Bar Exam Memories — and How to Celebrate Until Work Begins

Congratulations to all of the recent JDs finishing up their bar exam today! I thought I’d start an open thread for those of us past the experience to share our stressful memories, as well as to share the fonder memories of the celebrations and relaxations that followed. I’ll start.

I always like to look at this picture, taken of my then-dorm room wall a few weeks before the bar exam. (My DC lease ended in May, but my NYC lease didn’t start until September, so I opted to spend the summer in an NYU dorm.) Along with the few pieces of “artwork” I traveled with and a few pictures of family and friends, you can see that here I’ve also Scotch-taped to the wall all the important things: papers listing important criminal procedure facts, as well as the different levels of murder that one can be charged with under both New York and multi-state law. Or something — I don’t really remember any of it now.

The few memories I have of the exam itself are fairly intense ones. I took all my little Scotch-taped charts with me and hung them around my hotel room in Albany. I even taped them to the bathroom mirror so I could review them while brushing my teeth. Most of my memories are of the hotel room — this dank, horrible hotel room where I was surrounded by my crazy-person papers and the largest ants I had ever seen in my life.  I remember peering into the bathroom mirror (between the papers) and realizing, for the first time, that I could see several gray hairs sticking straight up out of my temple. I was 26. I remember coming back between day 1 and day 2 and trying to relax by renting the frothy teen comedy What a Girl Wants — and I remember hysterically sobbing at one plot point in the movie (a father/daughter disagreement? a misunderstanding? who knows) and knowing that my reaction to the movie was way, way out of proportion to the movie itself. (Honestly, the only thing that can compare to it is my memory of watching The Thornbirds, which is a miniseries made for sobbing anyway.) I remember sitting in a huge auditorium (a football stadium, maybe) and trying my best to remember every piece of information I’d poured into my head, and trying to work some BarBri-sanctioned advice  where they’d told us to guess (C) for every question we were unsure of and then come back to devote more time to the question if and when we could. I also remember booking it out of Albany for the train back to NYC. On the train I found myself surrounded by fellow Bar Survivors, and collectively we broke the rule that you never talk about the substance of a test after you take it.  It was strangely cathartic, like we couldn’t not talk about it. I remember buying a bag of popcorn for the trainride home for “lunch” — when I got to New York I joined some friends who were already celebrating with liquid libations at someone’s apartment, which stands out separately as one of the Most Drunk Nights, ever, in my life.

The next day, horribly hung over, I had about 24 hours to pack up everything and get out of NYU because the summer lease was ending, and also to pack for my bar trip — heading to London and Paris for two weeks to shop. As it turned out this was a fantastically horrible decision — not only was it blisteringly hot, but most of the good shops and restaurants were closed in Paris, it being August and all. It was my first time traveling alone, and I remember really, really enjoying the silence and the chance to empty my head. I remember that when the Blackout of 2003 happened, I was in a Paris hotel room watching the TV news, telling me that my brother in NYC (then in the midst of interview week for his law school), my mother in Cleveland, and my father — in Detroit on business — were all without power. Once I got back to America I spent a few weeks in Ohio with my parents, friends and family there, and then moved to NYC officially, where I had about 2 weeks to settle into my new apartment and catch up with NYC friends.

I remember the day the scores came out, also, huddling over my computer in the early morning hours and feeling vindication when I saw my name.  Take that, gray hairs, I said to myself.  That day at work, my fellow first years and I whispered our relief to one another until we ascertained that everyone had passed, and then the excited buzz grew to a more jovial mood.  That night, it was like our summer all over again — all 50 of us went out to celebrate together.

Readers with JDs, what was your bar exam experience like?  Where did you go on your bar trip?

Comments

  1. SF Bay Associate :

    CA bar takers aren’t done until Thursday. Stay strong!

    • Same for Texas – hang in there ladies!

      • yes! i was just about to say this. the ca bar is THREE LONG DAYS and even though i’ve taken it and passed, i nearly fainted when i saw kat congratulating people on finishing. i remember on monday, i sent a text to all my friends (a lot of them were taking 2 day bars because i went to law school in boston) warning them that i was not done until THURSDAY and i did not want to hear from them until then.

        • Barrister in the Bayou :

          I took the Louisiana Bar which is mostly essay with no MBE component. It is three full days long (MWF). I have some friends sitting through it right now and just the thought of it makes me shudder (I sat last July).

          • Arpent Noir :

            did they tell you that the examiners dropped a completely different test on us? I’d cry if it wasn’t so funny that we get to be the guinea pigs for the committee’s animosity towards BarBri.

      • There is a Silver Lining – benefit to the bar exam. I met my husband Larry when I took the bar, and we are now expecting our 2nd Child!!!!!

    • MA isn’t over yet either

    • I remember this too. This is going back 15 years now, but I also remember drinking alot after the exam, and waking up in some dumb dufuses’ apartment who had bought me 3 Bloody Mary’s the night before at the Zanzibar! What a summer!

  2. I took the bar exam on my birthday a whole bunch of years ago. Probably the worst birthday other than my 16th which, like the movie, my parents forgot. Oh well – that’s the problem with summer birthdays. At least my niece was born on my birthday so she is helping to replace those painful memories of sitting for the bar exam. Good luck to all the soon to be lawyers today!

  3. I took the bar the same year you did Kat! I was having a spa day with a friend when the blackout happened. That was my treat to myself after surviving the NY and the CT bar. Thankfully we had just finished all of our treatments when the power went off!

    And that is really the only thing I remember about the summer I took the bar exam!

