It’s becoming a February tradition: Sometime in late January or early February, 2Ls and 3Ls run home and rip open their white envelopes from the Registrar’s Office to stare, befuddled, at a row of GNRs [Grade Not Reported]. It’s even becoming a kind of HLS lingo: “I got GNR’d.” Last year, some students did not receive their grades until April.

In the meantime, 1Ls await the Law School’s first evaluations of their performance with bated breath, in many cases with jobs and their sanity hanging in the balance. Well, they’d better keep waiting, because most will be waiting until at least the end of February – well over a month after they took their exams.

The fundamental issue is one of respect: Students are expected to take their exams on time (the Registrar claims it will not accept take-homes even a minute late), and few – if any – excuses for tardiness are tolerated. The system works that way to be fair, and it largely is. But fairness cuts both ways, and professors should give their students the courtesy of reporting their grades promptly.

For 2Ls and 3Ls, not receiving their grades is a nuisance and an affront to their hard work. Moreover, it can delay applications for fellowships and certain joint programs. Professors who turn in grades past the Registrar’s deadline also do the administration a disservice by creating the needless and tedious extra work of re-issuing grade reports.

For 1Ls, such delays in receiving grades can cause a different kind of stress. With the hiring market tighter than ever, firms are increasingly looking to first-semester grades in their hiring decisions. One-Ls interested in obtaining a law firm jobs often feel pressured to get started on job applications before winter break. Students who do not receive grades until the end of February may fear they are at a disadvantage to students from other schools – many of whom have completed their exams prior to winter break and have demonstrable records of their performance. And students, considering whether to wait to hear from employers in January or wait to sign up for on-campus interviewing, are likely to pick the path that seems less risky – nailing down the first job that comes along instead of waiting to consider those firms that require grade reports.

Students voted overwhelmingly last year for grade reform. It is no secret that grades continue to be an extremely contentious issue, representing one HLS practice that is out of step with student interest and some of its peer institutions, and arguably inimical to the quality of legal education. The faculty ought to reconsider genuine grade reform, but if it refuses to do so, it should at least take the process as seriously as it expects students to take it.

If HLS feels that grading its large population of students is valuable to their legal education, it should evaluate them fairly, quickly and adequately.

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