Law school grades are serious business. So serious, in fact, that an attorney in New Jersey faced a three-month suspension when his insidious inflation came to light. Clearly, there is no greater evil facing the Garden State than the difference between a B and a B+.
Our tale of depraved, socially-deviant behavior begins in 2002, when Philip Prothro was still a student at Rutgers School of Law. Seeking a summer associate position at Sills Cummis, he submitted an unofficial, self-prepared transcript that the Disciplinary Review Board of the Supreme Court of New Jersey described as “reflect[ing] a grade of B+ in both Torts and Legal Research and Writing, even though respondent had received a B in each class.” His grading spree continued his following 2L summer at the same firm when his updated “‘transcript’ reflected a grade of B- for Constitutional Law rather than C.”
The ruse worked and, once admitted to the bar in 2005, Prothro was hired as a litigation associate at Sills Cummis (tip of the hat to the Weddings section of The New York Times). Tasting the fruit of his illicit ruse, he hungered for more and applied for a job at Herrick, Feinstein LLP. The power-mad associate provided them “a photocopy of his law school transcript, which reflected a grade of A for Constitutional Law.” He was hired, and the that’s when his diabolical web of deceit began to fall asunder.
The firm still required him to provide them an original copy of his transcript, so when he did—a year later—Prothro affixed a Post-It Note with the name “Elise” written in indeliable black marker. Part of the letter “E” was written directly on the transcript, blocking the Constitutional Law grade. However, the tenacious detectives at Herrick held the transcript to the light, permitting its harsh rays of justice to illuminate the underlying C+ and reveal dark recesses of Prothro’s scheme. Herrick terminated Prothro and told him to self-report to the state bar. He did not and the law firm made its own independent report a month later.
Cornered, Prothro initially tried lying to the investigative committee to little success. He eventually apologized for his actions and the board found that he “engaged in multiple acts of dishonesty and deceit over the course of many years.” It split on sanctions, with four members voting for suspension and four for censure with one recusal. Some have criticized the punishment as being too light. Was it?
The research of two law professors found out that grades are “decisively more important” indicator of future job performance the eliteness of the school attended (well, except for landing the initial interview). Yet Yale Law, the top-ranked school in the country doesn’t really use them (instead opting for what’s been likened to the USDA beef grading system). Does Prothro’s deception compare to the more notable resume and transcript scandals such as disgraced former Radio Shack CEO David Edmondon’s fake degrees, football coach George O’Leary’s fake degree and player experience or the aspiring BigLaw associate who faked an entire law school education (and the firm dumb enough to hire her)? How many lawyers are out there who’ve done this, and how many are already partners, judges, general counsels and/or politicians?
For his part, Prothro’s LinkedIn profile currently lists him as owner of JD Investor, LLC.