  4. Georgiana Starlington :

    I’m one of those annoying people who barely studied and found the bar exam waaaaay less horrible than I thought it would be. It helps that I took the bar in Alabama. It also helps that I am one of those people who is just comfortable with taking tests. Our Barbri class was evenings in a hotel in my hometown, there were 8 of us, I was the Barbri rep and thus in charge, and after the second week, we decided it was time to start drinking during class. Several of my friends were in the class and we made it fun. The exam experience itself wasn’t too bad – I was upgraded to a suite because of my dad’s hotel points, we had a half-day the first day so I got in a nap and a bit more review, I got a little tipsy the celebrating a friend’s birthday the night before the MBE.

    My post-Bar trip to Greece fell through (friend who had relatives in Greece was a victim of the Class of 2010 job market and didn’t want to spend money he might need for rent). Fortunately, we did a family trip to NYC instead (my first time there), and enjoyed several Broadway shows, shopping, and lots of touristy stuff. Then a quick weekend trip to a couple Cardinals games with my Dad, then I started work 2 weeks after the bar. I hated starting so early, but I had paid rent on both my law school apartment and my “grown-up” apartment all summer and I hadn’t taken a bar loan so I needed the money. I actually didn’t have many friends who took big bar trips…a function of the changing economic picture, I guess.

    We were scheduled to get bar results on a Friday in September, so a group of us booked a condo at the beach for that weekend to celebrate. Thursday morning, I got a phone call from a friend on my way to work telling me I’d passed. I nearly wrecked my car and dropped my cream-cheesed bagel on my suit skirt. I checked the list for all my friends’ names, and most of the day was spent Gchatting with friends to figure out who didn’t pass. Several beers at lunch that day, an unproductive afternoon at the offfice, a very drunken celebration that night. Friday we were all hungover and gave up on getting anything done at about noon and left for the beach, where we all immediately took naps to recover from Thursday night.

    • I also didn’t think it was as bad as expected. I worked at my firm and then went to class at night that summer. I also did my fair share of socializing. I took PMBR and BarBri and kept up with most of the work.

      I went to the test and it was the first time NY used computers. That was a hot mess. People lost bits and pieces of their exams. I hoped everything would be ok with my exam and it was.

      I went to Costa Rica with two friends for a road trip around the coutnry. Amazing!

  5. I have never felt as stupid as I did after Day 2 of the California bar. I went back home and crawled into bed: it felt like my brain was leaking out my ears. And this was after sitting (successfully) the exam in two other states! But California, man, that was ugly.

    I swore after Day 3 that I was never taking another standardized test again. It’s been 14 years and I haven’t broken the vow.

    • Day 2 sucks. I remember every question seemed to have two right answers. I thought I had surely failed after Day 2. Was so happy when I passed that I also had one of my drunkest.nights.ever. I feel for those taking it today!

    • After Day 2 of the California bar exam (multiple choice hell), I was pretty sure I had failed, but I showed up on Day 3 (which turned out to be the easiest day). At least a third of the people in my exam hall (Oakland convention center) did not bother to show up for the third day. Yikes.

  6. NYCMom of Two :

    I took the bar exam in the 90s–because on the blackout day in 2003 I was again walking down 48 flights of stairs from my office, in the dark, and walking home 80+ blocks, eerily reminiscent of 9/11 for some downtown NYers. I took the NYS bar exam at the Javitz Center in NYC. I don’t remember much about it (Pieper’s advice: bring a hoodie in case you end up sitting near an HVAC and bring your lunch because the only McDonald’s nearby is sure to fill up fast with a gabillion bar examinees that day). The July results come out in November. This is before they were available online–you got a letter in the mail on a Thursday and about a week later they were published in the law journal. I didn’t get my letter on Thursday (the night EVERYONE I knew had received them, and either drank to celebrate or drank to forget). Or the next day. Or the next. Stories of fat envelopes (allegedly with a new application) danced in my head (the theory being the fat envelope took longer to arrive). I bordered on… ok, was hysterical. And then (after calling the Board of Bar Examiners trying (and failing) to get some intel), got the notice I passed the next day in the mail, skinny envelope and all. Just late mail. What do I remember most? Not getting the envelope on time.

    • This almost exactly mirrors my experience. Rumors were flying with law school friends that I had failed. Miserable week. I don’t even remember the actual exam, but I definitely remember the feeling of panic when the letter didn’t come on time. I ended up having to wait until the results were posted on the website to learn I’d passed. Awful.

      • Oh – and no bar trip. Similar to some of the others, I was doing an unpaid thing while I was deferred and was definitely broke.

        Instead, I laid on the couch in a comforter with my dogs for the entire next day. My now-hubby came home from work that day to find me drunk, wrapped up on the couch, with a mostly-gone 18pack of BudLight (cowboy cold) on the floor, watching reruns of bad television. It was better than a bar trip.

  7. You’d think a decade between me and the NY Bar would lessen the Battle Fatigue/PTSD. But no.

    The Albany Airport Residence Inn: $200 a night I did not have.

    Thought I was taking the exam at the Pepsi Arena. Did a practice drive the night before. Looked at my admission ticket the next morning: Marriott. Biggest panic of my life.

    The three hours on the Thruway back to the city are a blur. All I can really remember are collapsing on the kitchen floor in an exhausted stupor and my then-boyfriend taking me for sushi.

    Spent next three weeks looking for my own apartment. Locked into a 2-year lease at exorbitant monthly rent. Started work in August. September 2001 pretty much sucked. Housing market took a dive. Still locked into 2 years of exorbitant monthly rent.

    My salad days. Aaah. So poor. So happy.

  8. I honestly didn’t think it was that horrendous, other than the fact it’s just so long. i did suffer on the commercial paper question, but I worked on the theory everyone else was suffering, too, so we’d all still pass. My most annoying memory was standing in line for the restroom, actually, because whoever designed the javitts center in new york failed to account for how slow women are compared to men when it comes to the restroom (I want legislation that mandates women’s restrooms be at least double the size of men’s).

