Understanding the Berkeley Law Grading System
A number of lawyers who regularly interview at Berkeley Law have told us that they sometimes have difficulty evaluating the academic records of our students or comparing them with those of students at other schools. This webpage attempts to address those concerns.
Students can receive one of five grades in courses at Berkeley Law: High Honors (HH), Honors (H), Pass (P), Pass Conditional/Substandard Pass (PC), or No Credit (NC). In first-year JD classes, the curve for honors grades is strict–the top 40 percent of the class receives honors grades, with 10 percent of the class receiving High Honors and the next 30 percent receiving Honors. There is no required curve for the grades of Pass and below, and faculty members are not required to give any Substandard Pass or No Credit grades. In second- and third-year classes, up to 45 percent of the class can receive honors grades, of which up to 15 percent of the class can receive High Honors. In small seminar classes, the curve still exists, but it is further relaxed. A very few courses are graded on a Credit (CR)/No Pass (NP) basis.
Berkeley Law students are not ranked by their academic records. Nor do we calculate grade point averages (GPAs). Moreover, the grade ranges described above often do not make fine distinctions. A student who received a Pass grade, for example, may have done very strong or only minimally passing work. How then can employers make sense of Berkeley Law transcripts?
Here are some suggestions:
Students are graded on a curve, which strictly limits recognition for excellence. At Berkeley Law, the grading system has remained constant for more than 25 years. There has been no grade inflation, even though the credentials of our students–whether measured by undergraduate GPA, LSAT score, or prior life attainments–are far stronger than they were 25 years ago.
With a fixed curve and a talented student body, an Honors grade represents a substantial achievement and a High Honors grade an outstanding one. For internal purposes, the Berkeley campus translates both Honors and High Honors grades into its system as A’s. (However, if you receive a transcript which lists letter grades from a Berkeley Law student, please return it to the student and require that he or she provide a transcript from the law school Registrar’s Office, not from the main campus.)
A student with mostly Honors grades is doing excellent work in very competitive company. And a transcript with a rough mixture of Honors and Pass grades represents strong performance that would likely stand above the class median at schools of comparable quality.
Second, keep in mind that Berkeley Law’s student body is exceptionally strong. For example, the class that entered Berkeley Law in the fall of 2016 (i.e., the Class of 2019) had a median college GPA of 3.79, and a median LSAT score of 166 (in the 93rd percentile).
Third, in evaluating student records with more Pass grades, it is important to remember that a significant number of students receive such grades even though they have written examinations that placed them above or near the class median. At schools with more conventional grading systems, median performances often earn a grade of B+. Thus even a record with no or few High Honors or Honors grades may conceal considerable academic distinction. For example, each year a few Berkeley Law students whose exam performance places them at or above the class median in their first-year courses fail to achieve a single Honors grade. Sometimes such students can provide letters from their instructors documenting their strong performance. In other cases, one must speak to academic references, review writing samples, weigh journal commitments, or evaluate the quality of the undergraduate record in order to form a fair estimate of the student’s achievement and potential.
Finally, we at Berkeley Law want to ensure that you receive the information you need to make reasoned choices both between law students and graduates from other schools and among Berkeley Law students and graduates. You should feel free to call faculty references given by students. If you have additional questions, contact our Assistant Dean for Career Development, Terrence Galligan, at 510-642-7746.
A Note about LLM and JSD Student Grades
A separate mandatory curve applies to all LLM and JSD students in classes and seminars with 11 or more LLM and JSD students such that 20% of the LLM and JSD students receive HHs, 30% receive Hs, and 50% receive Ps. The same curve is recommended for LLM and JSD students in classes and seminars with 10 or fewer LLM and JSD students.