Is Harvard the most demanding LLM?


Joker1
While we are waiting for an answer I would like to hear your opinion on this matter.

I have spoken with HLS alumni and the say that the year of study was a terrific experience, but at the same time it was the hardest thing that they have ever done. Apparently, the grades are in relative scale and the lowest 10% of the class fails no matter the grade.

So the question is: Is Harvard LLM much more difficult than the others (such of SLS, YLS or CLS)?
While we are waiting for an answer I would like to hear your opinion on this matter.

I have spoken with HLS alumni and the say that the year of study was a terrific experience, but at the same time it was the hardest thing that they have ever done. Apparently, the grades are in relative scale and the lowest 10% of the class fails no matter the grade.

So the question is: Is Harvard LLM much more difficult than the others (such of SLS, YLS or CLS)?
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Nail
I don't think so. I was told that HLS and YLS don't use grades, but only pass or fail. The incentive to do well remains high, but fortunately competition is less fierce than in other schools (such as CLS for example). Not sure about SLS.
I don't think so. I was told that HLS and YLS don't use grades, but only pass or fail. The incentive to do well remains high, but fortunately competition is less fierce than in other schools (such as CLS for example). Not sure about SLS.
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yasminm
(1) No one fails in an LLM (or, to extend the point, in the JD program) unless they go all out to fail (e.g. don't hand up assignments, really didn't do any research at all) - this applies for all of the Ivy-league universities and top-ranked universities: YLS, HLS, SLS, CLS, NYU...... it's probably fair to say that you have to work HARD to get anything less than a "B-" in a top law school. That said, to be fair, I'm told that in many of these institutions, to get A- and above generally requires a fair amount of hard work, since not a lot of people get that. In short, you can't fail if you put in any effort at all - 10% failure rate is impossible in any top 10 school (I'm not aware of grading systems below the top 10 schools, so I can't comment). Of course, if the alumni you spoke to was from many many years ago, they may have had a different system then and if so, I stand corrected.

(2) HLS was not pass-fail last I checked, though they will be moving to that system next year, or so I am told by some people (you guys may want to check independently).

(3) The amount of challenge is what you make of it and really depends on how many softer-harder modules you intend to take. As is the case with any institution in the US (or UK, or anywhere for that matter), how easy your LLM year is in the US is really dependent on how much you want to push yourself. All else being equal though, contrary to the difficulty of getting into these institutions, I get the sense that a hard year at the BCL at Oxford is likely to be harder than a hard year in HLS or YLS. I should add that any such comparison involves loads of conjecture, so its somewhat speculative.

(4) Competition in YLS or HLS is NOT AT ALL less fierce than CLS - my own sense is that the higher you go on the food chain, the more competitive it will be. As one of my friends at YLS pointed out, you can't take the competition out of the people even if you can take the people out of the competition (by taking away the grading scheme). The people admitted to YLS (or HLS, or SLS) are by nature competitive people. The absence of grades doesn't really change anything in the dynamics (especially if you are aware of the fact that the pass/fail system, as is the case with YLS, also incorporates a "Honors Pass" grading or something like that, which then becomes the de facto "distinction" in that institution, and the "Low Pass" which becomes the lower-than average grade).
(1) No one fails in an LLM (or, to extend the point, in the JD program) unless they go all out to fail (e.g. don't hand up assignments, really didn't do any research at all) - this applies for all of the Ivy-league universities and top-ranked universities: YLS, HLS, SLS, CLS, NYU...... it's probably fair to say that you have to work HARD to get anything less than a "B-" in a top law school. That said, to be fair, I'm told that in many of these institutions, to get A- and above generally requires a fair amount of hard work, since not a lot of people get that. In short, you can't fail if you put in any effort at all - 10% failure rate is impossible in any top 10 school (I'm not aware of grading systems below the top 10 schools, so I can't comment). Of course, if the alumni you spoke to was from many many years ago, they may have had a different system then and if so, I stand corrected.

(2) HLS was not pass-fail last I checked, though they will be moving to that system next year, or so I am told by some people (you guys may want to check independently).

(3) The amount of challenge is what you make of it and really depends on how many softer-harder modules you intend to take. As is the case with any institution in the US (or UK, or anywhere for that matter), how easy your LLM year is in the US is really dependent on how much you want to push yourself. All else being equal though, contrary to the difficulty of getting into these institutions, I get the sense that a hard year at the BCL at Oxford is likely to be harder than a hard year in HLS or YLS. I should add that any such comparison involves loads of conjecture, so its somewhat speculative.