    No bar trip. I graduated in 2010. Most of us were lacking the immediate promise of a BigLaw salary that is important for a really awesome bar trip. I actually moved to DC the week after the bar exam to start work (For a Congressman who lost 3 and a half months later. But I found a new job and got to move back to new york, so it turned out ok). My “bar trip” was two days at home when I went down to get my car from my parent’s house. But I just took a trip to Britain last week as sort of a delayed bar trip. It only took a year.

    • oh, and the results. that was actually more nerve-wracking than the test because they leaked a day early on above the law while I was at work. I spent about an hour in agony trying to decide whether to look. A friend gchatted me to tell me I passed, which solved that problem, but the other guy in the office who had taken the same bar as me did not pass, which made it slightly awkard.

  9. I took the bar exam while 7 months pregnant. It was not as bad as I thought it would be, but was not an enjoyable experience. Afterwards I met my husband at a local diner type place and ate lots of greasy comfort food. I then relaxed at home for 2 months until my baby was born! Then started my lawyer job and the rest is history!

    • anon-oh-no :

      i did this too, though it was my 2nd bar and as a result, i generally found the whole thing easier. i also asked to be put in a room with my husband, you know “just in case,” and they sat me right next to him. My first state did the same thing when i asked to be put at the same location in albany b/c we only had one car.

    • Anonymous :

      Wow, good for you! During the last trimester too, that’s tough.

    • Divaliscious11 :

      Me too…., although I only had 2 weeks before having to go start my clerkship. The worst was the NY bar in 2001 had n corporations/business associations, but the last question was Rule Against Perpetuities…… Was sure I failed but nope!

    • a friend of mine took (and passed!) the CA bar about 6 weeks after giving birth. How she studied with a newborn, I have no idea, but she did it!

  10. It’s significantly more depressing and less celebratory to finish taking the bar exam, only to look out into a vast horizon of unemployment. So, most of the people I know from my top-20 school did not take bar trips (2010) … we took whatever time we needed to come to grips with our situations, and then started sending out letters to volunteer places before we could land paying gigs.

  11. Maddie Ross :

    Ugh, I suffered through it twice. Once in the summer for one state, and again in February for another. The second time was not nearly as bad though — mostly because I already knew I could do it and because my first one was Virginia where I had to wear a suit. My memories of the July bar all include day one, where the air conditioning went out in the ballroom where the computer-test-takers were doing their essays. It took until after lunch before they finally let the guys remove their jackets and ties. It was torture! And to add insult to injury, the lining of my Ann Taylor suit fell out — literally — while I was walking in and pooled around my ankle. That was officially the last AT suit I ever bought. Like Kat, I also went back to my law school apartment after the exam and had 24 hours to pack everything and move for my clerkship. I started my clerkship 10 days after the bar. In retrospect, I wish I took a bar trip.

    • Virginia makes bar examinees wear suits during the exam?!? Why? That’s terrible!

      • Maddie Ross :

        It’s a crazy archaic rule. It’s explained as “you’ll have to wear a suit when practicing law, so you should wear one while proving you should be allowed to practice law.” Mostly, I think it’s one of those “I did it and lived through it, you should have to do the same” type of things and the examiners refuse to change. It’s really not so bad – I was too focused to notice. The funny part is wearing your suit with non-marking shoes, i.e. sneakers. Everyone looks ridiculous.

      • Betty White :

        And it has to be a conservative suit–no seersucker, no funny 80s pink suits (lots of jokesters coming from VA)–or they can turn you away!

        • There was at least one guy in seersucker last July! And a bow-tie too, if I remember right (most of that time period is a blur).

        • Another Sarah :

          I saw one girl today in a cordoroy skirt and a pink leather (!) blazer. So it all depends on which proctor is paying attention at the time, I suppose…

          • Katie in DC :

            Just finished up the VA bar exam this year. I wore a basic black suit with hose the first day, just in case, no one was sure how strict they were going to be about the “professional” attire; but after seeing one fellow examinee in velcro sandals and a cotton sundress, I figured I’d leave the hose at home for day two. Also, they changed the rules this year: no longer required (allowed?) to wear sneakers.

            Right now, I’m just glad I’m done.

  12. I’m a ’09 grad who moved to another state for work. I have a medical condition where I have to keep health insurance. I remember the stress of whether my husband could move with me during the bar summer (aka, would he find new work quick) or would he have to stay in old state to keep me on his insurance. He found work and we moved flawlessly.

    I took two states at once so I had the three day marathon. State one was held at a law school next to a beautiful park. At lunch I just had to unwind so I visited the ducks, rode the slides and the swings. Then I got a call (while still at lunch) from my husband that he had bought $200 worth of groceries and locked himself out of the house with them melting in the car. DUDE – I’M TAKING THE BAR!!!!! So I had to leave my house key with reception so he could get it and get back into the house and not lose the groceries.

    Day two, immediatly after the bar, friend and I drove to state two and checked into our hotel. Neither of us had studied for state two at all. We were going to do a hail mary pass for it. We both reviewed for state two that night for a few hours, studying the Barbri distinctions. B/c of my aforementioned medical condition, I was taking the state two bar in a smaller room near a bathroom. I remember my room being so much less chaotic. Other room was nuts and someone passed out, someone threw up, etc. Glad I was in the chill “special” room.

    The thing I remember most is not caring at all about the traffic after the bar. I usually have panic attacks in bad city traffic (see medical condition that requires bathroom access.) After the bar I was in a crowded car in traffic for hours and felt more relaxed then I ever felt in my life.

    When I got home, hubby had a bottle of premium tequila waiting for me and was ready to take me out partying. I took two shots and fell asleep and slept the best I think I have ever slept.

