Friday, June 3, 2011

Choosing the LSAT because of the Law

The following is the first blog post from one of our Zen students who is preparing for the October 1, 2011 LSAT. You'll be able to read about their experiences throughout the summer. You can also contact us if you'd like to sign up for online or in-person Boston LSAT tutoring.
This is my first blog post after two tutoring sessions with Mr. Bennett, who is a classmate of two good college friends of mine, both now at Harvard Law School. I have struggled (and continue to struggle) with the LSAT since my sophomore year of college, but I have only come to the realization of why I wanted to go to law school in the last three months. The explanation is rather long winded, but in order to talk about the LSAT, it’s important to how I got to this point. After this one, I promise that my future blog posts will focus on my LSAT progress. Your comments on content, length and style are more than welcome.

About a month ago, I finished the first year of my 2-year masters in a public policy school, where I’m studying international relations with a focus on human rights. Before I started graduate school, I interned for less than a year at a small (but burgeoning) human rights organization based in Geneva that focuses on legal rights and criminal defense in several countries in Asia and Africa. To avoid literally starving in one of the most expensive European cities where your basic Starbucks coffee costs $7, I became a part-time au pair for the wonder woman who founded my NGO. I also became a fairly decent cook, which has gotten me through the first intense year of grad school scurvy free!

I’ve wanted to go to the policy school that I now attend since I was in middle school; my family immigrated to this country when I was eight and it had always been my father’s dream (deferred, as most immigrant dreams seem to be) to work in international relations. But even throughout college, I didn’t think of law school as a real possibility because I simply didn’t see how it was related to me. As I started to express my particular interest in policy, my very nervous parents – understandably, the voices of pragmatism –began pressuring me to consider law school in the hopes that I would one day make a good living as a corporate lawyer. As much as I respected their fears and reasons for pushing me, I resisted. It was still easier to tell my parents that I was studying for the LSAT when I knew (and they knew) that I wasn’t.

The wall I put up against the legal profession started to break down when I realized that upholding human rights is about protecting those who aren’t able to protect themselves; in this regard, law is one of the most powerful weapons in a limited cache. In particular, I became interested in transitional justice after a trip to Rwanda in college, where I attended a “grassroots” gacaca trial that represented a devastated society attempting to come to terms with the tricky balance between justice and peace. This past March, my program funded me to Kenya to research corruption in the judicial system in the context of the recent International Criminal Court investigation of politicians accused of inciting post-election violence that killed more than 1200 people in 2007-2008 (note: grad school is pretty awesome).

In Kenya, I realized that 1) every internship that I’d done in the past 3 years had been law related; 2) the knowledge of law is crucial to the field in which I eventually want to make a career; and 3) it’s NOT fun times when you don’t have a law degree and lawyers decide to talk down to you. The first layer of my mental Berlin Wall had fallen, only to reveal another layer – the LSAT.

The LSAT, or more specifically, the Logic Games, has become my arch nemesis. Half of the problem was that I could never justify spending 3 – 5 months preparing for it! I “took” a Testmasters course last summer before I started school, but I spent most of that summer running around Queens and Brooklyn collecting immigrant housing surveys for (yet another) legal nonprofit. The other half of the problem I shall call Fear of Logic Games. I’d never been good at math or logic; for a time, it was hard to even look at a game without wanting to take a nap (ie - my natural coping mechanism). Since Testmasters wasn’t a targeted program, I got better at the sections (RC and LR) that I was already doing fairly well in, but I didn’t get any specific help on LG where I needed direction the most. Daunted by LG, I barely completed a quarter of Testmasters’ practice questions and allowed the summer internship to become too time-consuming. As a side note, my New York apartment was too creepy, even during the day, to be a good study environment – which turned out to be key for an incredibly unfocused person like me.

Graduate school started with a roar and I took the exam in October 2010 (my “practice run”), canceled my score and took it again in December, which was just GREAT timing because it landed smack in the middle of my two quantitative finals and my 3 final papers. I was actually doing well in the first 4 sections until LG smacked me in the face during section 5 – it was all crash and burn from there. I’ve heard that December 2010 had a particularly harsh LSAT, but since I never learned how to do LG systematically, I wouldn’t have gotten half the questions right even if I hadn’t panicked in such an embarrassing way. I kept my score and applied to law schools on the off chance that I would get in, but my heart wasn’t in my applications and I got rejected so fast that it was tragically comical. I only applied to the schools that had a concurrent or joint degree with my policy school and my score was nowhere close to being competitive. So much time, energy and money (that I did not have) – wasted.

I was rejected and very burned out; but then again, I realized (much like one of the previous Zen students) that I hadn’t done my best on the test. For the lack of a more eloquent way to say this – it really REALLY SUCKS to responsible for my own failure, but honestly – I didn’t have a shot at winning this game before I came to terms with why I was doing this. But now that I have an inkling of my motivation, I will try my best to destroy this bizarre section of this arbitrary standardized test that still stands in my way. This summer, I will be working mostly on LG (and a bit of LR). We started at the very beginning with sequencing games. So far, the lessons have been very useful in helping me work through the setups with minimal frustration. Mr. Bennett is encouraging and patient, but he doesn’t waste time coddling my insecurities; this is good because I can’t make excuses for myself any longer. October will most likely be my last shot at the LSAT; if I don’t go up a good 15 points, I will find a job in the expanding human rights field that doesn’t require a JD. But I have 4 months – and though I still can’t bring myself to do all LSAT all the time just yet (I’m working on a few research projects part time) – I hope to spend 20 hours a week plugging away, ever so slowly.

SOLIDARITY to everyone who’s in the October 1, 2011 LSAT boat, GOOD LUCK to the June test takers (you are so close to freedom) and GO Mavericks!