LSAT Kung Fu Blog / Week One: Listen

Week One: Listen

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The professors tell you what they want. They tell you in plain language, they tell you in English, they tell you in words and with diction and in tone and on their syllabi and with the questions they ask and the answers they give.

They may want the wrong things (I’ll circle back to that in a minute), they may want something different from what you expected they’d want, they may want something you don’t understand the need for. But they tell you. Your first job is to listen.

To do that, one thing you’ve got to do is learn to relax. In the first few classes, it’s SO GODDAMNED NERVE-WRACKING. Now, some of the professors are kind in the extreme. Some of them are… not. But even with the former, you’re sitting there trying to formulate a cogent response, but you’re not really doing that, even, because one half of your brain is screaming at the other half DO NOT SCREW THIS UP, STUPID, which makes it nearly impossible to do the one thing—the only thing—you really have to do: listen to the question you’ve been asked.

I'm speaking from personal experience, although after the second day, I was able to loosen up enough to take the advice I’m giving you here. Not everybody was, though. One poor soul could just not manage to tell Professor A who will pay for Plaintiff’s injury if the Defendant doesn't have to (hint, there are only two possibilities, and we just eliminated one of them). Here’s the deal, though: this student isn’t stupid. She got into a good regional law school! She just couldn’t allow herself to listen to what A was asking her. She wanted to give The Objectively Perfect Answer, which effectively shut off the portion of her brain that she should’ve used for, you know, thinking.

She’ll get over it. She’ll hear other people choke, she’ll understand, and she’ll relax, and things will go better. I mean, I hope so. Who knows? But I do know that she could’ve avoided the bad feelings if she had just listened to what Prof. A said.

And, hey, I am so totally not trying to sell you on the idea that your law school professors are right about everything (or about anything, really). But that’s not the point! They’re the ones doing the grading, so it doesn’t matter whether they’re right. It matters that you listen to what they want and give it to them. And if you notice that they’re wrong, comparing their wrongness to their demands will only make you stronger and better at analysis.

Case in point: we had an (ungraded) writing sample due the first week. The assignment was a persuasive essay, and I thought long and hard about the issues involved. I read multiple points of view, articulated those points, and mounted an argument that included concessions to some of those writers’ thoughts while also registering disagreement on some of the salient factors. I proposed a new rule that should properly govern the disposition, and that would account for the varying points of view I’d read.

And the reader, Professor L, made no note whatsoever of my reasoning, my conclusions, my incorporation of others’ arguments, my synthesis of their positions, my application of principle, nor my choice of governing rule. None of it!

Her only three notes were that I was wordy (which, I mean, if you’re reading this, you know, guilty as charged), that I had used contractions, and the erroneous assertion that the phrase “…we will do best by making our priority…” constituted use of the passive voice (It does not. In fairness, Professor L later admitted her mistake). 

But, Jesus. If you just wanted to test my knowledge of written English, a multiple choice test would’ve worked. I wouldn’t have spent the time I spent crafting the most powerful essay I could manage. But you know what? It’s her deal. She’s in charge, and I’m not, and so I didn’t say anything that I said to you just now. I also did not highlight the multiple instances of passive voice construction in the assigned reading, along with a note saying “The highlighted sentences provide examples of the passive voice; the subjects of these sentences are not performing the actions. You should consider noting it for your students’ benefit.”

Instead, I listened intently, thanked her for her input, and then I wrote this post so that you guys would know that it doesn’t matter if they’re right. If you want to succeed, listen to what they say, and show them that you can do what they want.


Questions? Comments? Complaints? Post them below, or shoot me an email.

Be good to one another, for we need it now more than maybe ever,


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