  13. My father very kindly paid for me to spend 3 nights (so I wouldn’t have to worry about checking out the morning of the second day of the exam) in a luxury hotel in downtown Chicago within walking distance of my exam site. It was great to be comfortable and in a relaxing environment. I didn’t bring any books or study materials with me, because at that point, I would only have driven myself crazy, and I didn’t even bring my computer. The night before the exam I practiced walking to the exam site so I wouldn’t get lost and then went to the gym, and the night between the two exam days I ordered room service and watched brain-candy TV shows. I had lunch both days with a law school classmate, and the night after I finished, I got a pedicure and a 2L friend doing her summer associateship in Chicago took me out for dinner and drinks.

    I passed, and I’m so glad I relaxed instead of endlessly stressing myself out until the end.

    • Oh, no bar trip. I’m a public interest lawyer and couldn’t afford it.

      • Suzy Borman :

        Same here. And I think that a lot of my classmates (’09) who booked these trips months in advance and then got deferred are very sorry they did a bar trip at all.

    • My dad paid for me to stay in a nice hotel right next to the exam site also! It was so nice not to worry about getting up early, fighting traffic and finding a parking spot downtown. It was also nice to not worry about meals, since I ordered in for lunch. I was able to just relax before the afternoon session.

  14. Associette :

    One of my favorite memories – of all time – was that my then boyfriend, now husband, walked me to my seat at the bar exam and then took his. We both passed.

    I didn’t take a bar trip because after three years of law school – living an entire summer without pay – and knowing that I didn’t start at my new job until September, I was low on cash.

    Getting the results was probably the most nervous I have ever been! I kept imagining the conversation that I would have to have with the partners if I failed. “So, I failed…what next?” Luckily, I never had to have that convo! Few.

  15. So, slightly different than the bar exam but for fun I’ll chime in on my general surgery oral boards experience, which is fresh in my head.

    We take a multiple choice test in August, and then if you pass that you sign up for the orals. Offered in 4 different citites at 4 different times a year, the orals are 3 30 minute sessions. They are at a very nice hotel in town (mine was at the Omni on Michigan Avenue in Chicago). After a brief intro session, you are given your assigned rooms. You rotate through three different rooms, each with two examiners, who ask you questions about the management of surgical disease. Not only is that aspect intimidating, but the examiners are titans in the field — I entered a room and thought, yep, I’ve read his text book.

    I wisely picked Chicago in early May, did a 4 day cram course in a suburban Hyatt across from a giant mall — I could have literally been in any suburb in America it was almost disorienting.

    You’re assigned one of several sessions over three days. I was assigned the morning session on the last day, so had two days in Chicago. I was planning to study but actually did very little, instead working out, taking long walks, eating good meals with a very good friend.

    My coresident took it the first afternoon, and we discussed his answers afterwards. I had a sinking feeling that he had made major errors, but didn’t tell him.

    The actual test was blindingly fast — as we waited outside our rooms to be escorted in, I made small talk with the candidates around me, but literally do not remember their faces. The actual sessions went faster than I could have imagined. At one point, I made an examiner laugh, which I thought was good, and at another I realized an obvious mistake and cringed audibly, which also made them laugh.

    I left, feeling pretty confident, ate some breakfast, headed to the airport and flew home, unable to concentrate on a book or movie. Over the next 24 hours, I became steadily more convinced I failed, to the extent that I couldn’t sleep and was sick to my stomach. Every micro-mistake I made took on epic proportions, and failure was pretty realistic in my view.

    Fortunately, the results were released at noon the following day, and I logged on and was delighted to find out that I had passed (pass rate is 76%, so failure is actually not unrealistic). Unfortunately, my friend who had taken it did not.

    Due to our relocation, my husband had actually moved us out of our house while I was in Chicago, but I ordered myself a new purse to celebrate.

  16. Anonymous :

    I got deferred a week before I sat the bar last summer — so I spent the majority of the two days trying not to cry and dodging questions from friends about whether I’d set my start date with my firm. No thanks to the firm, I passed the bar

    • That’s just mean – would it have killed them to wait a week?

    • Was this Quinn Emanuel? I seem to recall reading something about that on Above the Law back in the day and thinking it was uniquely heartless and unnecessary to defer everyone two days before the Bar exam.

      • My firm did a similar thing! We had to give them a decision re: defering until January, public interest for a year, or outright leaving (with a cash sum) during the time everyone was studying the bar. I advised the firm of my decision well in advance, HOWEVER, the day before the final decision was due, I got a call from a managing partner “strongly advising” me to change my mind. It sent me into a panic while I scrambled to figure out what to do. Needless to say, I didn’t need the additional pressure on job things while studying for the bar, and it made me very ressentful and anxious.

        Nevertheless, I approached bar prep with a “this is my 9-5 job” mentality and never studied more hours in the day than BarBri recommended. I still socialized and saw my friends and family up until the final 2 weeks. I honestly don’t remember much of the exam itself, but I do remember that I stayed in a hotel with a friend who was extremely nervous most of the time, which actually helped counter-balance me. I saw a movie inbetween the test days, and on the final night went out drinking with friends (still in my hotel). I was incommunicado with internet and e-mail when the results were released early my year, so I did not know they were released early, until a friend called to tell me I passed. So I got to skip the nervous checking and waiting. Once I got over the firm/work drama, it wasn’t so bad!

  17. I took the AZ bar last summer. I was relieved that the bar itself was much less terrible than the studying leading up to it. I had decided to drive back from Phoenix to Tucson directly after the bar because I just wanted to be home and done with it all. A monsoon storm started just as I drove out of the parking garage. Between the torrential downpours and a later dust storm, the hour and a half drive took three. The margarita I had that night was the best I’ve ever tasted.

