I spend a lot of time perusing the r/LawSchool Reddit page, and recently, I’ve stumbled upon a lot of threads that complain about classmates getting accommodations. If you know anything about law school, particularly your first year, how you’re graded depends on how well other people in your class do.
If you do better than the average student in your class by two standard deviations, you’ll probably get an A. Likewise, if you do worse by two standard deviations, you probably get a C+. For some, it’s agonizing to be a star A student throughout your K-12 and undergraduate education only to be average in law school. I’ve been above average this whole time with A-’s and B+’s, so I can’t necessarily complain, but I won’t lie that there’s always a part of me that’s not happy with myself when I don’t get an A, even though I’m doing my best not to put that pressure on myself.
I might experience a lot of blowback complaining about people who are complaining on an anonymous forum, but I have recently stumbled upon more and more threads in the r/LawSchool slamming people who get accommodations and “game the system.”
There are many posters outraged that someone who gets twice the extended time as peers who don’t get accommodations scores at the top of the class. There are posters who complain about scoring worse than people with extended time when a lot of exams are a time crunch. I’ll just summarize a couple of the sentiments on the subreddit:
“You won’t get accommodations in the real world!”
“Anyone can take advantage of the system and get accommodations with a doctor’s note.”
“I have X or Y disability and I don’t get accommodations — why do they?”
“Why is there no accountability for people who have fake diagnoses/medical conditions?”
“There should be a separate curve for people who get extended time and people who don’t.”
Yeah, great look for the legal community to rag on people with disabilities. I have ADHD, and although I don’t have accommodations and never applied for them, I largely try to steer clear of this academic competition in law school. I trust doctors and don’t think you can largely tell a doctor what they want to hear just to secure an advantageous diagnosis and get the accommodations from law school administrators. I don’t want to say there’s absolutely no one out there who tries to get a leg up and game the system, but I’m not the kind of person who complains about that or spends such a significant amount of time worrying about what my classmates do or how they perform.
The source of these complaints is an adversarial, super competitive environment that pits you against your classmates and ranks you against them. There might not be anything wrong with that to a lot of people — that’s just how the world works, after all. But it’s clear there’s a systemic failure behind these complaints, so it may be more effective to change the system rather than focusing on individual sour apples. However, I think there’s also the sense that the way law schools are run and set up through the grading system isn’t going to change any time soon, either.
I do think anonymous forums largely bring out the worst in people. A good amount of these threads come from people who have ADHD themselves or dyslexia who say “I’ve gone through X, Y, and Z disability, and I never got accommodations. A lot of people getting extra time for what I went through is a joke.” It’s the people who have this “I have a disability too — I don’t get accommodations” argument that piques my attention. At the core of that sentiment is obviously some hardship, too, and not getting the support for it that other people were able to get by advocating for themselves. I’m pretty sure if these same posters needed accommodations and got extra time, they wouldn’t be making posts.
So there are complicated feelings towards disability accommodations in law school, among other places — this makes sense given the relative recency of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) and how our understanding of disabilities is evolving by the day. Even today, many people’s disabilities go untreated and undiagnosed. It’s interesting that these posters don’t rag on people with physical disabilities, including people with the use of only one arm or are blind — it reminds me of how when I was in elementary and middle school, I only thought of disability as being in a wheelchair or the same physical disability mentioned.
I think most of these posters would know that saying these things in public and in law school would result in significant censure, and they’re, of course, entitled to their opinion. But going to an anonymous forum to complain about people getting accommodations, even if they are, is an incredibly petty thing to do, in my opinion. It’s not taking the high road, and I do believe a lot of posters who complain about accommodations and say “you won’t get accommodations when you work at the firm!” can benefit from staying in their own lane and worrying about themselves.
I can’t say with any certainty because I haven’t done it, haven’t tried to do it, and don’t feel a need for it, but I’m sure getting accommodations is a lot more difficult than going to the doctor, getting a note that says you have ADHD, then going to a college or law school’s office of accessibility and instantly getting extended time.
I work in special education at the K-12 level and have been doing so for the last four years. While I don’t know what it’s like at the undergraduate or graduate level, IEP teams never want to grant an accommodation or service without adequate documentation or assessments to support it, because you can get in trouble and jammed up down the line when that decision is questioned. The vast majority of the time, the student also really needs the accommodation, and getting that academic support can make or break their whole education, and prospects including whether or not they graduate.
For the sake of disability advocacy and as a special educator, I think it’s great so many law students with accommodations are scoring and graduating at the top of their class. It means we’ve come a long way as a society to allow students who have disabilities and need extra support to not only keep up but excel.
I’m a law student, so I understand wanting to be the top student yourself in a hypercompetitive and adversarial system, but at the end of the day, the vast, vast majority of people who get accommodations really need them. And people who have disabilities and don’t get accommodations aren’t special because every person’s disability is different in severity and not everyone has the same experience.
As law students most of us are not medical professionals either. It’s not only a bad look to have these complaints, but it’s just not right to paint a whole group of people who really need support with such a broad brush. Plus, if you’re in the position of a law school administrator, are you really going to stop granting accommodations because some upset law students complain about it?
At the end of the day, we all need to just focus on ourselves.