Last month, the blawgosphere was abuzz with news of grade inflation at some of the country’s most elite law schools. Inflating grades retroactively, the mantra went, was little more than a transparent scheme to make the school’s graduates more appealing to future employers. This week, research by two leading law professors indicates that law school GPA is, in fact, a better indicator of how students will fare in the real world than institution prestige.

As UCLA law professor Richard Sander and Brooklyn law professor Jane Yakowitz wrote in a recent paper:

The consistent theme we find throughout this analysis is that performance in law school – as measured by law school grades – is the most important predictor of career success. It is decisively more important than law school “eliteness.” . . . Since the dominant conventional wisdom says that law school prestige is all-important, and since students who “trade-up” in school prestige generally take a hit to their school performance, we think prospective students are getting the wrong message.

On some levels, this makes complete sense. There are a number of reasons some of the best students can’t go to elite schools (price, location, etc), and excelling at middle- or low-tier schools should never be a drawback. But my hunch is that the paper doesn’t take all factors of attending the Harvards and Yales of the country in to account. Attending these elite schools, for example, enables students to interact with professors and alums generally considered “big shots” in the professional and academic community. Such star power simply isn’t available at most lower tier schools.

The paper would be more convincing if it delved in to the reasons that higher grades are more important than school prestige. “We weren’t looking at that, so we don’t know,” said Sander. Noting that he was “mostly speculating” he continued, “it could have to do with psychological factors, a level of confidence you gain from doing well that serves you well not only in school but afterward.”

Since it appears that law school admissions has swayed too closely to domination by a few, in some ways I’m pulling for this study to be accurate. But before students flock to their safety schools in order to rack up A+ after A+, more studies are needed on the subject. For now, let’s continue assuming the elites remain on top.

Photo credit: DAEllis