  18. This isn’t a particularly exciting story, but it brightened up the bar-related misery a little: I stayed with family between day one and day two, but for some reason I was on my own for dinner, so, not wanting to be bothered with anything, I ran out to a trashy little Taco Bell/KFC/gas station off the interstate to grab a burrito. As I’m in line making my order, two cops come rushing in. Turns out, one of the cashiers had accidentally hit the secret hold up alarm under the counter. Whoops!

    Anyway, the cops, once they realized that nothing was actually wrong, decided they might as well grab a bite, and we stood around chatting for a little bit while waiting for our food. It was nice and not at all bar related, which was a relief. As I was leaving with my dinner, I heard one of the cops say to his partner, “Well, that wasn’t so bad a call. We got to talk to a cute girl.”

    Made going back a little bit brighter!

  19. This is an awesome thread. Two thoughts, both from after the bar. My boyfriend at the time (now hubs) and I had studied in the same town all summer (but separate apartments) and it had been a wonderful summer. We were both able to study in the way that we needed and supported each other marvelously. The night after the bar exam we went drinking with a bunch of people and go into one of the worst fights we have ever had to this day. It was about nothing, I am sure, but we were both so exhausted and wrecked that it just spiraled out of control. Tread lightly right after the exam, especially when you add heavy drinking.

    A few days later, while on a road trip, I got bit by something and broke out in hives ALL over my body. Over 100 of them. I had been so calm and organized before the bar, but I think my body was still in high alert mode. I’ve never had that reaction before (or after). Lesson #2, be gentle with yourself, physically and mentally, right afterwards!

  20. Not a lawyer, but this brings me back to the summer of qualifying exams for my PhD program. In my program’s structure, you take these exams for the first time in the summer after your first year. If you fail, you get one more chance (2nd semester of your 2nd year) before you are booted from the program. There is a month between the end of the semester and the exams. I lived about an hour and a half from school, so I had to get up really early. I remember calling my husband frantically on the bus ride to campus because I had hit snooze on the alarm rather than re-setting it for his wake-up time. I was so out of it. I also remember arriving to the exam site so early that the doors were all still locked (yup, I am that kind of person). The exam lasted two days. I had a party for my classmates after it was over, and then spaced out for the rest of the summer. We didn’t have a specific date to receive results, so I got a random email about two months later indicating that I had passed. Whew! It’s funny – the actual studying and test-taking weren’t that bad. But the psychological burden and fear of failure – that was brutal!

    • We had written qualifying exams after the first year. Not too bad, but I do remember a question or two that had the 6 of us in the room taking the exam (we were left alone in the department conference room, all sitting at one big table, I guess they trusted us) looking at each other like, WTF is this??

      At the end of the second year, we had oral qualifying exams that basically consisted of writing up a research proposal and then “defending” it in front of group of about 5 faculty members. I turned in the written proposal and then had some time to develop the oral part. I got so sick of the thing, I remember spending the weekend before that reading “Pillars of the Earth.” I read that sucker in about 2 days.

    • 2 day quals? Wow! We defended our proposals, then 2 weeks later were given a set of 2 to 4 questions to write essay answers–10 to 35 pages–on, due in 3 days. 1 day off, then repeat for a total of 3 cycles. At the end, I had about a week to pack up and head off for my diss research.

  21. A Regular Lurker :

    What a cute idea! I was in college in 2003 and happened to be in NYC in 2003 on a trip with my parents during the blackout. We had just purchased tickets from the TKTS booth when Times Square went dark. It was definitely eerie watching people pour out of their office buildings and to see the packed buses leaving the city. My mom figured we should buy sandwiches as quickly as possible, so we had a nice “picnic” dinner in Central Park before dark. Fortunately, our hotel was able to cope with the blackout and escorted everyone to their rooms by candlelight and used big, old-fashioned keys to open the doors. We fell asleep early because there really wasn’t anything to do.

    Fast-forward to the summer of 2010, when I was taking the bar exam: the night before the exam, as I was getting ready for bed and doing some last-minute cramming, the power went out. I was living at home at the time, so my mom French-braided my wet while I frantically reviewed flashcards by candlelight. The power was still out at our house the next morning, but fortunately there was not a problem across town at my bar exam site.

    I’d initially thought of going out to celebrate after I finished the exam, but I was just too tired and basically went on a sleep binge for the rest of the week. No big bar trip (2010 grad here). Fortunately, no blackout the day the results were announced. :)

  22. Preparing for and taking the bar exam – more than once – was nothing but misery. There was no money in the budget for a bar trip. But finally passing was amazing. My friends threw me a surprise party that started about half an hour after results came out, knowing that they might not even be able to get me to show up. And my mom gave me a beautiful bracelet from Tiffany engraved with the date I passed. Those two memories are among the most treasured of my life :)

    • Hee. Someone gave me a silver Tiffany paperweight engraved with my law school graduation date!

  23. Yankee-Peach :

    My car wouldn’t start in the parking lot on the last day of the bar exam. Everyone was piling out of the parking lot and there I was. I had a brief moment of “Oh no, I need to study! Should I get my books out of the trunk?” etc. etc. And then it sort of hit me that the bar was over. It seemed almost poetic in a sick way. Trapped at the bar exam.

    Too exhausted to do anything else, I called AAA, talked to my mom for a bit and my best friend from law school taking the bar in another state. Then I tilted the seat all the way back and I think I dozed off because the AAA guy had to wake me up by banging on my window. After surviving the bar, I’ve discovered that things like a dead battery don’t freak me out quite as much as they used to.

    • Maddie Ross :

      Ugh, I remember that feeling after the bar — it was like I forgot how not to study all the time.

