Free From the Curve

There are times when the law school experience can be rough to say the least -at times that is a catastrophic understatement- but fellow law student friends can be an absolute saving grace. It’s incredible to have people who know firsthand what you’re going through, and even better to have people who know exactly what you’e going through because they’re in the same classes with you. So while of course you have got for the large part to choose classes that are most interesting to you and/or likely to be beneficial to your legal career, it’s really great if you’re able to coordinate to have a friend or two taking the same courses at the same time*. So, ten friends should be amazing, right?

Yes, but also no. Because of The Curve. If you weren’t previously aware most law school classes are ‘graded on a curve’ which means that only a certain percentage of the class can receive top grades and the rest move down from there- there is some sort of rationale to this I think involving avoiding grade inflation and maybe also evening out GPAs but I can’t precisely say I understand the method. This is not the case for clinic classes and courses that are under the size cap (which I believe is 22ish? Foreshadowing…) but if it is a curved class, study groups can sometimes be a sticky situation.  The better anyone else does the directly less good a grade you are likely to receive yourself, which  is something of a disincentive to helping out your classmates. One doesn’t like to think of oneself as “up against” their peers but in a sense you sort of totally are. A good coping tactic is a small insular study group which could operate under the theory that technically the three or four of you could all get A’s, and that’s how I’ve handled group studying for most of my curved courses.

Trademark presented a unique circumstance because literally ten of my favorite people were enrolled with me. There were roughly 40 people in the class so it was definitely going to be curved. But then! Surprise! Turns out LLM students are not part of the curve, and a headcount of the JD students fell just below the required curve minimum! (Neat side note to that: many of the LLM students were practicing attorneys in their home countries, some specializing specifically in intellectual property, and they frequently had interesting commentary to share on differences in international laws.)

What followed after that revelation was one of the best and certainly most fun collaborative learning environments I’ve had the pleasure of participating in. We reserved blocks of time in group study rooms and while everyone had certain times they had to prioritize a different course or exam, for the vast majority of that two week period any time you wanted to discuss the nuances of Trademark law someone was going to be there who could help you out. Need an acronym for the factors of the Grimaldi test? Put it in the group Google Doc. Notice your notes are a bit sparse from a class day you must’ve been sleep deprived? Someone’s got you. Realize a succinct means of determining secondary meaning? By all means share it! It was wonderful. It remains to be seen how any of us actually did on the exam of course, grades are still weeks away from coming out, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say we all benefited from being able to work together without the curve.

*Although there is also something to be said for staggering classes and then being able to harass people who’ve already taken your course to explain things and/or share outlines, which is especially nice 2L and 3L year because it becomes harder to track down outlines for upper level classes.

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