Gaming Your GPA

Why Does GPA Matter?

GPA matters because it determines your class rank.  Coming from the University of San Diego School of Law, many big law firm employers only hire from the top 5% of the law school class.  University of San Diego School of Law only provides numerical ranks for students in the top 20%.  This means that if you're ranked in the top 20%, you will receive a number that discloses your class rank.  For example, you may be ranked 45 out of 327, which means that your GPA is the 45th best out of the 327 members of the class (or the top 14%).  Providing ordinal ranks to the top 20% of the class is somewhat arbitrary, as the school only provides "honors" to the top 15% of each graduating class and employers generally only care about students from the top 5% or 10% of the class.  If you want to graduate "cum laude," you will need to finish in the top 15%.

Although the school only provides numerical rankings for the top 20% of your class, the University of San Diego School of Law will also let you know the GPA cut-offs for the top third and top half of the class.   It is useful to state that you're in the top third of your class, but it generally isn't that useful to state that you're in the top half of your class.  The higher your class rank, the better you look to employers.

The Game

You can't really game your GPA during your first year of law school.  The law school will set a mandatory curve for all of courses during your first year of law school (usually the curve requires that the average GPA of each class is between 2.95 and 3.05).  Additionally, you cannot take any electives during your first year of law school.  See here:

After your first year of law school, several things change:

Gaming your GPA is useful in a few circumstances:

The best way to improve your GPA is to take paper classes or other small classes under 20 students.  Since these classes get curved to an average GPA of 3.4, you have a statistically favorable chance of getting a B+ or higher.  Additionally, some students who don't perform well on issue-spotting exams may perform much better in paper classes, in which case students who performed poorly during the first year of law school can get into the A or A- range when they switch to paper classes.  The only downside to taking smaller paper-based class comes from the low number of units received for these types of classes.  Many smaller classes and paper classes only provide 2 or 3 units per class, so you will need to perform well in a number of paper classes to offset the GPA you obtained during your first year.

For the most part, law school isn't like undergrad, so employers rarely examine what law school courses you have taken.  In undergrad an electrical engineer or particle physics major with a 3.2 GPA will look comprable, if not better, on paper compared to poli-sci or a psychology major with a 3.6 GPA.  All JD degrees get lumped together, so it's worthless to try to explain a low GPA to an employer by pointing out that you took historically difficult classes such as conflict of laws.