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Tales from the bar exam

Ah, the dreaded bar exam. After three years of hard labor, several (hundred) thousand dollars and a few months of sheer terror punctuated by MBE flash cards and Jameson on the rocks, it comes down to this. Twelve hours — or 18, even 21.5, in some states — of pouring out the contents of your brain onto paper (or a computer screen) in hopes that it’s all been enough.

At 4:30 p.m. today, you’ll be a free woman or man. No more studying, no more nightmares about fruits of the poisonous tree or the Rule Against Perpetuities. Of course, you will be waiting for your results, and for some of us, the waiting is the worst part.

I have two pieces of advice for you while you’re playing the waiting game. One: go on a big, blowout trip. It might be your last chance for a long time to backpack through Thailand or lie on the beaches of Croatia.

I know there’ll be a lot of backlash on this one — I have to pay back my loans, I need to start networking, etc. — but I promise you, being a lawyer doesn’t come with a lot of free time. Reward yourself for once; you deserve it.

And two: Talk to lawyers and ask them about their own bar exam horror stories. We all know someone who, despite a computer malfunction, alarm clock mishap or medical emergency, still managed to pass the test.

For instance, a friend and former colleague of mine, I’ll call him Jim, brought a regular wristwatch with a digital date function to the California Bar Exam and showed it to the proctor. The proctor told Jim he could use it to keep time during the test. But about an hour into the first essay portion, the proctor apparently changed his mind, pulled Jim out of the exam for about 40 minutes while his supervisor wrote up the “incident,” then sent Jim back in to take the test.

Assuming he had failed for sure, Jim continued to work on the exam with absolutely no pressure, since he thought there was no way to make up for the lost time. And three months later he found out he had passed, after failing the previous half-dozen exams over the course of several years.

Lawyers, share your stories with the next generation nervously awaiting their results. Did you pass the bar when odds were against you?