Monday, March 23, 2009

LSATs and Class

I recently took a free Kaplan LSAT test where I was promised that my score could improve tremendously if I took their course that costs between $1299 and $1499. Now I was already indulging in a free service and I am thankful for the opportunity to test my skills, but the means to acheive a "competitive score" infuriates me. A 166-180 is considered competitive and the LSAT is not a test one can study for in the traditional sense. If a student has the time to spend taking classes and to pay $1299 or more they are guaranteed to improve. If a student is working full time, low income, supporting family, etc they have to find other ways to improve - like studying an outdated library book between jobs or when the baby is asleep. To summarize: having expendable money and time guarantees success. This means that law school applicants at top colleges will continue to be privileged at least in terms of class. All of us know that class is directly tied to multiple other gender identities so that a very particular type of lawyer is consistently produced.

Moreover, the cost of law school is such that students invested in working for public interest, governmental, or non-profit ventures won't be able to do so and live a comfortable life-style (more abut my idea of comfort here).* After ranking up debt in the 100s of thousands it's hard to remind yourself that a job that pays $40,000 defending immigrant rights is the moral choice over the $160,000 a year job defending folks like Bernie Madoff.

Therefore, it is very difficult to produce lawyers who are going to relate any kind of class background difference or any kind of specific interest in legal work as it pertains to social justice and not money-profiteering. As I write this, though, I have to acknowledge that both of my brothers are lawyers - and while we were not always low income, we did emerge from a low income family. So of course working class people become lawyers everyday. It happens - but it's not an equal process, and for every lawyer interested in defending those on Death Row there are 100 interested in increasing the profits of the Prison Industrial Complex.

This isn't an issue specific to lawyers. Doctors, environmental advocates, non-profit executives...many jobs are held by those who had the time and monetary means to achieve their positions and due to debt and the process of normalized ethics that occurs in any academic institution, they often lose any radical vision. That said, the lawyer-specific point is particularly irksome to me not only because I have decided to go into the law but because I decided to go into the law for the ability to assist those historically under served (screwed over) in the justice process. I want to focus on gender identity law and work for an organization such as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project which puts people of color and low-income people first. It irritates me that the law - something I find potentially radical and exciting - could be used as the means to become greedy and rich. We all know this - the majority of us grew up with lawyer jokes - but for me this becomes a very personal message.

Through my work in various non-profits I've decided that the lack of understanding of the law and a fear of such legal processes is what directly influences many people to not act out for their liberation. Which is why I find the law exciting. We can use it to create radical social change when we become lawyers and educators, and our own advocates. But tests and expenses like those above deliberately reduce the possibility that advocates for radical social change access these services. Which is why I study every day on my subway and train ride - I want to make sure that there will be at least one law student who wants to see justice for all people. So despite my inability to pay $1499 and to spend my weekends in a classroom near the NYU campus, I am still determined to do well and attend in order to create radical social change.

*In addition to what I previously wrote about "comfort" being considered bourgeois...I volunteered with a woman recently who is self-employed in NYC doing odd jobs and she was talking about how so many people "say no to money" but she wants "to say yes to money" - which the majority of people who have lived in working class conditions not by choice would agree with. The majority of us who have experienced hardships are aware of how difficult it can be to climb out of a non-chosen poverty.

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