As a threshold matter, my first advice to you is simply this- forget about it.
If you are like me (and probably thousands of Type A would-be law students, you probably have no idea of how well (or poorly) you did on the test. Your bias, however, is probably that you don't feel that you did as well as you could have. This is because (a) most of us tend to focus on our weaknesses rather than our strengths; but more importantly, (b) with the hours upon hours of practice tests that you probably did, you received immediate feedback on your performance.
So, during those weeks or months of practice, you knew exactly how you did on those practice tests. And even if you did not do as well as you hoped, that little devil sitting on your shoulder never had a chance to try and psych you out. Unfortunately, until the test results are in, he has lots of opportunity to convince you that you didn't do well on the test.
Now, let me give you some good news. First of all, if you invested the time in preparation, chances are that you did as well as you are capable of doing. And its hard to imagine anyone unhappy with a result that represents their maximum capability. Some even better news: in my case, I scored about seven points higher than I did on any of the practice exams I did during my months of test preparation.
I don't know if my experience is common, however, I suspect that it could very well be. First of all, many of the prep materials are designed to toughen you up- the test prep folks throw everything at you that they can, in an effort to help you increase your aptitude for these types of questions. So arguably, you pratice with the most difficult of all questions.
Those cynics among you may challenge this assertion, especially if you practiced with old test questions. "How can you say that old test questions are the most difficult?" you scoff. After all, they were actual questions, used on actual exams. However, this assertion misses a point common to the LSAT, law school and the bar exam- they are graded on a curve. The curve adjusts for the relative difficulty of the exam.
Additionally, if you are like many Type A folks, you probably perform better under pressure (I understand that there are folks who simply don't do well on standardized tests). It's sort of like the difference between hitting golf balls on a practice range versus hitting a ball during an actual round of golf. The added factor of a scorecard motivates most people to focus, swing carefully and move the ball toward the target. In an exam setting, as compared with the comfort of your dorm room, your adrenaline flows, your neurons fire and you generally operate at in a heightened state.
The point of all of this is to say that you should not spend a great deal of time fretting about the test. If something unusual was going on in your life (e.g. you came down with the flu, or just broke up with your paramour, or something else that you know affected your performance, then consider cancelling your score (see my other post in this section). Otherwise, if you gave it your all, in terms of preparation, then forget about it.
Which brings me to my next point- what to do while you are waiting for your LSAT score. Similar to the bar exam (which, however, takes months, instead of weeks to receive your score), you are in sort of a limbo period right now. But you should take a bit of time to celebrate the fact that you gave it your all and are finished with it.
This is the first milestone in your journey through the Law School Labyrinth. The next milestone will be to begin your law school applications; after that the waiting begins again as the schools consider you as a potential student. And after you are accepted, there will be the waiting for school to begin, waiting for exams, waiting for exam grades and so on. All of this will help to build your character and maturity as you make your final approach to the practice of law as a career.
You may be feeling a bit letdown right now. Even worse, you may be questioning whether you did as well as you could have done. I recommend that you look at it another way- you worked hard, you made it through the test and you are on your way to law school and a law career.
Which brings me to my final point. Regardless of how you performed, if you want it badly enough, you will become a lawyer. John F. Kennedy, Jr. took the New York bar exam (allegedly one of the most difficult, along with California) several times before passing. But eventually he passed and became a lawyer.
If you aced the test and get accepted to Harvard, I offer my sincerest congratulations. If your LSAT score is closer to the median however, I Imagine there will still be law schools who will be thrilled to have you. When you take the bar exam, they don't really care whether you graduated from a top school or Local U. All they require of you, other than the character and fitness requirement (also discussed in another post in this blog), all that is required is that you have graduated from an accredited law school and pass the exam.
My advice to you now that you have completed this first step, use this time to begin to look closely at law schools. Do your due dilligence- look carefully at their professors, their course offerings, their clinics, their on-capus recruiting program and the like. Talk with students of your preferred schools; visit the campuses.
After I took my first bar exam (I am licensed in two states), rather than worrying about whether or not I passed, I simply acted as if I had and lost myself in my work. In the same way, you can lose yourself in the process of selecting the place where you will spend the next three years and thousands of dollars. This will be infinitely more productive than fretting over how you did on the LSAT.
And again, if you want it badly enough you will become a lawyer. I just know it. You will.
