“The dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.” – Dan Rather
In my journey to pursuing a legal education, I’m what’s known as a “non-traditional applicant.” I’m not in the throes of my undergraduate senior year, I don’t have the perfect undergraduate GPA, and I’m a few years into the workforce. It wasn’t an innate, burning desire from a young age to become a lawyer, rather living at a time, as an adult, where it’s evident that the justice system is failing the most marginalized groups of people in our society. It’s from watching the news, what’s happening around us, from marching and raising my voice, and looking inward to see if it’s possible to make a difference in an area where I think my passions and skill-sets could positively intersect.
But, one thing equalizes both non-traditional and traditional applicants, alike: the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
I can stake claim to being good at a few things. Rapidly learning song lyrics; finding the best french fries in any given city; recalling obscure music history facts that no one asked for. For all the things I do well, standardized testing (of any kind) isn’t even in the Top 10. Knowing this, and the weight that the LSAT carries for prospective law school applicants, I decided to invest in an in-person, intensive prep course to kick-start my formal study plan.
Last night was the first class of a five-week long course, and, as a proper prelude to the long road ahead, we dove in by taking a practice LSAT under realistic conditions. As I walked into the classroom at my old Alma mater (poetic, at best) I felt like the oldest person in the room. There wasn’t a lot of us, but my peers were fresh-faced, and some were friends from a previous semester’s class. The age gap was painfully obvious, but I felt calmer than I remember feeling when I was that age; a feeling that allowed me to simultaneously take seriously the gravity of what this kind of test means without betting my livelihood on it. I was ready, my peers looked ready, and there we were: ready.
It’s 6 PM, the course is four hours long, and the first words out of the instructor’s mouth are. . .
“This will be torturous.”
As a technical trainer by day, I can’t imagine walking into a room of people who paid to learn and setting the stage with that. While I was nervous (because of the personally uncharted territory), tired (from the long work day), and hungry (because I forgot to eat dinner before class), I didn’t walk in feeling like what I was about to experience was going to, in any way, be torturous for me. Even after her comment, I still didn’t feel in danger. If anything, I was a little angry.
For any younger, anxious undergraduate in the room who might have been feeling unsure about the prospect of applying, getting into, and finishing law school – those words could have been damaging. I firmly believe that the way to educating others, particularly others who’ve paid to learn vital skills for a particular subject area that you might be particularly knowledgeable in, setting the tone for the course by projecting your own feelings about the exam is not only unproductive, it’s really not OK.
So much of what I’ve noticed about the culture of LSAT preparation is that everything about the way students give advice to others is to offer the most negative form of their opinion to dissuade them from endeavoring down what is, by all accounts, a difficult path. Spend five minutes Googling “will a LSAT score of 160 get me into law school?” and read any forum where strangers discourage and dissuade each other from pursuing a legal education. The negativity is pervasive.
Nevertheless, the one place it is not supposed to be pervasive is in the expensive, highly rated preparation course; a course that, if I had to wager a guess, most people don’t sign up for if they’re already an expert in the material.
I get it. The admissions process is beyond tough, and statistically, the odds aren’t in our favor of getting into one of the “Holy Trinity” schools. But, arbitrarily dissuading students, advice seekers, strangers, potential fellow colleagues. . . people, from pursuing something that they feel passionate about – directly or indirectly – it doesn’t make the applicant pool smaller. ..
It just makes you look like an a**hole.
After I got home last night, I felt myself falling into the “I’m not good enough for this” slump. Why? Because for a split second I let myself believe that whatever score I got on my first, cold practice exam was it. Because some stranger on the internet told someone else it was near impossible to get any higher. Because another stranger on the internet told another stranger who had just graduated from engineering school, that she shouldn’t quit her day job because she didn’t get a 170 on her most recent practice test.
Good teachers and instructors can shape the course of someone’s future, but in the absence of sage wisdom (or the façade of a positive attitude), it’s important to be able to lift yourself up by your bootstraps, be your own champion, and work smarter despite the opinions of others.
If the road is as torturous as she said it is, then here’s to the next four months of torture.