(4) Competition in YLS or HLS is NOT AT ALL less fierce than CLS - my own sense is that the higher you go on the food chain, the more competitive it will be. As one of my friends at YLS pointed out, you can't take the competition out of the people even if you can take the people out of the competition (by taking away the grading scheme). The people admitted to YLS (or HLS, or SLS) are by nature competitive people. The absence of grades doesn't really change anything in the dynamics (especially if you are aware of the fact that the pass/fail system, as is the case with YLS, also incorporates a "Honors Pass" grading or something like that, which then becomes the de facto "distinction" in that institution, and the "Low Pass" which becomes the lower-than average grade).
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Nail
Thanks Yansminm for the accurate post.
I must recognize you are totally right when you say that you can take people out of the competition but not competition out of the people...it's a great sentence indeed. And you're also right in making clear that even in the case of pass/fail systems remains the possibility to get a distinction, which I think makes sense to keep the incentive for them to work well. However, I believe this will not be enough to mantain the competitive pressure as high as in other law schools: an LLM student will likely care less about acing all the exams than he would in the case of a grading system, since scoring poorly on an exam will have a much lighter impact on his/her transcript (which is normally required by law firms hiring in the US). The exception is of course for those who want to have a very impressive transcript because they think it will give them a competiive edge in the job market.
For that purpose, it is also useful to remind that law firms usually hire in specific areas of specialization, so it is much more important for them the grade you get in those subject areas than in others. hence people will be very competitive (and almost impossible to beat) in those areas where they are already knowledgeable, and which they plan to work on in the future.

My personal view is that the P/F system is better because it makes it easier for students to focus on the exams where they know they could get a High pass, and avoid spending a ridicolous amount of hours studying for the other exams. The LLM must also be a period of diversion and also non-law related experiences, after all!
Thanks Yansminm for the accurate post.
I must recognize you are totally right when you say that you can take people out of the competition but not competition out of the people...it's a great sentence indeed. And you're also right in making clear that even in the case of pass/fail systems remains the possibility to get a distinction, which I think makes sense to keep the incentive for them to work well. However, I believe this will not be enough to mantain the competitive pressure as high as in other law schools: an LLM student will likely care less about acing all the exams than he would in the case of a grading system, since scoring poorly on an exam will have a much lighter impact on his/her transcript (which is normally required by law firms hiring in the US). The exception is of course for those who want to have a very impressive transcript because they think it will give them a competiive edge in the job market.
For that purpose, it is also useful to remind that law firms usually hire in specific areas of specialization, so it is much more important for them the grade you get in those subject areas than in others. hence people will be very competitive (and almost impossible to beat) in those areas where they are already knowledgeable, and which they plan to work on in the future.

My personal view is that the P/F system is better because it makes it easier for students to focus on the exams where they know they could get a High pass, and avoid spending a ridicolous amount of hours studying for the other exams. The LLM must also be a period of diversion and also non-law related experiences, after all!
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Nail
An additional note: based on anedoctal experience, I know that hardly any Low Pass is usually given. Therefore the real thing students fight for in a P/F system is the distinction (usually given to the top 10-15% people)
An additional note: based on anedoctal experience, I know that hardly any Low Pass is usually given. Therefore the real thing students fight for in a P/F system is the distinction (usually given to the top 10-15% people)
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Santa
I know indeed people are rated on how they compare to the other students in class, but I really think it's impossible that they FAIL students that work a great deal. Especially not in an LL.M. All students that are selected, will work very hard because it is their dream to obtain the degree. Moreover, for the law school it's good publicity to have good lawyers with the LL.M. from their school :)
I know indeed people are rated on how they compare to the other students in class, but I really think it's impossible that they FAIL students that work a great deal. Especially not in an LL.M. All students that are selected, will work very hard because it is their dream to obtain the degree. Moreover, for the law school it's good publicity to have good lawyers with the LL.M. from their school :)
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yasminm
Nail - agree with you on both counts. Hearsay evidence on the testimony of friends suggests that a "Low Pass" is not often given out - there are people who get it in each course, but we're not looking at large numbers at all.

