LSAT: CATCH YA ‘ROUND THE GRILL*?

January 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

The WSJ Law blog reports that the ABA is seriously considering doing away with the requirement that candidates for admission to law school pass the LSAT.  The thinking is that law schools should decide their own entrance requirements, and that the ABA, in its accrediting role, should concern itself instead with whether or not graduates are qualified to practice law.  Will the LSAT go the way of the dinosaur?  Stay tuned.      

In the paleolithic era when I decided to attend law school, there was no debate about the LSAT.  One took it to complete the admission requirements, or one did not attend law school. 

And so I showed up at Lamar Hall (later renamed Farley), which was then the Ole Miss law school building and now houses the School of Journalism, to undergo my LSAT on Saturday, October 17, 1970.  The exact date is easy to pinpoint, as you will see.

We were collected in the large lecture room on the west end of the building on the main floor, around 40 of us.  Among the crowd I recognized fellow students with whom I had shared undergraduate classes, and I picked my way to the back of the room where eventually four or five former Ole Miss football players were esconced nearby.  I remember the room being quiet and subdued. 

Notwithstanding the quiet atmosphere inside the lecture hall, things were popping outside.  It was a campus football weekend, and no doubt most of us would have preferred being outside with the fans.  The classroom windows were opened slightly to admit the crisp, fresh fall air, and we could hear some of the hubbub from outdoors.  In those days tailgating at Ole Miss was markedly different from its current form.  Vehicles back then were driven directly into the Grove for tailgating.  There were no such things as SUV’s or even minivans.  People pulled their cars, pickups and stationwagons (i.e., primitive SUV’s) into the Grove, opened the trunk or tailgate, and laid out their spread.  On this Saturday the happy football fans, expectant of glorious victory over our accustomed whipping-boy to the south, were gathering, grilling, visiting, imbibing and back-slapping directly across the street from our lecture hall. 

Professor Bill Champion, our proctor, entered the room and distributed the LSAT tests.  He wrote the starting time on the blackboard and stayed for awhile before slipping out of the room.  In the meantime we set at laboring over the exam.

Everything verbal on the LSAT was a snap for me.  The reading comprehension was like English 101.  The logic questions took a little thought, but I was doing fine.  I began to get that exhiliration that comes from being on the upside of the challenge.    

Outside, we could hear the cheering crowds as the afternoon crept past us.  It was a heady day for football on campus.  The Rebels had finished the previous season ranked 8th in the nation, and now we were ranked in the top 5, having won our first four in a row, crushing Memphis State, Alabama and Georgia, and managing to get by Kentucky.  Archie Manning led the powerful Rebel squad.  Our opponents this fine Saturday were the Southerners of Southern Miss, a team we had thrashed 69-7 the year before and to whom we had never lost.  Confidence wafted through the air like barbecue smoke.  The sports page of the Clarion-Ledger on Friday before the game carried a photo of Archie seated in front of his locker putting on his cleats, with the headline: “Does He Really Need to Dress Out for This One?”  If the LSAT caused one to miss any football game this promising season, this minor skirmish with the hapless Hattiesburgers would be a good candidate. 

And as if on cue, from beyond the Grove we could hear the roar of the crowd in the stadium as the game kicked off. 

Meanwhile, I was zipping through the verbal and logic parts of the test and it was seeming like high school stuff.

Now, these were the days before computers, cable tv and cordless phones.  There were no smartphones or FaceBook.  There was no ESPN.  No text messages.  No wireless internet because there was no internet.  None of the LSAT participants in that room would have expected a play-by-play report for the day’s events, but we had our updates regardless. 

Professor Champion re-entered the room and wrote on the blackboard:  “1st Quarter Score …” and it looked good for the home team.  We were ahead by a touchdown, and with Archie at the wheel, one could assume that victory was assured.

The LSAT, however, had taken a nasty turn.  I had departed the relative comfort of verbal and logic questions and found myself in the quagmire of some general knowledge questions that were part of the test back in those days.  There were a few questions that posed geometrical problems, some algebra, and even chemistry.  All of that might as well have been Greek to me, but I strove valiantly against it.  Guesswork became my primary stratagem.  The snap had become somewhat of a struggle.

I was not the only one struggling a little with the test.  I noticed some of those football players in my vicinity showing some signs of distress.  The test was too much for them.  This one ran his hand over his forehead and then through his hair in exasperation.  That one sighed mightily, put down his number two pencil and cracked his knuckles.  Another slumped at his desk and rubbed his neck.  The test was taking its toll.

But in the background we could hear roars from the stadium.

Champion entered again a while later and there was a grumble of consternation as he posted the half-time score with USM ahead.  Still, no reason at this point for concern with Archie in command.  Besides, we had this blankety-blank exam to complete.   

As we kept at the test over time the roars from the stadium became noticeably fewer.  Champion’s next update showed Southern with a decisive lead, and I noticed that the football boys were decidedly uncomfortable.  Heck, I was decidedly uncomfortale.

When Champion chalked up the final score there was a unanimous gasp:  USM 30 and Ole Miss 14. 

Even with all that hoorah, most of us managed to limp to the end of the LSAT and turn in our score sheets.  We were relieved to have come through the LSAT ordeal, but the relief did not outweigh the shock of losing to Southern.  

We emerged from our LSAT cloister to learn that Southern had outrushed Ole Miss 205 yards to only 85, behind the electrifying Willie Heidelberg.  Phenomenal USM punter Ray Guy had kept Archie Manning bottled up all day with booming punts that averaged 49 yards a pop.  Archie had completed two TD passes in the first quarter to take a 14-7 lead, but Southern was too much in the next three quarters, including a 60-yard punt return for a TD that was the back-breaker.   

It was the first time ever that Southern beat Ole Miss in football.  Southern Miss coach P.W. “Bear” Underwood understated after the game: “We whipped their butt.”  Indeed.  The next week legendary Ole Miss coach John Vaught suffered the heart attack that ended his career except for an interim return later. 

Despite all the distractions, I apparently did well enough on the LSAT to get admitted to law school.  Thanks to USM, what would have been another unremarkable day in the grind of my academic career was transmuted into an unforgettable, if not happy, one.           

* “Catch Ya ‘Round the Grill” was a ubiquitous saying among Ole Miss students in the 60’s and early 70’s until the new student union was built.  The Grill was the students’ nickname for the then student union, which is now Weir Hall.  Loosely translated the saying meant: “See ya later.”  Some cynics morphed it into:  “I hope I don’t see you again anytime soon.”  Whichever, my opinion as far as the LSAT is concerned: “Catch ya ’round the grill.”

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