For those of you who have ever played golf, you realize that what at first glance appears to be a simple act, swinging a golf club at a ball, is in reality an extremely complex transaction. Hundreds of books have been written, thousands of dollars have been spent and millions of hours have been invested by golfers throughout history trying to achieve an effective golf swing.
An effective golf swing requires proper setup by the golfer and stance, a specific grip of the golf club, a predetermined backswing and timing such that it all comes together to strike and propel the ball the required distance and to the target at hand. Golfers, either consciously or unconsciously, go through a pre-swing check and analysis, almost like the sensor mechanism/ processor of an automobile's airbag system, which goes through a split-second analysis prior to actual detonation.
If the golfer actually thought about each step of this analysis and made conscious independent decisions each step of the swing, the swing would take hours, instead of seconds.
A "swing thought", is a simple thought that the golfer keeps in mind as they swing the golf club, in order to hit the ball properly. Swing thoughts are sort of a shorthand memory that golfers use to trigger the proper physical response. Swing thoughts enable golfers to "automate" a great deal of the analysis and hit the ball smoothly and effectively, and avoid the golfer having to make independent decisions each step of the way. Swing thoughts boil it all down to one simple thought that the golfer can use to hit the ball.
For example, one popular swing thought is to grip the golf club as if one were "gripping a tiny sparrow". This swing thought instructs the golfer to not overgrip the club, but hold the club just securely enough to maintain control of the club. The result is a more relaxed swing, with the other compents of the swing less likely impeded.
In law school, as you probably realize by now, the analyses are complicated and complex, ever-changing, infinitely detailed and challenging. Every single day that you go to law school (and when you take exams), you are faced with analyses of legal problems.
Generally, it all starts with the basic currency of law school- the cases; judicial opinions used to explain, describe or establish a point of law, trend in the law, or new direction of the law. Law students are assigned cases to read and go to class to face the dreaded Socratic inquest (or witness their peers being grilled). Law students spend hours upon hours attempting to make sense of cases, trying to memorize facts and generally familiarizing themselves to the point of avoiding the worst kind of embarassment in class.
But throughout their studies, many law students read cases in a rote manner, conducting analysis upon analysis. One popular shorthand used by law students since time immemorial is "IRAC"- Issue Rule Analysis Conclusion. IRAC is certainly a useful tool for dissecting the basic structure of a judicial opinion. The student identifys the issue, states the rule provided in the case, describes the analysis and then the conclusion reached by the judge. Many students read cases, use IRAC and stop there. However, IRAC is an analytical tool, but certainly not an analysis in and of itself. Students who stop at IRAC miss a key step in the analytical process and are severly disadvantaged at exam time.
Now for the law student "swing thought". This swing thought will also help you to begin to think about how to perform the key step in the legal analytical process that most students miss (at least until well into their second year).
The swing thought is simply this: before you read a case or an exam fact pattern imagine that you have graduated from law school and passed the bar. You are sitting in your office and your adminstrative assistant brings a new client in. The client has a problem.
Now read the case or exam fact pattern.
That's it. The swing thought is that you are a real lawyer, faced with a real legal problem. This will make the reading less abstract, and the fact-sifting and analysis real to you. You will read with purpose. The assignment before you will hopefully cease being an abstract notion, with dry facts and issues and become a real legal problem to be solved.
And by the way, that's what the legal pedagogy is all about- teaching you to think like a lawyer. Law school, in many ways is a trade school- you learn by doing (as opposed to most of your undergraduate studies, in which you learn by reading, memorizing and regurgitating).
You are a few short years away from becoming a real lawyer. Now is the time to start thinking like a lawyer. And the best way to do it is to begin to solve legal problems. As you read your cases, and especially as you approach exams, begin to the work the same way you will do the work in practice.
In my book, Law School Labyrinth, I describe a methodology, the Pyramid Outline Method, to help you read and analyze cases, as well as assimilate the "black letter" law, so necessary for succeeding on exams. I encourage you to read the book and develop your methodology as quickly as possible in law school. It will help you to succeed in law school, but more importantly, begin to learn to "think like a lawyer.
As I looked around me after that first class on the first day of law school, I wondered "What in the world have I gotten myself into?" Some poor 1L had just gotten clobbered by the professor in a Socratic inquest, and for a moment I thought that law school was going to be everything I feared and then some. The student, still red-faced with embarrasment, made his way out of the classroom, as some of his friends cracked a few jokes, both to diffuse his embarrassment, and perhaps to also have a bit of fun at his expense.
