn close to median after three years of arbitrary grading.

There clearly is a set system. It is somewhat probabilistic, but all subjective grading is. However, the skills, abilities, and level of knowledge the law exam system rewards is arbitrary.

It heavily rewards speed of analysis compared to strength of analysis. To almost an absurd degree. It rewards voluminous shallow analysis.

It also heavily rewards a certain style of exam writing and writing to the exam. Examsmanship is a huge component. If go into tests and don't argue both sides, you are fucked. You can create checklists to gun through analysis in an artificial way.

Hell, I use Rayiner's outline and checklist to take an Admin test when I : 1)never went to class ( I attended 5 classes at most, and surfed TLS/reddit while there), 2) read literally zero cases 3) studied for exactly 1 day before the exam. I barely understood the material and still got an A-.

Exams reward things in an arbitrary way.

2) I don't agree that because the professor has what appears to be an objective rubric of points that the test is objective. When the professor puts together that rubric, what qualifies for points and what is considered a stupid argument is totally subjective. I had a professor give points for considering whether living in a house could give you an easement to live in that house. I instead wrote about a constructive trust (some weird rule that we had a case on). Neither argument would EVER win in any court. She'd give points for one and not the other. On that it curve, it dropped your from a low A to a high B+.

The only objective part of law exams is making sure they accurately stated the law. And even that high subjective. Some professors accept paraphrasing, some require you to cite to a case. I got a terrible grade on my civ pro midterm (that didn't factor into grades, it was practice but still graded to give you feedback). Reason? I wasn't stating the case I got a rule from.

3) Even objective grading of answers is still somewhat subjective, because what is being tested is subjectively picked. I studied Electrical Engineering. Exams had objectively right answers. Often, I'd luck out because the professor only asked one small question about a part of the material I couldn't understand. Once I got an 80/100 on a test that I was very prepared for because the professor asked, on a digital circuits class, to convert db to octaves. It was based on one slide presented in class -> 20% of the first exam.

There are Image decibels per octave. That is objective. But the professor valuing that small bit of knowledge is entirely subjective.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby Tom Joad » Fri Oct 05, 2012 11:42 pm

Hey old law school students, any insight into if you spot an issue but do a really bad job of applying it to the facts and explaining it? I assume it depends on the professor, but if it is all a rubric wouldn't it be possible you get the point and the prof just keeps reading after he checks the box.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby 09042014 » Fri Oct 05, 2012 11:49 pm

Tom Joad wrote:Hey old law school students, any insight into if you spot an issue but do a really bad job of applying it to the facts and explaining it? I assume it depends on the professor, but if it is all a rubric wouldn't it be possible you get the point and the prof just keeps reading after he checks the box.


It depends on the professors grading style. But I suspect for the clear majority of professors, you are better off spotting more issues and doing fairly poor analysis, than doing good analysis spotting less issues.

But spotting issues is itself a form of analysis.

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby Tom Joad » Fri Oct 05, 2012 11:54 pm

Desert Fox wrote:
Tom Joad wrote:Hey old law school students, any insight into if you spot an issue but do a really bad job of applying it to the facts and explaining it? I assume it depends on the professor, but if it is all a rubric wouldn't it be possible you get the point and the prof just keeps reading after he checks the box.


It depends on the professors grading style. But I suspect for the clear majority of professors, you are better off spotting more issues and doing fairly poor analysis, than doing good analysis spotting less issues.

But spotting issues is itself a form of analysis.

tyty

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dingbat
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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby dingbat » Sat Oct 06, 2012 6:53 am

Desert Fox wrote: I use Rayiner's outline and checklist

Any chance I can get a copy of this?

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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby marlborofillet » Sat Oct 06, 2012 1:52 pm

dingbat wrote:
Desert Fox wrote: I use Rayiner's outline and checklist

Any chance I can get a copy of this?


+1

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rayiner
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Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby rayiner » Sat Oct 06, 2012 2:54 pm

marlborofillet wrote:
dingbat wrote:
Desert Fox wrote: I use Rayiner's outline and checklist

Any chance I can get a copy of this?


+1


My outlines are widely acknowledged as sucking.




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