The New York Bar Exam – Part 1

In your life, you have those moments you’ll remember for years to come, those moments that seem cemented in your nervous system, the sites, the smell, the surroundings, all of it.

Exactly a year ago today, I was in Albany, NY, about to go through a moment of my own: the bar exam. So much in my life has changed since those three nights at the Holiday Inn Express, and I lived to tell the tale. I write this reminiscing that fateful night. Many of my law school friends are going through their own moments at this very hour. I write this in their honor. This is for all of you bar-takers.

*     *     *

It’s truly a right of passage. After three years of the good, the bad, and the ugly, you have the high of finally graduating, earning that valuable (arguably not so much anymore) juris doctorate. You’ve had enough lectures, term papers, mock trials. You are a gangly white from all those hours under florescent lighting in the stuffy, windowless trap they call the library (especially if you went to my law school). You’re done, free at least, initially not knowing what to do with free time on your hands.

Well, at least for a few days, maybe a week.

You’re in the eye of the storm, in the midst of that nervous calm, your fingers trembling slightly, as you wait and brace for a mad whipping through June and July.

Getting to Albany was a pain. I could have been smart like the rest of my buddies- take the train! But no, I opted for fancy air travel, and ended up transferring through Boston’s Logan. My flight out of Reagan National left at 6:30 am, and I think I landed in Albany sometime around 2:30 pm. This was Monday before the storm (of Tuesday and Wednesday), and I had spent precious hours in the plane and sipping bad coffee in airports. Sure, I nervously flipped through my outlines, but honestly, my blind was slowly going blank. The liters of coffee and energy drinks were taking a toll; I just had to hang on for the next two days. Not a problem. But I just could not get my mind to focus on the ink and scribbles on my outlines.

After arriving at my Holiday Inn Express, I reserved a spot on a free shuttle for the next morning to the Desmond Hotel, my testing center. Surprisingly, there were already hosts of nervous, whacked out law grads lined up for shuttle service. I barely saved a spot.

I was hungry, and my roommate had not arrived yet (he had overslept and missed our flight out of DC). I asked the front desk if there were any decent eateries around within walking distance, and he just went off, as if he was describing a list of amusement park rides for fifth graders. I nearly cut him off and dragged myself outside, turned to my right (with no logical reason or thought) and kept walking until I hit an Olive Garden. Take-out chicken parmesan and a Mountain Dew from the vending machine, in my hotel room, watching Sports Center. That’s how I spent those precious first hours in Albany.

I’d like to tell you that I spent hours poring over my outlines, rummaging through decks of flashcards, cranking out last minute sample essays. I didn’t. More accurately, I couldn’t. I was just so damn nervous that I couldn’t keep my mind straight.

It’s ok to be nervous. After all, it’s the bar exam for crying out loud! At moments like that, you must drop what you’re doing, grab yourself a Diet Coke, plunk down in your comfy Holiday Inn queen-sized bed, and watch meaningless reruns of Sports Center. Get those cobwebs out of your system. Breathe. Eat. Relax.

I did manage to review some subjects that dark Monday before New York day. You already have that top ten hit list from BarBri (or something comparable from Kaplan or elsewhere), so you go through some of the heavy-hitting nightmares (Contracts, New York Practice, Property, so on). And you also know what you suck at, so go ahead and review those as well.

What I didn’t do (wisely, now that I look back) was go through more sample questions and essays. I knew I would get some wrong, and I knew that would bring fits by the fistful.

Sleep is crucial. Don’t trust your brain to function on four hours of sleep before your essays; you’re asking for it then. My roommate finally got there (we can laugh about it now), and after nervously going through some outlines together, quizzing each other on some hot topics (not always a good idea, especially if one person seems to know more than the other, the emphasis being on the “seems to”), I took a hot shower and slept.

Nervous as hell? Check. Felt like I wasn’t prepared? Check. The weight of the world crushing down on what frail of a body and soul you have left? Check.

My friends, welcome to the New York Bar Exam.

To be continued…

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