And yet as I watched his exit, something inside me was also exhilarated. The intellectual horsepower and intensity in that room made me very proud to just be there. Some of the best and brightest college students in the country sat all around me. And the professor was certainly one of the most articulate and intelligent people I had encountered in recent memory. The student, although beaten, had clearly survived it and appeared to have shaken most of the trauma off.
And that, in a nutshell, is the dichotomy that is law school. On the one hand, you may suspect that you may actually not be the smartest person in the room. But on the other hand, the intellectual challenge, and in particular, your first glimpse into what the practice of law is all about, will often enthuse and excite you in a way that you have never been before.
Law school will, if you let it, teach you an entirely new way of thinking. Unlike many other disciplines, lawyers must think and reason analytically and logically, communicate clearly with assertions always factually supported, and do all of this in an efficient and effective manner. The practice of law may very well be one of the most challenging and yet rewarding careers.
But in law school, the professor can make feel stupid. Smart people who feel stupid are usually more willing to learn. And for the first time in your academic career, things may not come so easily to you. You have to work through dense passages of indecipherable reading material. You take notes and even your own notes don't make sense. The ever-present threat of exams looms in the not-to-distant future. Coupled with the headlines about lawyer layoffs and law student debt, you may find yourself discouraged and questioning your own capabilities.
My message to you, the new 1L is this: don't be discouraged. Instead, enjoy the experience. Think of law school the way you think of any other necessary but painful development activity; for example, exercise and/or training for a competition. The pain is worth the gain. In law school, I assure you that you will learn more than at any other time in your life. You are only a few short years away from a law license and a legal career and the ability to have a hugely positive effect on people and our society as a whole.
You may be asking yourself, "But how do I deal with the immediate threat- the Socratic method, exams, and the like." If you have read my blog before or followed me on Twitter, chances are, you know that I unabashedly recommend my book to help you deal with that threat and traverse the Law School Labyrinth. The book will give you a solid study methodology, which will help you reduce the "flailing about" that many 1Ls do, and often well into their second year. Read the book. Adopt the methodology, or adapt it to your own style. But have a plan of attack for law school. It will ultimately enable you to enjoy the law school experience that much more.
But the bottom line is this- law school is difficult, but you will survive it. If you stick with it, you will graduate and obtain your license to practice law. You will become a lawyer. You just will.
In order to be admitted in a jurisdiction and obtain a license to practice law, candidates must demonstrate that they possess the requisite "character and fitness", as determined by the licensing authorities. Since writing "The Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education" I have been asked by law students about this requirement. Because there is a fair amount of mystery inherent in the process, I imagine students who have pecadillos in their past (or worse) worry about a catastrophic result- surviving three years of law school, only to be denied a law license.
At the outset, I want to make clear that I have no inside information regarding bar admissions, other than my own experience in the process. As a threshold matter, I would encourage you to always honestly and candidly deal with any issues in this regard with the bar authorities. Additionally, most have comprehensive websites, complete with the underlying statutory authority upon which the requirements are based, and that you should consult, in order to evaluate your particular situation.
As part of your bar examination process, you will be required to fill out an incredibly comprehensive application (most likely, complete with a fingerprint card). The application will take a fair amount of time to complete and require information that you may or may not have at your fingertips. So, as will all things law school, be prepared to spend a fair amount of time on the application, and do not wait until the last minute to begin the process. This application will become the basis by which the bar examining authorities will investigate whether you have the requisite character and fitness to practice law.
But you should also know that bar authorities are also understandably unwilling to prognosticate as to your ability to ultimately receive a license. There are too many variables involved in the calculus and until the actual character and fitness investigation is completed, it would be extremely irresponsible to say, for example to a candidate that a particular incident in high school would not prevent them from obtaining a license. That incident would be weighed against a variety of factors, which can only properly be weighed in the context of a variety of other factors- age at the time of the incident, recency of the conduct, evidence of rehabilitation, other incidents, etc.
For most new lawyers, about the only other license they've had is a driver's license. As with a law license, the ability to drive is a privilege and not a right. In other words, the presumption is that you should not be allowed to drive; you must overcome this presumption by showing that you have the necessary qualities to operate an inherently dangerous 3000 pound machine at seventy miles per hour. With a law license, you are entrusted with something of even greater risk- people's lives, and you must show that you are capable of such trust.
