Memories of Bar Hell
The worst thing you will ever do
During your application to law school, every lawyer your family knows comes out of the woodwork to tell you how school was for them. They warn you about how stressful the first year is, how boring school is in the third year, how they could never figure out some stupid rule the English came up a thousand years ago, and so on. What they don't tell you is that studying for and taking the bar is the worst thing you will ever do.
My friends and I all went through the terrible anxiety of going to class day after day as 1Ls, of working hard without any indication of how we would do on our finals and then agonizing over grades, journals, and what firms were the best. After our summer jobs, many of us spent our third years trying to distance ourselves as much as possible from the reality that work would soon steal away every free moment we had for the rest of our lives. The one thing we overlooked, of course, was the bar. Six simple letters that strike sensations of fear and rage into every young attorney, the bar stands as the last hurdle between the nineteen years one has devoted to education and the right to practice law.
The New York Bar is broken into two days, with one day consisting of state specific essays and multiple choice questions and the other day consisting of the Multistate Bar Exam, covering the basics of common law in two hundred multiple choice questions. To manage so much information, most law students take a prep course from Bar Bri, which usually means sitting in a classroom with dozens of other kids taking notes from a videotaped lecture for four hours every day from late May until mid July. Added joy comes from Bar Bri telling you to study another few hours every day and to prepare for each class by reading the telephone book sized outlines they distribute. Bar Bri administers practice exams, suggests that you take various supplemental classes (at extra cost and another eight hours of your life), and generally tries to force you to work extremely hard. I think my friends and I started working hard after Fourth of July weekend, which gave us the terror of having to learn an unbelievable amount of subject matter in approximately three weeks or face eternal humiliation.
~ The main event
I had the great luck of having my brother chauffeur me to and from the bar, allowing me to focus on the exam and any last minute studying instead of trying to hail a cab or navigate the streets of Albany, New York. Once he dropped me off, I bumped into a friend from Penn Law who, despite being the most carefree student in my class, couldn't bring himself to look up from his index cards to chat. Seeing how nervous he was fueled the light feeling in my own chest, and I took to pacing the spacious, cold lobby of the museum in which I took the bar, trying to clear my mind and remind myself that the ordeal was over -- no matter what -- in a few hours.
The proctors herded us into a giant test room, I found a seat marked with my test ticket number and sat down. Then I laid out a few pencils, pens, bottled water, a watch, a giant bag of chocolate covered espresso beans, and some sandwiches. I took the New York multiple choice test first and guessed wildly on 23 out of 25 questions. A friend who nearly aced the LSAT and who had studied endlessly for the bar later told me that he was quite sure he had failed the bar based solely on those horrible 25 questions. The essays, however, tend to be straightforward. Contrary to some law school tests, the bar tends to spell out all the issues for you and grade more on how well you can recite the relevant law than how clever an issue spotter you are.
By the second day of the bar, the nervousness I felt on the first day gave way to a sense of rage. Reciting the basic law in areas in which I would never practice struck me as absurd, and I felt bitter that it was stealing a weeks of my life. I managed to finish the test first out of the hundreds of kids in my test center and dashed home in a giant traffic jam of burned out lawyer larvae. Months later, with nary a week passing without me cringing at the thought of failing, I found out that I passed. I felt a huge sense of relief rather than accomplishment; as if I dodged a land mine rather than won a battle. At least I wasn't the guy who failed.