How Will Harvard and Stanford Grades Affect the Clerkship Market?:
The announcement that both Harvard and Stanford Law Schools are dropping letter grades and moving to a H/P/LP/F system raises a really interesting question: How will the switch impact the market for law clerks? Harvard and Stanford students are often major players for very competitive clerkships. How will the judges who are evaluating applicants respond to having less information about candidates from these top schools?

  I think the the answer depends in large part on where the schools draw the cut offs. What percentage of students will get Honors? Will it be 30% or so, like at Yale? Or will it be only 10%? Or 20%? Put another way, will the line between H and P be like the old line between A and A-, or A- and B+, or something else?

  I would think that where the line is drawn is going to have a major impact on the clerkship hiring process. Here's my thinking. When I was a student at Harvard in the mid-1990s, the common wisdom I heard was that a B+ average was usually needed to be competitive for district court clerkships; an A-/B+ average (that is, the midpoint between the two) was usually needed to be competitive for the less sought-after circuit court clerkships; and an A- average was needed to be competitive for the more prestigious circuits (like the DC Circuit). If you wanted to clerk for a feeder and be in the running for a Supreme Court clerkship, you needed between an A- and an A. Of course, actual results varied based on the judge and the candidate, sometimes a lot. But that was the rule of thumb I heard at the time.

  Now let's assume that the "H" of "High" grade is given to only 10% of the class, making it roughly equivalent to a straight "A." Under this system, a lot of judges are going to have a hard time figuring out who to hire. Imagine a student with all A- grades under the old system. In the old days, that student would be interviewing with top judges. But under the new system, that student will have a transcript with all P's, exactly the same transcript as a total slacker who never went to class and went through the semester mostly drunk and high. If the only information judges have is who had a top 10% grade and who was in the rest of the class, they won't have the information they used to use to find clerks.