Law in Contemporary Society

“It’s your exam, you can write it perfectly”

-- By TobinKassa - Original 18 Feb 2023, Revised 1 May 2023

I always lead with the fact that I am a first-generation Black immigrant and the first in my family to pursue a career in law and public service. I don’t say this to set myself apart, rather it is because these identities will always affect how I perceive and navigate spaces. I am always conscious that few students like me have made their way to law school and even fewer have had the opportunity to attend an ivy league institution. Yet, as Eben pointed out, these circumstances and related institutional barriers have existed for many years before I marched into law school and will continue to persist beyond my graduation. So why use up precious time fighting an institution when I can rethink my position and thrive despite its shortcomings? There is value in this proposition – one that relieves many like me of our burden to be social justice warriors for education reform. But a part of me also can’t help but see this proposition as a cop-out – particularly, considering that my peers and friends continue to fight the administration to ameliorate conditions on behalf of students like me.

I previously wrote a piece about how law school exams actively work as tools of impediment for underrepresented groups’ access to the legal profession. I observed how law school exams are not sensitive to the lifestyles of underrepresented students and tend to serve as proxies for rewarding native English speakers and fast typers. Eben did not deny the facts but encouraged me to rethink my relationship to law school exams. We talked about how my proficiency in other languages should not be a hindrance. He assured me not to worry about not writing enough on my exams because conciseness is valued in the real world. And I should claim agency over how I respond and participate in exam-taking. As I approach my second-semester finals, I look forward to keep these in mind.

Speaking a different Native language should not be a defect

English is my third language. I did not learn English in school until I was in the sixth grade. Although I always recognized this language barrier, it was not until I was applying to law schools that I noticed how it could impede my access to the legal profession. My first LSAT score was at the 73rd percentile – a score that most top-ranked schools would not accept. This score, which was based on a 4-hour exam, did not reflect my performance in undergrad nor my capabilities as a prospective law student. I graduated from college with distinction recognition and subsequently worked at a law firm on par with staff attorneys helping litigate high-stakes federal class actions. I am fortunate enough to have been seen beyond arbitrary numbers and accepted into a prestigious institution. Regardless of the institutional barriers, I carved a space for myself. And I want my experience to serve as an example for others similarly situated to not let the language barrier control or frustrate the process. Our native languages are our superpowers – they give us a distinct insight that many of our counterparts lack.

Shifting Authority

Over the course of this semester, Eben has drilled into us that we, students, hold all the leverage at the law school. If we came together and organized, we can make the administration do whatever we demand it to do. I have seen and experienced this. Following several “urgent” emails from OCS about not fulfilling requirements for job fairs, meetings with SJI to commit to a “pure” public interest career, and discussions with administrators who were concerned about my career choices, I can say it is all largely puff. The false sense of urgency the law school imposes on us is merely to control us. Despite many unfulfilled requirements and missed deadlines, I still got the job I wanted this summer. Despite a summer job in big law, I continue to have meaningful relationships with public interest organizations and faculty members who have a public service job for me if I choose to pivot. To this extent, I take Eben’s point that we really do pull the strings.

In the context of an exam, this shift in authority does not come as easily. The non-negotiable thing about my journey in law school is that to graduate, I need to be in JG over the next several days to take my Property, Criminal Law, and Torts exams. There is no puff about it. There is no circumventing the administration’s authority unless of course, I am willing to get a discretionary grade. This is where I struggle with my inner social justice warrior. Students for many generations have demanded the institution to reform its exam and grading policies to no avail. We have organized, we have demanded, yet the issues continue to persist. Eben suggested, instead of resisting the overall exam structure, I should focus on my 1:1 relationship with each exam. He told me each exam is flexible and can be adjusted to fit my needs. Regardless of the questions’ density or complexity, he told me I should simply respond to the questions I want to answer. “It’s your exam, you can write it perfectly.”

Claiming your agency

To fully shift authority, we have to recognize our power and claim it. As inadequate as the exam might be, we can and must bring our full selves to it. I was working on a statutory interpretation problem a few days ago. On the first take, I jumped straight to my outline and applied the relevant doctrine from A to Z. But on a second try, I decided to zoom out; I couldn’t help but notice how the statute served to disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities. Instead of blindly applying the relevant doctrine, I wrote about its racial impact. This second answer felt so much more fulfilling. I’m not sure if it was the right answer but, to me, it was perfect because it mattered.

I do recognize some of myself in the character called "Eben" here. I'm proud to have made a contribution to the development of your approach to law school. I think my basic point is quite modest: Make sure that you put your learning first in your relationship towards school—its practices, institutions, personnel, what have you. When school has fulfilled its role to help your learning and your development as a lawyer, then you will be best situated to do whatever else it is that you feel moved to do.

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r4 - 21 May 2023 - 18:50:16 - EbenMoglen
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