A long table sits in the center of a room. Chairs are set up on either side, separated by small name tags that make a white dotted line down the center. On one side, 16 distinguished lawyers are seated with relaxed expressions, each with a small Dasani bottle sweating beads on condensation onto the table top. They are volunteers, men and women who have traveled from their respective hometowns to give advice regarding a career in law. We, anxious undergraduate students, sit across the table and contemplate the years of schooling and experience that span the carpet separating our chair legs and theirs. These professionals see reflections of their former youth in confident juniors and seniors biting at the bit for the chance to prove they have what it takes to be an “Attorney at Law.”
Speed Mentoring, 3-minute conversations with lawyers in a variety of fields, was a great idea. My university thought it would be helpful for pre-law students to have personal interactions with people who might be hiring in the next 4 years, people who had gone to law school and lived to tell the tale. I got a variety of advice:
1. Study for the LSATs. Get into the best law school you can.
2. It is an extremely competitive job market now, compared to when I graduated. Know what kind of law you want to practice.
3. “Well I was between graduate school and law school. Then Harvard Law called me and told me I had been accepted. You don’t turn down Harvard Law.”
I left the event feeling a little shaken. My reasons for wanting to attend law school, I found, were vastly different from a number of lawyers and students I had spoken to. Environmental law doesn’t make a lot of money, isn’t about large corporate firms or Tier 1 networking. There is no glamor, no high-profile grove of trees or celebrity Superfund site. But then again, I realized I didn’t know what environmental law really was or if it would be something I could do. I need a stable job, sufficient income, and comfortable bed just like anyone else. Reconciling the needs of daily life with a young person’s desire to “make a difference” is difficult to do.
And the LSAT, my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s golden ticket to law school, is a dull bronze at best. What is it about standardized tests that makes a person question everything he or she previously believed about intelligence and future success?
I tell myself I’m improving. I say I am capable of anything. And yet the practice tests and bubble sheets layered deep within my brain convolutions have begun to seep black tendrils of doubt deep into my logical core. The forecast of failure is hard to erase. Comparing my brain capacity, summed up in a three digit score, to thousands of other students in the country ripping their hair out over that third logic game or last logical reasoning section isn’t particularly appealing either. Should I stop looking toward the 90% percentile as a hopeful future and string a hammock between the lower half of the percentile curve instead? That I cannot answer. All I know is that I want to do well because I expect that for myself. Because I’m terrified a bad grade somehow translates to bad person. Irrational but honest.
My godmother sent me an e-mail this week, detailing her similar studying experience regarding an online update for her family practice boards. I can say with absolute certainty that she is one of the most intelligent people I know, with a memory perfectly designed for medicine and standardized tests. She wrote, “the questions are ambiguous, the references don’t provide the answers to the questions, the site doesn’t work well and last but not least, IT MAKES ME FEEL STUPID.” She asked if this was similar to my LSAT preparation and voiced her sympathy.
And that’s the fear: realizing you aren’t as intelligent as you thought after all. The feeling of smallness.
And so I’ve realized that I do not fear the LSAT on October 1st, nor do I fear the work associated with law school or bar certification. I fear that rejection somehow reflects who I am as a person, measuring how much or how little I will accomplish in my life. But rejection, any rejection, does not define me. My self-worth is nothing a test, a law school or a job offer, can take from me. And who doesn’t struggle now and then with the feeling your contribution is just a raindrop in the universal ocean of human kind?