As for your other comment, you're probably right as well - the reduced graduations in academic rankings probably dampens the competitive spirit somewhat. I should think though that it doesn't apply to HLS just yet, since as far as I'm aware, they're not on pass-fail yet (anyone with more accurate or updated information, please feel free to correct me on this) and I still do think that any reduced competitiveness (whether at YLS or otherwise) is minimal - because LLM students don't tend to know what they should be getting in a foreign system (e..g "Low Pass", "Pass" or "Honors Pass"), so you have to work hard from the get-go anyways, and by the time you understand how the system rates you, you're already one term down (and for those who want jobs the first term is of course a million times more important than the second).
Nail - agree with you on both counts. Hearsay evidence on the testimony of friends suggests that a "Low Pass" is not often given out - there are people who get it in each course, but we're not looking at large numbers at all.

As for your other comment, you're probably right as well - the reduced graduations in academic rankings probably dampens the competitive spirit somewhat. I should think though that it doesn't apply to HLS just yet, since as far as I'm aware, they're not on pass-fail yet (anyone with more accurate or updated information, please feel free to correct me on this) and I still do think that any reduced competitiveness (whether at YLS or otherwise) is minimal - because LLM students don't tend to know what they should be getting in a foreign system (e..g "Low Pass", "Pass" or "Honors Pass"), so you have to work hard from the get-go anyways, and by the time you understand how the system rates you, you're already one term down (and for those who want jobs the first term is of course a million times more important than the second).
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Nail
Glad to see you agree, but I think your "foreign ignorance" argument (i.e. that of not knowing the way one's final exam will be evaluated) is weak. I believe that especially for people who visit this blog, they know exactly how the system works.
And especially after they read this thread:)
Please fing below an excerpt from Brian Leiter's Law School Report, which I think answers some of the questions we have posed above:

"Harvard Law School to Adopt Pass-Fail Grading System Like Yale and Stanford
An HLS student has just forwarded me the e-mail from Dean Kagan, which reads in pertinent part:

I am writing to let you know that the faculty decided yesterday to move to a grading system with fewer classifications than we have now. The new classifications, much as at Yale and Stanford, will be Honors-Pass-Low Pass-Fail. The faculty believes that this decision will promote pedagogical excellence and innovation and further strengthen the intellectual community in which we all live. The new system will apply to students entering HLS in fall 2009; yet to be determined is whether it also will apply to some or all classes of current students.

We discussed the Stanford move and its ramifications awhile back. Presumably Harvard has evidence that the grading system is a factor when students choose between Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. But Harvard's move is also going to force Chicago and Columbia, among others, to weigh the question of grading. Harvard, with a much larger class, may need a real curve so that it's new A, B, C, F system provides employers some pertinent information. Whethere there will be one is unclear. Thoughts from faculty and students at Harvard or elsewhere? Signed comments preferred, though I'll permit anonymous postings as long as there is identifying information (e-mail, IP address) consistent with any claims made about a particular school in the content of the comment. Thanks."
Glad to see you agree, but I think your "foreign ignorance" argument (i.e. that of not knowing the way one's final exam will be evaluated) is weak. I believe that especially for people who visit this blog, they know exactly how the system works.
And especially after they read this thread:)
Please fing below an excerpt from Brian Leiter's Law School Report, which I think answers some of the questions we have posed above:

"Harvard Law School to Adopt Pass-Fail Grading System Like Yale and Stanford
An HLS student has just forwarded me the e-mail from Dean Kagan, which reads in pertinent part:

I am writing to let you know that the faculty decided yesterday to move to a grading system with fewer classifications than we have now. The new classifications, much as at Yale and Stanford, will be Honors-Pass-Low Pass-Fail. The faculty believes that this decision will promote pedagogical excellence and innovation and further strengthen the intellectual community in which we all live. The new system will apply to students entering HLS in fall 2009; yet to be determined is whether it also will apply to some or all classes of current students.

