It is the third week in January and every time a new email comes in, you jump. Grade-release season. But imagine: the email from the Records Office slides into your inbox and you do… nothing. Your shaking hands do not type your password into ACORN while you are holding your breath, praying that your failure to make an argument in the alternative for a constructive trust does not result in an F in Family Law. One day passes, then two, and then before you know it, you have just… never checked your grades. Unimaginable? Unfathomable? Impossible? No.
I sat down with Chris B., a Toronto articling student who completed his LLB at McGill University. Chris B. has never checked his law school grades or read his law school transcript.
Have you really never checked your law school grades?
Actually, it started in first semester of my fourth year of undergrad at McGill and I have never checked my law school grades. I am articling now and I will still never check.
Why? Did it start out as a conscious choice to stop checking?
It did not start out as a conscious choice. I had already been accepted to law school, I was travelling, and I thought I would just check one day. That one day just never arrived. However, not checking my grades did become a conscious choice. Not checking my grades in law school had a more philosophical underpinning.
What was your philosophical reason for not checking your grades?
McGill, in first year law, has assignments in each class. On the assignments, everyone pretty much got the same grades. You got a B and if they were running out of Bs, they gave you a B-. The grades imposed by the curve illustrated little differences, which brought out bad things in people. I had this realization that grades are zero sum and that those people who do better, do so at the expense of their friends. Everyone was coming from a place where they had done well, and now feeling average was hurtful to their egos, particularly because there was very little feedback from profs. I just decided to opt out of the system.
Is there one particular moment that made you happy you did not check your grades?
I threw a party after exams in 2L year. Everyone was getting drunk, having a good time, I went to go check on some friends on the roof, and when I came back inside, people were no longer partying. The music was still going, but everyone was on their phone. I thought something seriously wrong had happened. But it was just that grades had been released at midnight. One minute people were having a good time and the next minute they were comparing their grades.
What about getting a job?
I did the 2L recruit process. I faced a choice when I was deciding where to apply. I could look at my grades for the purpose of applying to cut down on the number of places to apply to, because there are some firms that tend to take students with higher grades. However, because I did not know my grades, I felt free to apply to whatever jobs I thought were interesting or where I would want to work, without telling myself that my grades would prevent me from getting the job. I had my dad download my transcript from Minerva [note: McGill’s version of ACORN] and upload it to ViLaw Portal so I would not have to see it.
How did the process work out for you?
I applied to the places I thought I would like to work. Got all OCIs, and then got all of the in-firms and ended up getting a job. Because I did not know my grades, I did not feel pressure to maintain a certain standard that I had applied to firms with, so I was able to focus more on preparing for my interviews.
Did you talk with your friends and classmates about not checking your grades?
Yes. When I consciously decided not to check in law school, I wanted to see if anyone else would follow. Absolutely no one followed me. A lot of people wrote articles against McGill’s grading system in our version of Ultra Vires, but they were not living what they were speaking.
People still ask me how I did in classes and assignments. I also found it really weird to offer to check for me. I never understood why people feel stressed for me. They almost wanted to know for their own comfort—that they did better or worse than me. It is a perverse curiosity.
When you were leaving McGill and graduating, did you ever consider checking?
No. At my going away party, when I was moving to Toronto for articling, I ordered a copy of my transcript, called everyone around, and ripped it open. Everyone thought I was going to check it. I then pulled out a BBQ lighter and I set the transcript on fire. Some people were booing and others were cheering, I then threw the transcript in an empty trashcan.
The burning of the transcript was not for me. It was to make a statement. We don’t need transcripts or grades to show our worth.
What advice do you have 1Ls after they have received their first set of law school grades?
I would tell them that if they can handle not knowing or if they envision themselves carving their own path with their legal education, they should try not checking their grades in law school, at least not immediately. If you are going to check, remember to keep it in perspective:
- Don’t let it ruin your relationships with people around you;
- Don’t let it ruin your career path—apply for the jobs you want; and
- Use it as an interpretive learning tool at best. If you “messed up,” know that you can do better. Grades are not determinative of your future success.
Editor’s note: this interview has been edited and condensed.