  24. Lana Lang :

    I haven’t taken the bar exam, we don’t have them here in England, but we do have Law School final exams which are 5-6 exams of three hours each in the space of one week or so.

    I remember that both years I was so wiped out on the day of the last exam that I’m pretty sure I literally went home and went to sleep. Any kind of hard core partying was completely out of the question!

    Good luck to all the bar takers! I am considering doing the NY bar so it’s good to hear all these stories to put it all into perspective…

  25. Anonymous :

    I went home and slept. The next day, I packed up my entire apartment and my family and moved to another city, where I proceeded to visit museums and playgrounds with my 3-year-old for the month before my work and her preschool began. At the time, I was jealous of my friends exotic bar trips, but now, looking back, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.

  26. Legally Brunette :

    Two neat experiences:

    1. Went to the law school library every day to study for the bar and then later to another room in the building to take the Barbri class. One day, the security guard in front of the library stopped me and said, “You know, I see hundreds of students coming in here every day to study, but you’re the only one who always has a big smile on her face and is always so positive and upbeat. Keep it up, girl.”

    2. I took the CA bar, but was living on the east coast. So when the results were finally posted, it was 8 pm on a Friday night EST. I didn’t want to ruin my plans that night, so I didn’t bother checking my results until several hours later (1 am). Meanwhile, got several frantic voicemails from my mom who was convinced I had failed and that I was too ashamed to call her. No mom, I passed. :) I just didn’t want to deal with checking the results at a time when everyone else was, and having the server crash.

    • Legally Brunette :

      Oh, and another one:

      I stayed with my mom during the exam and had her drop me off at the BART each morning because I was paranoid we would get caught in the traffic if we drove to the exam site. Along with my purse, I carried a brown bag lunch that my mom had lovingly prepared. Between the food and the drop off, I seriously felt like I was back in junior high. :) It was really cute.

    • karenpadi :

      Another bar-pass story. I was in Florida on vacation and my one requirement was access to a computer at 8pm on Friday to check results. My dad booked us in a hotel with one community computer in the middle of the lobby.

      At about 3pm on Friday, he (with the permission of the front desk staff) put a sign on the computer that said “RESERVED at 8PM. CALIFORNIA BAR RESULTS”. Yes, I had an audience. I was so nervous that my dad had to enter in my login information. I passed. Phew!

      • i got my ca bar exam results at a national lawyers convention i was attending. it was either going to be the best or worst decision of my life finding out my bar results surrounded by 2000+ attorneys and judges. when time came for me to check my results, my then-boss gave me a hug and told me to go check. i checked on my iphone (yes, iphone) in the hotel bathroom and i PASSED. my boss was the first person i told (followed by a phone call to my parents, who were also worried that i hadn’t passed because it was 8 pm their time when i called). soon, word spread through the conference that i had passed the bar and a bunch of judges and lawyers i knew came to the hotel bar to congratulate me. one judge and his wife bought me cake to celebrate. everyone tried to get the judge to swear me in to the bar AT THE BAR, but luckily, he didn’t know the oath off the top of his head. the rest of the night was spent in an alcohol-induced haze with my boss ushering me around convention night events and telling everyone i had passed the bar. turns out the decision to find out my bar results at a national lawyers convention was the best decision i ever made.

  27. When I took the bar in Albany (in ’03), my now-husband drove me to and from the hotel to the testing site (Empire State Plaza) and walked around all day while waiting for me to finish. I had lunch with him both days to keep my head together, and he had flowers for me when I finished the 2nd day (I seem to remember weeping when it was finally over.)

    After that we had about 2 weeks to pack up all of our stuff in Connecticut, and move in with my Mom in NYC while we both looked for jobs. We had literally just finished moving all of our stuff in when the power went out.

  28. I also took the exam in Albany and my Dad came with me, which to this day is one of the nicest things he ever has done for me. He made sure I didn’t have to worry about anything- he picked me up for lunch and had checked out places to eat that were further away than most people could walk- and had read all sorts of news and things all morning to make sure he had things to talk about other than the exam. He did the same thing for dinner- and because I was taking it in the Pepsi Center in ’04 WHEN IT WAS FREEZING – he also took me to Walmart to buy every piece of sweatshirt material they had. He then drove me from Albany back to NJ for day three -and did the same thing on repeat on NJ (except that I was staying at my parents house). The night after the NJ bar my mom made my absolute favorite meal- I spent 2 hours on the phone with a friend while she drove back from taking the Mass bar- I floated in the pool and then promptly passed out at around 8pm. Needless to say I have some of the best parents around- because my graduation present from them was my post-bar trip for 10 days to Scotland with my best friend.

  29. Anonymous :

    bar time- worst experience/s of my life.
    passing- priceless.

  30. Bar trip? I’ve never heard of that, but it summarizes the difference in pay rates (or expectations) for lawyers and PhDs pretty well. We often buy a few rounds for advisers, committee members, and grad school colleagues, but always (I think) at the old familiar haunts we’ve visited regularly for the past few years.

    In my case, I picked up my 2-yr-old son from the sitter’s and probably went out to dinner. I honestly can’t remember–we were racing a moving truck from DC to Southern Georgia, stopped in Lexington KY for the dissertation defense, and kept on going. My new job started a few days later.

  31. I am an ’06 grad who did not take a trip after the bar because I didn’t have the money for one. Who has money for an extravagant trip even before they start working? It seems so odd to me.

    • Two cents :

      Those of us who were fortunate enough to go to law school on a scholarship! Thank you, admissions.

    • Did you never have money to take a vacation? Did you ever have a job before/during/after law school? A bar trip need not be crazy expensive and tons of people take them, whether it be on Daddy’s dime or their own hard-earned money. Maybe best to not be judgmental about other’s means.

