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When your daughter takes the LSAT

I take extreme measures to insulate myself from drama. I restrict people’s access to me, say no to most projects, try to head off the little problems that turn into big problems, and just generally shut down most bullshit in my life before it gets started. Long gone are the adrenaline fueled hearings, the trials, and the settlement conferences, replaced now with myriad strategic planning and client problems that, while slightly boring, are much less stressful.

Such was my semi-blissful state when my daughter Cali dropped this little bombshell on me over Thanksgiving break: “Dad, I’ve decided what I want to do when I graduate.”

“Oh?” I said, cool as a cucumber. “What is it?”

“Well, I think we need a family meeting for this.”

“Seriously … what is it?”

“I just said we need a family meeting.”

As the time ticked down to the family meeting, I told my wife to brace herself. This was going to be big. She was moving to Argentina to study the tango. She was flying to Paris to embrace a Bohemian lifestyle and write the great American novel. With my daughter’s KGB-like information restriction, it could be just about anything. I felt the old adrenaline beginning to rise.

The meeting was held over dinner at Charleston’s in Omaha, my daughter eyeballing us over spring rolls, waiting for just the right moment to pounce. “So,” she said, “Here’s the deal.” (Dramatic pause.) “I’ve decided to go to law school after I graduate.”

As my daughter’s voice trailed off, time seemed to slow down in the restaurant. I felt as if I was outside of my own body, floating high above the table. I was looking down at myself struggling to stay composed.

At that moment, I would have preferred that my daughter had said, “Mom, Dad, I have a serious drug problem.” That I could have dealt with. That had a potentially good outcome.

My daughter then spent the next few minutes explaining why, out the blue, she was making this decision. And to her credit, it was a well-thought out plan. Logical. Precise. It all seemed to make sense, just like it seemed to make sense when I went down that rabbit hole 28 years before.

For the most part, I am not a helicopter parent (which is likely what all helicopter parents say). But by God, in the months that followed, there were law school lists to make, test and admission deadlines to schedule, LSAT classes to find, recommendation letters to obtain, and wisdom to impart to my only child. This delicate child was about to face the onslaught of the L…S… A…T.

The innocence of the LSAT from three decades earlier had been forgotten. Test administration was now outsourced to the Gestapo. No timekeeping devices, phones, or key fobs allowed. Nothing in your pockets. You may bring extra pencils and a small portion of food, which must be contained in a baggie, neatly sealed, placed under your seat, and visible to all Gestapo test administrators. You must swear fealty to the LSAT gods before the test begins.

Cali took the test in New York, and when she arrived, there was a long line of kids with little plastic baggies in their hands. They snaked around the block like the line to some weird rock concert. Some of the kids seemed supremely confident, some nonchalant, some a basket of nerves. One kid had a plastic baggie filled with one giant lump of almond butter, which he had somehow decided was the ultimate LSAT snack.

I have always theorized that one component of an American legal education is that it purposely fucks with your head at critical moments in the process, and that begins with the LSAT. Whether this is just purposeful cruelty passed from one generation to the next or actually serves some higher purpose, I do not know. But the LSAT includes an “experimental” section that is not identified and does not count toward your score. Simply put, this means the test taker slaves over a section, expending time and mental energy on a long series of questions that are ultimately meaningless. This seems to fall in the category of “purposefully cruel.” And in New York, they had the kids show up early; they then waited for hours to take the test,
until the anxiety grew to something palpable.

At home, while Cali took the exam, my heart raced. I wondered if she would call in tears when it was over or whether she’d be powerfully triumphant. I sent her positive energy and walked in small circles in my living room, a ritual I had created for LSAT success.

I did not hear from her until hours after the exam was over. Her phone had died in the little baggie, and it was a long subway ride back to her apartment in Brooklyn. I pondered what to say when she called. I would not ask her how it went, I decided. That would be a loser move. I would just be there to listen. To rejoice with her possibly. To console her if necessary.

When my phone rang, I picked up the phone and listened for a moment. No tears.

“So how did it go?” I asked.

“Eh … I did fine, I think.”

“Fine?”

There was silence on the line. “Dad, I did fine. Everything’s fine.”