We discussed the Stanford move and its ramifications awhile back. Presumably Harvard has evidence that the grading system is a factor when students choose between Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. But Harvard's move is also going to force Chicago and Columbia, among others, to weigh the question of grading. Harvard, with a much larger class, may need a real curve so that it's new A, B, C, F system provides employers some pertinent information. Whethere there will be one is unclear. Thoughts from faculty and students at Harvard or elsewhere? Signed comments preferred, though I'll permit anonymous postings as long as there is identifying information (e-mail, IP address) consistent with any claims made about a particular school in the content of the comment. Thanks."
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yasminm
Hi Nail - sorry I didn't make myself clear - I meant the classification of their own performance by these new as-yet-to-be-applied-to-them standards. I'll put it another way (that would hopefully be more clear): would a student from a leading law school in Italy, putting in decent effort, be relatively assured of an "A" in say, NYU?; or would a student from a leading law school in, say, UK, who got a First in that school be relatively assured of a "High Pass" in say YLS if he puts in the same amount of effort that he did in the UK?

The point I was making was not that students would be unable to discern HOW they would be graded, but WHERE in the new and to them, rather alien, classification they would lie, whatever form the new classification takes, since the previous classification of their academic performance is, for the most part, rendered null and void in the new institution (where most of your fellow students were themselves top of their class in their home countries).

Hope that resolves the confusion!

Side-note: the email you posted stated that the change would only be made in Fall 2009? Does that mean it has yet to take place, and by extension, does that mean that the earlier stated observations that HLS is less competitive may not necessarily be accurate? Or am I missing something?
Hi Nail - sorry I didn't make myself clear - I meant the classification of their own performance by these new as-yet-to-be-applied-to-them standards. I'll put it another way (that would hopefully be more clear): would a student from a leading law school in Italy, putting in decent effort, be relatively assured of an "A" in say, NYU?; or would a student from a leading law school in, say, UK, who got a First in that school be relatively assured of a "High Pass" in say YLS if he puts in the same amount of effort that he did in the UK?

The point I was making was not that students would be unable to discern HOW they would be graded, but WHERE in the new and to them, rather alien, classification they would lie, whatever form the new classification takes, since the previous classification of their academic performance is, for the most part, rendered null and void in the new institution (where most of your fellow students were themselves top of their class in their home countries).

Hope that resolves the confusion!

Side-note: the email you posted stated that the change would only be made in Fall 2009? Does that mean it has yet to take place, and by extension, does that mean that the earlier stated observations that HLS is less competitive may not necessarily be accurate? Or am I missing something?
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Nail
Ok, I see what you mean. But I would assume that every student will dream about being ranked in the top 10-15 % and do the best he can to accomplish that.. The only difference with the P/F system is that he will not work his **** off if he is unsure about his capabilities and the concrete possibility he will get the "High pass".
So I would say the P/F system has no impact on the very best students, but it may have a substantial impact on average students. By average students I don't mean to say that some people are less giftet than other (all LLM candidates in HLS; YLS and SLS are great minds anyways) I just mean they are probably more interested in the particular subject of the course and more keen to work an incredible amount of hours on any assignment they have been given and/or any additional reading material that may be useful for their purpose.

True, the assessment of HLS's LLM students in the previous years was done on a grading base. So I am arguing that HLS becomes less competitive now that they are passing to a different system....although I am aware everyone would probably react to this saying I am crazy if I think HLS is less competitive than other schools. Anyway, hope this makes sense to you.
Ok, I see what you mean. But I would assume that every student will dream about being ranked in the top 10-15 % and do the best he can to accomplish that.. The only difference with the P/F system is that he will not work his **** off if he is unsure about his capabilities and the concrete possibility he will get the "High pass".
So I would say the P/F system has no impact on the very best students, but it may have a substantial impact on average students. By average students I don't mean to say that some people are less giftet than other (all LLM candidates in HLS; YLS and SLS are great minds anyways) I just mean they are probably more interested in the particular subject of the course and more keen to work an incredible amount of hours on any assignment they have been given and/or any additional reading material that may be useful for their purpose.

True, the assessment of HLS's LLM students in the previous years was done on a grading base. So I am arguing that HLS becomes less competitive now that they are passing to a different system....although I am aware everyone would probably react to this saying I am crazy if I think HLS is less competitive than other schools. Anyway, hope this makes sense to you.
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Cecilia_A
This thread is really interesting! I checked Brian Leiter's website you refer to (http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2008/09/harvard-law-sch.html) and there's one thing I don't understand. The very last comment reads:

"Well, the 1L grades are in at Harvard. And judging from surveys posted online, all the gradations were utitized. Seems to break down like this... few Fs, 20-25% LP, ~50% P, 20-25% HP." (posted on Feb 12, 2009)

How is that possible? I thought the new system was only starting in fall 2009? That's next year, right???