      • I realize tons of people take bar trips, but I really wish people wouldn’t assume that everyone does, like it’s some kind of automatic part of law school. This is making me feel like some kind of low-rent freak for not having any plans for a bar trip.

        (However I just finished taking it today so I may be overreacting/cranky on the subject!)

    • 0% interest for 12 months credit card. My two week bar trip (went with hubby) was about $5,000, including flights to Africa. Paid it off within 3 months after starting work. This was in 2007, so I wasn’t nervous that anything would happen to my fall Biglaw start date. Splurge? Yes, but we won’t be able to take that kind of time off again for years, and we have incredible memories.

      • I agree – taking a bar trip may not be the most financially responsible thing to do – especially if you’ve already started a family, have a lot of expenses, etc. But – I’m so incredibly glad I took one. I took a bar loan, so used that money to pay for it. Went to South America for 3-4 weeks and started at a big law firm soon after. Never again will I have that much time to take a long trip unless I quit my job, etc. I also LOVE LOVE traveling, so to me the money was worth it.

    • In retrospect, I wish I had taken one. I have been practicing law for 5 years now and have not had a vacation longer than a holiday weekend. It doesn’t seem likely that I’ll get one anytime soon, either. It would definitely have been worth the extra 2K or so on credit cards or bar loan at the time.

    • MaggieLizer :

      I didn’t take a bar trip either and I’m so glad I didn’t. My then-bf and I were both class of 2010; I had a job and he didn’t. I considered putting an extravagant vacation for both of us on my credit card with the understanding that he would help me pay down the card when he could. I didn’t because we had picked out a ring and were trying to save for it and our wedding/honeymoon, and I decided I’d rather take a fabulous honeymoon than a fabulous bar trip.

      Five months later, he had pretty much given up on finding work and wasn’t even volunteering. I never expected that from him – top 10 law school, law review, etc. – and it completely took me by surprise. Now he’s living with his parents and I’m much happier without that frustration in my life. Had I footed the bill for the bar trip, I would have ended up paying for his share of the trip and he would have gotten to go on a great vacation for free. Not going was one of the best financial decisions I’ve ever made.

  32. Any one here taken the Illinois bar? Just curious on how it stacks up compared to other states. Thanks!

    • I have – honestly my experience didn’t seem to be as bad as my friends who took it in other states. i took the exam at northwestern law school which was down the street from where i was living at the time so i was able to walk too and from easily. i appreciated that they set up the exam rooms to mimic law school exams – i was in a room with approx. 30 other people all of whom were also taking their exams on computer and had a pretty chill experience (for the bar exam at least). my only issue was that i unexpectedly got a “visit” in the middle of the afternoon session the second day and was too scared to ask the proctor to access my bag in the front of the room to get any “supplies”. illinois sent us these dire warnings regarding accessing your stuff during the exam (pretty much: if you have anything that could be considered contraband you will be asked to leave and fail the exam. period.). as for the exam, it was hard but my surroundings didn’t add any unnecessary stress so that was nice. i’ve heard horror stories about 1000 bar takers being put in the same room at the state fairgrounds (nc i’m looking at you) so i feel like i got off pretty easy taking it in illinois.

    • Yes. The thing that really sticks in my head is the day of essays. There are, like, 15 potential subjects, but you only have to write 6 essays, and you may end up with more than one essay on the same topic. On the day of the bar, they give you seven essay questions, and then they tell you which one not to answer. My year all the questions had to do with corporate law – and I’m an immigration lawyer who never took a single corporate class in law school. I think we had 2 questions on commercial paper, too.

      It is nice that the exam sites are mostly very comfortable (I took it at UChicago’s b-school, very lush) and in downtown Chicago so you can have your pick of hotels (they guarantee all sites will be within 1 mile of Water Tower). The pass rate is normally around 70%, which isn’t high but isn’t low either.

      It’s possible this has changed since 2006. Also, in 2006, we were still handwriting exams, which sucks for a test that’s almost all essays.

      See my comment above for my own bar experience. I highly recommend staying somewhere comfortable downtown if you can manage it. I was so glad to relax and get room service. I was also glad that I stayed the night after the exam finished so that I could just rest (and not have to worry about checking out in the morning before going to the exam).

    • Long Tall Sally :

      I did, although it was about a million years ago in 1990. It was at the U of C’s 190 Delaware building on the Gold Coast, so there were plenty of good options for lunch and decent places to stay nearby. Two of my friends from law school and I made a pact that we would eat lunch together both days and refrain from discussing or even referring to the exam in any way. That turned out to be a good decision, although I remember sticking both of my fingers in my ears on the way out of the exam site because everyone around me was talking about it – “Hey, what did you put for that agency question?” – when I hadn’t even SPOTTED the agency question. The best piece of advice I can give you is PLAN SOMETHING NICE for right after the exam – drinks, dinner, fun with friends, whatever will help you forget the whole experience. Don’t do what I did, which is go back home and ruminate about the exam, while feeling sorry for myself because I was probably going to flunk and my firm was going to fire me and there was nothing good in my refrigerator and my apartment was a mess and blah blah blah. I passed, and it all was fine, and in retrospect I wish I’d spared myself the self-immolation and gone out and hoisted a few with my pals.

  33. Wow, too much copy editing today: “anyone”

  34. My most vivid memory was having my hands — both of them — literally give out 2 weeks before the bar. Couldn’t even pick up a pencil, let alone write with one. So those precious days 2 weeks before the bar were spent in orthopedic waiting rooms trying to figure out what the heck had happened and — hopefully — get a disability accommodation form signed. Total nightmare.

    Sure enough: the hands still didn’t work for the bar. Had to take it on a computer, which would’ve been a blessing but for the fact that they were so numb I couldn’t feel the home keys (or any other keys, for that matter) well enough to type efficiently. I know I’ve had stress in my life, but that about took the cake.

