Getting Into Law School

Pursuing a law degree begins with taking the LSAT, a standardized test that is supposed to measure “acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills.”  Thankfully, I had always done well on standardized tests.  I would have been more concerned had it measured depth of knowledge on a broad range of subjects.   Yes, I had a B.A. and a M.Div., but I had not grown up in an environment conducive to being well-read.

When I opened the envelope containing my test results, I knew my life had just changed.  My scores were high.  In that moment, my options for law school expanded exponentially.  I would not be limited to local public law schools — not that there was anything wrong with those schools.  But staying in Kentucky to go to law school would mean I would probably stay in Kentucky after law school.  Kentucky was not where I imagined settling down.  In fact, I was not ready to settle down.  I had dreams of an education that would expand my horizons.

I sent applications off to some “safe” schools, to a couple of mid-range national schools, and a couple of “stretch” schools.  Much to my surprise, I was accepted by one of my stretch schools – Duke University School of Law.  I could not believe it.

I applied to Duke because 1) it was in North Carolina and I loved North Carolina, having spent two summers in the mountains, 2) it offered a dual degree program, giving me a chance to earn a Masters in Public Policy at the same time as I earned a law degree, and 3) it was a well-respected national school that would most certianly expand my horizons.

There was one huge looming obstacle – the price-tag.  I could attend any of the state schools very cheaply, and I was offered a full-scholarship to one of the mid-range national schools.  Duke, on the other hand, offered me very little scholarship money and was a private school.

My husband, Paul, and I visited the financial aid office on campus.  When shown the estimated cost, Paul almost fell out of his chair.   I would need to get a high paying job at graduation in order to make the loan payments, but the only reason I was going to law school was to better help the poor and marginalized.

I should have known.  Being accepted into Duke was just the Devil’s way of tempting me.   “Take the prestige.  It will be ok.  You have earned it.”  I could hear the imaginary, evil laugh of the little guy with horns and a pitchfork sitting on my shoulder.  “Then you will be indebted to me forever.  Mwahahaha. . . .”

But then I was told of one possibility that could make it work:  the faculty had just approved a loan forgiveness program for graduates who worked in the public interest.  No one could say how much money would be involved, or what the program parameters would be.  Surely, the details would be worked out by the time I graduated, right?   I grasped at the straw and ran.

I entered Duke Law School in the summer of 1988 singing my new theme song:  Got My Mind Set On You by George Harrison.

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Strong Mountain Women

I love the Appalachian mountains.  I was born and, for the most part, raised in Rome, Georgia, a small town nestled in the foothills of Appalachia.  My Mama, her parents and I would “go riding,” at least once a year, deep into North Georgia mountains, sometimes in the fall to see the leaves and buy apples and sometimes to see Bertie,  wife of Granddaddy’s first cousin, in Clarksville.  Bertie, as Mama describes her, was “a good ole mountain woman.”  There was a lot of gossip, laughter and just hanging out on these trips.

Mama was very close to Bertie’s daughter, Linda.  As a teenager, I really admired Linda.  As far as I could tell, she could do most anything.  She made — among other things — dolls and ceramics.  Her and her husband even built a house by hand deep in the woods.   Linda also took care of her daughter, B.J.

B.J. and I were born about the same time.  There is a cute picture of her and me on a blanket, just a few months old.   But while I developed mentally and physically at a “normal” pace, she did not.  BJ was a constant reminder to me of how fortunate I was.  In 1980, BJ had a stroke and had to be taken care of around the clock.  Linda took on this responsibility, and like many a strong mountain woman, Linda found a way to survive in the dark times.  As she sat day in and day out by her daughter’s side, Linda discovered a talent for art.   A video of Linda and her folk art can be found at http://www.gpb.org/stateofthearts/term/anderson.