Bar Exam Horror Stories (A Round-Up From Years Gone By)

The author, studying for the bar, July 1985.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. When all of those new law graduates sweat out not just getting jobs, but more importantly, passing the bar exam.  And how do I know they’re all anxious, sweating away the days even when studying in air-conditioned comfort? Because my blog keeps getting hit by those Googling “Bar Exam Horror Stories” and similar searches.

They’re hitting this spot because, it seems, I’ve hosted some of the best ones to be found. And because they are actively looking for something to do on the web instead of studying.

And so without further ado, a slightly revised re-post from last year to help fuel the anxiety of those last vomit-inducing days, my annual round-up of miserable bar exam stories…

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I think it’s only fair, as recent law grads work and sweat and cram and get all anxious about the bar exam, to remind them of some things.

First, that’s how you’ll feel if you try a case. Or make an appellate argument.

Second, the New York bar exam has had a couple of legendary screw-ups, and I’m here to remind you during your moments of insecurity, nausea and panic about them. I’d like to think it’s part of my job, but really, I’m just having fun at your expense.

First, there was the 1985 exam, which you can see me studying for in the photo, taken 25 years ago this month. That is not a laptop  you see next to me, as they hadn’t been invented yet. Just an old fashioned, hard-covered, briefcase.

That was the exam where the multi-state test results disappeared. As in gone. Vanished. Lost, stolen or teleported to another dimension, the great disappearing act was never solved.  That was for the 500+ people  that took the test inside one of the New York Passenger Ship Terminals on the west side of Manhattan.

I know first hand about that 1985 test: Your Bar Exam Answer Sheet is Gone — Now What? About 500 people had to re-take the exam. But not me, even though I was one of the unlucky ones. Click the link and see why.

Lest you think that was the only time our trusty bar examiners fouled up, fear not, they managed to do it again in 2007 by losing some essay answers that were typed on laptops, due to a software crash.

But that 2007 story seemed to go on, and on. To fix the problem of missing answers, the bar examiners decided to do a grade approximation. Trust us, they said, to get it right this second time. Trusting them might not have been such a good idea though, as a question arose due to an anonymous comment on this blog as to how, exactly, they did that approximation. It included giving a grade of 3/10 for an essay that was never written because the guy ran out of time.

And then the story got weirder still, after I called up and found out that an unknown appeals process existed at the New York State Board of Law Examiners. Lawyers creating a secret appeals process? Just how weird is that? An anonymous test-taker blogged his experience here, in the rest of that entry that followed my call.

But wait, there’s more! The guy who took the exam, the one who was told he had failed and then anonymously blogged his experience here, then went public under his real name, Eric Zeni. He successfully appealed, after after being told there was no appeal process. He had argued his first case and won. Zeni was sworn in as an attorney early in 2008. He now practices law out on Long Island.

And then there was 2008 in Virginia,where another software glitch fouled up the essays. You can read that sad story here: Virginia Bar Exam Foul Up? (Can the Bar Examiners Be Beaten in Court?)

Is there a lesson in all this? Yes there is. The law isn’t perfect, and neither is the process of minting new lawyers. The right side usually wins in court, but not always. If you represent people in private practice you will, at some time, face down not only miserable facts, but fundamental unfairness. And sometimes, even when you do everything right, you will still lose. Or your client will. Or both.

Life is like that. You prepare like crazy, you dot your those “i”s and cross those “t”s and hope like hell that your preparation pays off. But. Just in case. Knock twice on the wooden desk and bring your rabbit’s foot.

And one last thing: If you are studying for the bar, why the hell are you out there looking for bar exam horror stories?

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