Obviously, you must show that you possess the minimum competency to practice law. You do this by passing an extremely lengthy and difficult bar exam. But, as a threshold matter, before you are even allowed to sit for the exam, you must show that you have the fundamental character and fitness required of all lawyers. You do this by submitting to what is essentially a comprehensive background check administered by the bar authorities and their designates. This application is available in many jurisdictions online.
What is the requisite character and fitness to practice law? Different jurisdictions define it in different ways, but the core of the definition is what you would expect it to be: honesty, trustworthiness, diligent and reliable, in order that the lawyer in question can be entrusted with a clients affairs, as well as the operation of the legal system (see, e.g. the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners website, http://rly.cc/aFf7i
Generally, the bar admissions authorities look at whether a candidate has a history of dishonesty, unlawful conduct, academic misconduct, neglect of financial responsibilities, misconduct in employment, violation of a court order, emotional instability or drug/alcohol dependence, in making the character and fitness determination (see, e.g. the Texas Board of Law Examiners website, http://rly.cc/ojWZL
The single, best piece of advice I would offer is that you should be absolutely, painfully and completely candid and honest on the application. As most bar examiner websites indicate, an "incident" that you disclose may or may not be evidence of insufficient character, however, a lie iwould be. So the lie becomes worse than the incident itself. Additionally, it behooves you to read the application very carefully, which after three years of law school, should not be a problem for you. Make sure that you answer every question completely; one can lie not only by comission, but by omission. As a lawyer, honesty is the cornerstone of everything that we do.
If you have concerns that something in your background could be problematic, refer to your state bar's website. Review the rules and regulations regarding admissions. If you think you have a big problem, there are lawyers who deal with these types of issues; consider consulting with one.
Regardless, and at the risk of over-generalizing, probably the most important conduct is that which you engage in for the next three years (remember that the requirement is typically whether you posess the "present
character and fitness" to practice law). There really isn't much you can do about that pecadillo in your past, other than put as much temporal distance between you and it as possible. Instead, you should focus on how, going-forward, you can be the best person you can be.
I offer the following suggestions for you to consider throughout your law studies, as "preventative" measures, and in the hopes that you will avoid the worst of all scenarios- a problem that occurs while you are in law school, that either delays or prevents you from obtaining a license:
1. Alcohol abuse- Law school is stressful, and unfortuately, there is an abundance of opportunity to abuse alcohol. Friday night "Blackacres" and the like, with low-cost beverages, which may seem benign (because "everyone's doing it") could result in a law student's DUI and public intoxication charges. Worse, repeated use of alcohol to deal with stress avoids the problem itself, and may set you up for progressively worse and perhaps even a lifetime of alcohol abuse. This abuse can lead to a myriad of other problems- client neglect, marital problems, health problems, the inability to focus, in short, issues you do not need to be dealing with, while working in an extremely demanding field.
2. Social Networking Websites- Internet "anonymity" has created huge problems for an entire generation of bloggers, Facebookers, MySpacers and Twitterers. Internet relationships create the illusion of anonymity and yet intimacy that tempts people to do and say things that they otherwise would not (say, for example, in a church study group). As a result, people post things on the web that they later regret. Unfortunately, the internet is forever. Anything you post goes into a server somewhere, waiting to later come back and haunt you. Regardless of what you may have posted in the past, consider cleaning up your blog, website and social networking sites. Some jurisdictions such as Florida, have announced that they will consider social networking sites as part of their character and fitness analyses.
3. Law School- Don't cheat. Don't plagarize. As simple as it may seem, every year some promising law student does something stupid enough to get thrown out of law school. Your law school probably has a Code of Conduct. Make sure you understand it and honor it completely.
4. Fiscal Fitness- Pay your bills when due. Don't overextend yourself financially. Your credit history will likely be a part of the character and fitness examination. As a lawyer, you may be entrusted with your client's money. If you cannot manage your own, it is unlikely that you will be able to manage others' money.
5. Obey the Law- As a lawyer, you are expected to uphold the law; both the big laws and the little laws. Now is not the time to get into fistfights, steal or do other similarly adolescent things, that to many are innocent pecadillos.
And if you want to maximize your law school experience, be sure and read my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009).