After I passed the California Bar Exam in 2009, an East Coast colleague of mine said, “congratulations. I heard California is the second hardest exam.” I smiled and retorted, “funny. I thought New York was the second hardest.” According to an Above the Law article, bar results from the February 2016 administration of both the NY and CA exams were horrific, with only 32% of California retakers passing. You can see comprehensive statistics on the California State Bar website here.
The process of law school is a humbling one. The intense reading assignments coupled with the dreaded Socratic Method, not to mention the pressure of grades and extra-curricular activities, is enough to turn boys into men and certainly weeds out those who simply can’t cut it. But even after surviving law school, graduates soon learn that the Bar exam is a world unto itself.
Even in the best of circumstances, recounting on my own bar exam experience still makes me nauseas. And I know I’m not the only one. My father, who passed the bar over forty years ago would still prefer to talk about anything else on the planet than the nightmarish bar exam. One of my friends had to duck and cover under the exam table as there was a 5.4 magnitude earthquake during her exam in July, 2008. I have a cousin who is a successful Texas attorney. Most of our family is in California, though, and he has seriously considered relocating to California. However, the one major roadblock is that he does not want to sit again for another bar exam.
When I took it, I was 8 months pregnant with my first child. Despite having to deal with pregnancy-induced memory loss (which IS real) and all the other joyous symptoms associated with pregnancy while studying for the bar, I somehow passed on the first try. I will never forget the young man sitting in the row behind me, all the way against the wall. On the first day of the exam, he opened a bag of throat lozenges and every few minutes would open one and pop it into his mouth. The sounds of the wrappers crinkling and him sucking on the candies distracted everyone nearby. At the beginning of the second day, when the administrator read off the list of prohibited items to bring into the exam room, one gentleman said “this guy has candies and it’s bothering everyone.” The defendant proudly exclaimed that he was not eating candies, but throat lozenges, which fall under the medical needs exception. Then someone asked if he could please open all the lozenges at the beginning of the day so the room does not need to hear each individual opening and the defendant simply said “no, I don’t have to.” To this day, I’m sure he was trying to bring down the rest of us to his own benefit and I will always wonder if he passed.
In any event, passing the bar was a huge accomplishment for me on a personal level and I congratulate everyone else who passed, whether it was 40 years ago or 4 months ago.
Lawyer and legal writer, Julie worked primarily in real estate law before focusing her career on the social media and marketing aspects of the legal industry.