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June 29, 2009

Believing In The Face of Reasonable Doubt, Part I

I have always wanted to be a lawyer and everyone would always encourage me to go to law school because of my personality and my often annoying tendency to argue every issue. From the time I was a child, all the lawyers I really liked and respected were like modern day superheros— they were powerful and really different from everyone else. And, they used their power to save people. Yes some, but not all, were television characters. I wanted to be like them and I wanted to use the power for good.

But the idea, no matter how appealing, of changing careers was frightening and there were many challenges. One of the most formidable was coming to terms with giving up my freedom and sitting behind a desk studying for the next five years. My partner and I had built a wonderful, exciting and stable personal life that I was determined not to disrupt. Many of our friends, some of whom were attorneys, assured us that we would have to surrender our social life and see less of each other and our friends. I had also been out of school for more than fifteen years, so the notion of homework and exams was just a shock to my senses. Another equally or perhaps more frightening monster was the prospect of mortgaging my life just to pay for the attempt.

Studying for the LSAT was simply just miserable. I really hated it. I have nothing good to say about it or those who taught it. It was an idiotic brain drain. Fortunately I never believed in the efficiency or reliability of standardized tests, especially the LSAT, to predict future performance. If I did, I would not have gotten into law school. What got me into law school was me never giving up believing that I was supposed to be there and that there were others who believed it too.

My first day at school was amazing. My first class was contracts and my professor, who I will never forget, reminded me of my favorite undergraduate philosophy professor who I also really liked for many reasons, none of which was that he also fit the description of what I imagined Ayn Rand’s character Ellsworth Toohey would look like. On that first day and for a few weeks thereafter I felt like that undergraduate in college who could argue anything and knew everything including the secrets to the meaning of life. Yes, I had a good deal of confidence in my first semester. After all, I had just gotten into law school, which was no easy feat. And, it also helped that my professor really liked me and made a point of telling me at the end of that semester that he thought I would make a great attorney.

But familiarity and confidence notwithstanding, by the second semester, I was nervous and insecure. I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be the honor student I was in college. One of my more memorable experiences in second year was listening to one of the guest alumni judges that came to the school to speak. I was moved not by his judicial prose or remarks about legal process, but because he said he was a C+ student in law school. Now THAT thrilled me. My goals regarding law school were simple, to get in and get out with my life intact. I finished with a C+/B- average and I struggled and even fought for every point. In my last year for instance, I appealed a grade to one of my professors. My argument was reasonable and fair and upon reflection, the professor agreed with me. However the dean, who had to approve the increase did not. I argued further and my professor supported me. I didn’t get the two step increase that I wanted but I got one and that made a huge difference.

I completed law school in January 2008 and had stopped working to study for the February NYS bar. By this time I had also pretty much exhausted my savings, my brain was fried, my neck, back, shoulders and arms were in serious distress, the economy was heading for a wall, and I had to contemplate facing that abominable student loan monster. But I focused on the many positive things that had happened. I got in and out of law school with my personal and social life in even better shape than before I started, I believed Barack Obama would be president and I was on my way to realizing a dream. I was able to focus and kept the monsters at bay and I studied for an average of ten hours a day. When I finally took the exam I felt like “Atlas Shrugged”. I started looking for a job and simultaneously preparing for my graduation party. Two weeks before graduation I received the news that I didn’t pass— I missed by five points. I immediately registered for the July exam. When I think about it now, I can still feel the initial shock. I felt a pain on every level, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Every time I had to tell family and friends that I didn’t pass, I experienced shortness of breath. When I thought about taking the test again there were times I couldn’t breathe. The fact that no one could believe that I didn’t pass and that my friends had good reasons or excuses for me and were generally very supportive was helpful to me. Still, to say that I doubted the wisdom of my choices would be an understatement. I wrestled with almost all the decisions I had made until then. But there was no doubt that I would take that test again.

I recall walking out the Javits Center after the second day of the July exam and it being a very hot afternoon. Whether it was the weather or my general angst, it was difficult for me to breathe. I didn’t feel confident about at least one of the essays. They were always my weakest area, and the reason I decided to follow a friend’s advice and hire a tutor this time. It was the next day before I called my tutor to voice my concerns about my performance. She was certain I was overreacting and that I had passed. Everyone asked “so how do you feel,” “how do you think you did,” and I would say that “I feel cautiously optimistic,” or “well we’ll see, I’ll just keep doing it until I get it right.” During those four months that I waited for my score, it felt like I was waiting to be told whether or not I would be indicted and face incarceration. I was very scared. My cautious optimism became a mask for the identity crisis I went through and my fortitude started crumbling in a crisis of confidence. Two weeks before Thanksgiving I received the news that I didn’t pass again. Here began the season of my greatest discontent and my greatest triumph. I didn’t register for the February 2009 exam immediately. There were things to consider. For starters, I hadn’t worked in a year and the economy was tanking faster than my confidence. And, my very valuable J.D. was becoming a subprime mortgage.

The reasonable doubt was strong within me. I started to question everything. Maybe I was wrong, perhaps becoming a lawyer is not what I was meant to do. That possibility was troubling because until then I was sure that destiny was on my side. I questioned my karma and even my own motives, as if I could deliberately undermine myself. I had reached a metaphysical fork on my road. I had to make a choice and I chose to believe.

I registered for the February 2009 exam.

About June 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Reasonable Doubt in June 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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