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Scott Graber

America believes in second chances, back doors 

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It is Saturday, May 21, and the Wall Street Journal tells us that the American Bar Association is thinking about making the Law School Aptitude Test optional. 

“This would follow a trend seen in undergraduate admissions offices and give schools more flexibility in how they select law students.” The piece goes on to say that an actual change in this policy is “months away.” 

This re-thinking of the utility of the LSAT is superimposed on the Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision on race-based admission decisions. Are they constitutional? 

The resolution of these two issues will have an impact on the ranks of my besieged and beleaguered profession. 

Until recently, our English cousins had an an inflexible, unforgiving belief in testing. The UK still believes in a series of 2 1/2 hour tests at age 16 that will determine whether one moves on to college or finds employment where a degree is not essential. 

Then there is the Chinese system. 

In China there are no essays, no teacher recommendations or spending a month helping out Mother Theresa in Mumbai. Points that are earned on tests determine whether you become a water quality officer; a bureaucrat who issues construction permits; or an oncologist. The Chinese eliminate all but the best from the medical, engineering and law professions. 

Students in China know that testing begins early, requires herculean effort, and is likely to end in disappointment. In fact the great majority of those students who test will be disappointed by their “gaodao score.” Notwithstanding an almost-universal sense of fatalism — and the depression that pervades the rest of their lives — Chinese students generally support their test-and-and-most-likely-fail system. 

The model we use in the United States requires a test (for law school) but gives the admissions office some latitude in actually accepting students. They can (now) look at class composition, race and, of course, whether one’s father matriculated at the school 25 years earlier. 

I, myself, think I am a beneficiary of this attitude or latitude. 

When I was in my last year at The Citadel (in 1967), I met a young dark-haired woman from Baltimore. I thought I wanted to be near this dark-eyed woman in spite of the fact that I had a commission in the U.S. Army. I think I thought, “I know. I’ll go to a law school in Baltimore or in Washington DC; defer my tour in Vietnam; and be near Carole.” 

On the strength of these hasty decisions I took the LSAT and — if memory serves — did not do all that well. (I also took the State Department Exam and the Navy Aviation Aptitude Test.) 

I applied to law schools at the University of Maryland, Georgetown and George Washington University. I was accepted at George Washington and to this day I believe I got into that school because they wanted somebody from the South. 

In those days, the law school touted itself as America’s “National Law School” and I think they really needed someone from South Carolina. In any case I got in and was almost immediately dumped by the dark-eyed, dark-haired woman from Baltimore. 

I have, I think, written on this topic before. 

I have said that we, as a society, believe that maturation is an uneven process — some teenagers are not quite ready (at 18) when they sit down and try to respond to a thick, multi-page college aptitude booklet, at a too-small desk, in a badly-lit cafeteria smelling of butter beans and macaroni. And as a society we believe in second chances and back doors. 

My father, for example, was a professor the Medical University of S.C. He had both medical students and graduate students in his classes. Sometimes, not always, the graduate students had not done well on their MCAT examination and had not gotten into Medical School. 

Some of the rejected would then enroll as a plain-vanilla graduate student and get a Master’s Degree; then turn around an apply again to the Medical School. I can report that many of these former graduate students became very fine medical doctors. 

We are also a country that feels a continuing sense of responsibility for slavery and its aftermath. In an effort to deal with those feelings many colleges award points to African-American applicants. Those points are resented (by some) and we will surely hear more discussion about race-adjusted admissions; and the ABA’s proposed elimination of the LSAT later-on this year. 

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com. 

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