If there is an explanation and the comment is in fact true, I believe it answers some of the questions raised earlier.
This thread is really interesting! I checked Brian Leiter's website you refer to (http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2008/09/harvard-law-sch.html) and there's one thing I don't understand. The very last comment reads:

"Well, the 1L grades are in at Harvard. And judging from surveys posted online, all the gradations were utitized. Seems to break down like this... few Fs, 20-25% LP, ~50% P, 20-25% HP." (posted on Feb 12, 2009)

How is that possible? I thought the new system was only starting in fall 2009? That's next year, right???

If there is an explanation and the comment is in fact true, I believe it answers some of the questions raised earlier.
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Nail
Yeah, right! Interestingly, it seems the schools' dean changed his mind and decided to adopt the P/F grading policy earlier than he was expecting to do in the email reported above.
Yeah, right! Interestingly, it seems the schools' dean changed his mind and decided to adopt the P/F grading policy earlier than he was expecting to do in the email reported above.
quote
Yeah, right! Interestingly, it seems the schools' dean changed his mind and decided to adopt the P/F grading policy earlier than he was expecting to do in the email reported above.


Can you do your research please rather than to act all knowledgable about these things! The Pass-Fail grading only applies to 1L students for this year and will apply to everyone else FROM NEXT YEAR on. It therefore has no relevance to LLM students until next year. And the Dean when the decision was made was a HER, not a HIS. Geez!
<blockquote>Yeah, right! Interestingly, it seems the schools' dean changed his mind and decided to adopt the P/F grading policy earlier than he was expecting to do in the email reported above.</blockquote>

Can you do your research please rather than to act all knowledgable about these things! The Pass-Fail grading only applies to 1L students for this year and will apply to everyone else FROM NEXT YEAR on. It therefore has no relevance to LLM students until next year. And the Dean when the decision was made was a HER, not a HIS. Geez!
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Nail
Doyouresearch,
thanks a lot for the clarification indeed. This was the best research I could do on the internet, having no friend currently enrolled in HLS. I could have found out that the Dean was a female, yes, but I thought that was not strictly relevant to the questions I was raising.
In any case, probably not everyone knows what a 1L is, so let me clarify further here: a 1L student is one who is enrolled in the first year of law school. Then you become 2L and finally 3L before graduating. LLMs are a category apart, hence you pointed out correctly that the new grading system doesn't apply to them until next year.
Hope this thread is useful to someone!
Doyouresearch,
thanks a lot for the clarification indeed. This was the best research I could do on the internet, having no friend currently enrolled in HLS. I could have found out that the Dean was a female, yes, but I thought that was not strictly relevant to the questions I was raising.
In any case, probably not everyone knows what a 1L is, so let me clarify further here: a 1L student is one who is enrolled in the first year of law school. Then you become 2L and finally 3L before graduating. LLMs are a category apart, hence you pointed out correctly that the new grading system doesn't apply to them until next year.
Hope this thread is useful to someone!
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mnementh
Nail , don't apologize. the forum's point is to ask questions. you don't have to know everything in advance. doyourresearch is just being obnoxious.
Nail , don't apologize. the forum's point is to ask questions. you don't have to know everything in advance. doyourresearch is just being obnoxious.
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Nail , don't apologize. the forum's point is to ask questions. you don't have to know everything in advance. doyourresearch is just being obnoxious.


Wow mnementh, wonderful way to run from a debate. Attack people in other posts. Classy. Why don't you run to my other posts and see what you can do there as well. Make it easier than to admit where you're from.

Nail: I unconditionally apologize - I was frustrated by the back and forth this particular thread was going, though I admit that was no way to act even if I was ultimately able to furnish the information.
<blockquote>Nail , don't apologize. the forum's point is to ask questions. you don't have to know everything in advance. doyourresearch is just being obnoxious.</blockquote>

Wow mnementh, wonderful way to run from a debate. Attack people in other posts. Classy. Why don't you run to my other posts and see what you can do there as well. Make it easier than to admit where you're from.

Nail: I unconditionally apologize - I was frustrated by the back and forth this particular thread was going, though I admit that was no way to act even if I was ultimately able to furnish the information.
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mnementh
doyourresearch, by apologizing you're taking the first step. good. the next step is follow your own advice and do some research.
doyourresearch, by apologizing you're taking the first step. good. the next step is follow your own advice and do some research.
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