Right now, thousands of recent graduates are taking one bar exam or another. This is my Bar Exam story… I know you have one as well.
Over the previous two days, law school students have nervously filed into the Javits Center en mass to sit for the New York State Bar Examination.
As attorneys, regardless of admission state, recalling the bar exam experience is all at once viscerally painful. Memories of countless lost summer nights studying come to mind – our minds instead full of fertile octogenarians and the rule of perpetuities, hearsay exceptions, purchase money security interests, fee tails, muteness and ripeness.
The Bar Exam is a Legal Rite of Passage.
Interestingly enough, this rite of passage is part of what shapes our professional culture. Taking, and passing, the bar exam is a more grown up version of fraternity hazing. The only difference is that in our legal fraternity, keg-stands are replaced by issues of standing.
It’s not necessarily the exam which makes us lawyers. In many ways, we already were lawyers before the exam. It’s the accumulation of shared experiences that began with the LSAT, continued through an average of 3 years of schooling, and culminate with 200 multiple choice questions and essays on 30 some practice areas and dreading the day results are published that cements us as lawyers.
We all have bar exam experience stories – and this is mine:
And I do not mean the sheer size.
The Javits Center is overwhelming due the sheer number of neurotic, over-caffeinated law school graduates with their future determined by the ability to memorize rules that they can look up on Westlaw during the practice career. Call it what you will; I call it ridiculous.
I remember setting three alarms for the first day, just to make sure I wouldn’t miss it. And I remember the advice everyone who had ever taken the bar exam had told me: Make sure to get a good night’s rest. I also remember that being easier said than done.
When I approached the entry to the Javits Center, I was horrified!
I remember arriving to the Javits Center early and seeing hoards of people sitting on any available curb, bench, patch of free earth frantically ruffling through pages. With the amount of people talking to themselves, both audibly and inaudibly, an innocent by-stander could have mistaken this scene for a mental hospital.
As I walked into the building, I recall the sheer enormity of the space. This enormity was replicated by the chaos that was the check in system. People were walking in every direction trying to figure out where to check-in.
My personal favorite memory was the content inspection of every individuals Ziploc supply bag. Items were being thrown out left and right because they did not conform. A bodega owner could have made a ton of money reselling the un-opened 20 oz bottles of coke and diet coke. I guess it had something to do with people finding a way to write answers under the cap…
The Problem with hand-writing your essay portion…
I had chosen to hand-write the essay portion of the exam (you have the option to type it on a laptop now). So, I was seated with all the other old-school writers. This would have been a particularly valuable choice this year, as the Examsoft system used to upload computer written essays might have had HUGE problems.
Anyway, as I was seated in my assigned seat, I immediately noticed how flimsy the folding table was. If I thought about moving, it seemed to shake. This proved completely annoying when it came to writing the essays. When more than one person is frantically writing on a flimsy table, the legibility of your handwriting is the first thing to go.
I remember the pain in my right hand as I worked my way through the essays. As I looked up a few times, I saw what can only be described as a visual sea of people clapping in sign language. In other words, shaking it out.
Everyone is seated near “that guy”
Of course I was seated behind “that guy.” They guy who took off his shoes and socks and had restless leg syndrome. He also had a penchant for prolonged, deep, painful sounding sighs. But after I got into the groove, this all became white noise. I focused on figuring out to how to analyze a choice of law question and was presently surprised to find a simple will formation essay.
I was even more pleasantly surprised to not find a fact pattern involving a fertile octogenarian.
All in all, it was cathartic and the culmination of a long struggle. But, right before the exam, I received what can only be described as a “sign.” A young woman came up to me and asked me if New York Civil Procedure would be on the essay portion of the exam. If any of you have taken the NY Bar Exam, or in fact, any bar exam, you undoubtedly know that state civil procedure will be on there. It is a give in.
It was in that moment I was grateful the essays scores were determined by comparison.
Congrats to all the future lawyers who are probably sitting for another state’s essay portion as we speak…