The shocking disparities in pass rates across NZ's law schools

Concerns are being raised over the disparity between law grades from three of the country's main universities.

Figures have been released backing a commonly held belief that Victoria University Law School has the toughest marking system in New Zealand.

For law students, grades can make or break their future, but how would one feel if they discovered the marking system was an uneven playing field?

Findings from Auckland, Otago and Victoria University law schools released under the Official Information Act show a major disparity the three main players.

The shocking disparities in pass rates across NZ's law schools

More students are failing at Victoria University in first year law than any other university.

And students aren't happy, like former Victoria University law student Joshua Trlin. 

"You hear about this sort of stuff anecdotally but for this to come out and be true and not just rumours is really, really frustrating."

Victoria University fails 30 percent of its students on their first law paper, while Otago only fails 13 percent and Auckland 17 percent.

The percentage of second year students getting Bs or higher is 35 percent at Victoria and 49 percent at Otago, while at Auckland its 64 percent.

The shocking disparities in pass rates across NZ's law schools

Law students say the marking system pre-determines the pass and fail rates before students even sit their papers.

Mr Trlin says grading matters most for students wanting to go overseas or get a job at a law firm.

"It goes beyond an issue of employment... it's actually infuriating."

"The impact of getting a low grade at university cannot be underestimated," says Victoria University law student Oscar Battell-Wallace.

"I have had many friends leave university, drop out of law and break down crying due to a low grade they got in first or second year. I've also had numerous friends and students from Vic apply for jobs at large firms and judges clerkships and have not even got an interview because their GPA was not high enough," he says.

A spokesperson for The New Zealand Council of Legal Education says they "define, prescribe and approve the courses of study required for admission as barristers and solicitors in New Zealand".

"While we do prescribe regulations that require each examination to be marked by a university teacher and assessed by a teacher from another university, we do not have any role in assessing the marking of any New Zealand university legal education qualifications or programmes."

Victoria University says it is "confident their assessment practices are robust and fair".

"Relevant exam content is moderated by the New Zealand Council of Legal Education, and by external assessors from another New Zealand law school. Following an exam, a selection of scripts are sent to the external assessors for them to confirm, query or comment on the allocated marks. They are also present at an Examiners Meeting where results are discussed and confirmed."

Studies have shown that the pressure law school puts on students is genuinely concerning - with 63.5 percent of law students in 2013 reporting having high levels of stress due to their studies and over a quarter of students having developed clinical mental health concerns while at university. 

Students say low grades directly contribute to that stress, and for the university to continue to mark harsher while knowing that other universities do not is simply unacceptable.

"This contributes to our standing, despite our small size, as one of the top law schools in the world. A law degree from Victoria University of Wellington is held in high regard by employers nationally and internationally, and we are very confident of the opportunities it provides for our graduates," a Victoria University of Wellington spokesperson said.