Thursday, August 27, 2009

Zen Journal - Law School and the LSAT, "Why?"

The other day I had a phone conversation with one of those "friends" with whom I speak to once a year. I said that I had been studying for the LSAT, and this bit of information triggered a slightly hostile reaction.

“Everyone I freaking know is studying for the LSAT,” my friend said, and then added with quite more derision, “Are the halls of law schools made of money or something?”

“I want to study law,” I responded, trying to make law sound like a solidified academic field of the same reputation as economics or medicine.

The conversation is sickeningly common. If you tell someone that you are studying for the LSAT or planning to go to law school, you will likely be asked “Why?” It might be just a friendly question if not for the tone.

Is it knee-jerk skepticism? Do they suspect greed? Depending on how well the questioner knows you, they are just as likely to see you as a wayward college graduate looking to add another useless degree. Medical and business school aspirants receive half of the skepticism and stand to gain the same amount of wealth and influence. Law school, it seems, suffers from a terrible reputation amongst a certain portion of the population.

You can pick and combine any number of reasons for this. Common knowledge says that law school trains lawyers, and lawyers are only good for suing for car accidents and protecting criminals. Other young academics seem to think of law school as a sham, a route for liberal arts students (who have brains but no passion) to do something worthwhile. Post-graduate students of Sociology and Literature, the thinking goes, use the same critical, analytical and logical faculties as law students, but will end up spending 10 years in graduate school only to end up in financially-mediocre positions of teaching. Law school is viewed as the ultimate catch basin for graduates who want to cash in their college-honed skills for real earning power.

The reasoning is so misguided and banal as to be discounted off the spot—any skill set or knowledge-base can be parlayed into financial fruition with the necessary acumen—but sometimes it is discouraging.

I, for one, caught myself wondering during my most recent practice LSAT,

"Why should I care who plays tennis and who plays golf?"

When in life are people going to have such complex dicta determining what sport they play? Is this Paulo really so spineless that he will play golf only if Mariella plays golf? (Preptest 25, pg 238, obviously during the analytical reasoning section.)

This whole time I understood, in theory, the importance of logic. However, I thought I'd rather apply my logical skills to the U.S. Constitution or jurisprudential axioms or something with relevance to the law. "Are the critics right?" I thought. Does law school collect students with a certain set of unrelated, un-applied skills and turn them into moneymaking attorneys?

I didn’t do to well on that particular logic game, but eventually I did find a way to ease my law school anxiety. I simply thought about my ends. I want to study constitutional law and its interaction with policy. I want to answer, and eventually, as a federal judge, decide on questions of constitutional law. I’ve been invigorated by arguments of constitutionality for some time now. It seemed silly to forget about that passion because some people might assume that I was out for a buck.

Your ends might be more vague or specific, and indeed one of the side benefits of your end goal might be financial prosperity. I’m in no position to judge. My point is this: If you have the patience and focus to take down practice LSAT after practice LSAT, to drill logic games, to review your mistakes in analysis, to increase your reading speed and then keep reading, then you probably have something motivating you. Do not, then, let anyone convince you that you are going to law school because you are lost or lack other options.

As for the LSAT itself, there is nothing wrong with thinking of the LSAT as a very challenging hoop to jump through. I do not expect it to engage my direct interest in constitutional law, as it is a measure of aptitude, not content-knowledge. Setting goals means accepting sacrifices.

That means that I am going to get my Zen on and decide who is ranked first in golf if Mariella plays tennis and... etc, and etc.