    Nerves are a weird, wonderful, wacky thing!

    • An older lawyer :

      Similar experience–I took the bar in the (gulp) late ’80s, before computers, and had to use a typewriter because of a neurological problem in my writing hand (which developed, not coincidentally, during law school). When I checked in to take the exam, security had to examine the typewriter and the guy picked up the case, turned it over, and … the typewriter fell out and hit the floor with a sickening crash. My heart stopped and everyone for 10 feet around cringed. We quickly plugged it in and, miraculously, it worked. Thought I was safe…until the elevator stopped mid-floor on the way up to the typing room. Really?? They got it started again within a couple of minutes. All went well, though, and I passed. Still sorry my then-husband and I didn’t take a trip. We were poor but should have done it anyway!

  35. Left out a part of my bar story that I have always wanted to forget. I have a rescued dog that I absolutely love to pieces but she has some strange anxiety issues. I had moved three months before the bar with her, my cat, and husband. Husband had a new job and was in another state for training for a month. Dog was apparently bothered by all the change and the newness of me being home all day studying. In my husband’s absence she got wayyyyy over protective.

    Three days before the bar I was walking her and two teenage girls were laughing and running around and banged into her. My dog nipped the girl in her love handle and then just sat down and wagged her tail like an angel. Totally unacceptable behavior on my dog’s part but the girl freaked out – acted like my dog had mauled her and called her mom to “report it.” I was crying hysterically because I thought days before the exam, in a new town, husband far away, the police were going to come and confiscate my beloved dog.

    My husband, a former cop, was preparing me over the phone for what they would do which was just making me more hysterical. My head was spinning – she will be so afraid of them, she will growl, they will call her dangerous and put her down!!!! Luckily the girls mom called me and verified all the vet info, etc, said the skin wasn’t broken and her daughter had overreacted and said that she wouldn’t report it to the police if I promised to take her to obedience school, which I did.

    I knew I was too emotionally spent to study another minute so I left the dog at my house, drove to husband’s hotel, slept there, and drove back super early in the morning to let the dog back out. I had a great cry and a good sleep and still passed the bar and still have my dog who still has issues but has passed obedience school, wears a gentle leader, and has never again tried to bite someone!

  36. Anonymous :

    When I took the bar, I couldn’t afford the luxury of not working for two months so as to study for the bar full time (and a bar trip was obviously out of the question; I didn’t even know such a thing existed). I also couldn’t afford the cost and schedule of Barbri, so I worked full-time and studied using some 3 year old used Barbri/PMBR books I bought from Craigslist (the previous 3 owners of said books had passed, which I figured was a good sign). Did I mention I was taking the California bar? And sharing a hotel room with a friend for whom it was her 5th shot at the bar? Right. I only took the exam because I wouldn’t get a refund if I didn’t show up.

    So, assuming that I was going to fail, I spent the three horrific days of the bar trying just to get through the damn thing, avoiding all the other exam takers when they collectively freaked out over the minutiae of their various answers, and trying not to think about the fact that I would have to take it again in six months. Even though I was pretty relaxed during those three miserable days (why freak out if you know you’re not going to pass?), I was so physically and emotionally exhausted after the experience that I got completely trashed off only 2 glasses of wine at dinner.

    Either the bar examiners were huffing nitrous when they reviewed my exam or those bar review books really were good luck – when results came out, I had somehow managed to pass. And awesomely, so did my friend (5th time’s a charm). Now I refuse to move out of California – you couldn’t pay me enough to sit through another bar exam. I don’t know how anyone does multiple states; y’all are crazy.

  37. CA Bar, 2005: My friends and I set up camp in Ontario for a week. Partly because my study partner/then-bf wrote his exam by hand, the rest of us were on computer, and Ontario had both options. Also, we really wanted to get out of LA. Three of the must surreal, bizarre days of my life. Why were there state law questions on the MBE? (There weren’t, obvs, but it sure felt like it!) Is it healthy to watch a soap opera during the lunch break? Why does every channel on the TV hotel show either A Few Good Men (on repeat) or an Entourage marathon? The test was given in a huge auditorium that was silent but for the scraping of the chairs on the metal floor. In the bathroom we all avoided eye contact. In the 60 seconds before the start of day 3, power went out to our entire table and blue books were being thrown around. Oy. My mom had actually given me 3 funny cards, one to open each day. It was the best thing anyone could have done for me. A bunch of us from law school stayed out in Ontario after the bar ended and we went out for margaritas that Thursday night.

    Bar trip: a massive whirlwind trip around the US, hitting all 48 contiguous states. I only gave myself 3 weeks to do it — between the Bar and a friend’s wedding 3 weeks later. I was convinced I couldn’t take the road trip after the wedding b/c I needed to find work. Which I didn’t actually find until February. Hindsight’s 20/20, I guess — I should have waited until after the wedding so I could have enjoyed the road trip more.

    Results day: Most nervous week of my life! Went to see Walk the Line and the latest Harry Potter movie in the theatres. My friend and I made sure we were having a glass of wine at 6pm, when the results came out online, because we were sure the system would be crashed and overloaded. We were home by 6:45 and had a very intricate system for sharing results: if neither of us contacted each other before 7:00 pm, it means we both had passed. It avoided the whole “Did you pass?” “No,” conversation we didn’t want to have. It was ok to call if we failed, though. On top of that, our extended group of friends came up with a little code we called the “Champagne/Tequila” code: are you drinking champagne, to celebrate? Or tequila, to forget? Fortunately most of us (including me) were drinking champagne. After my initial cry-fest (which was so severe my dad had actually thought I failed when I called my parents to tell them), there was much champagne. And then, of course, tequila, the further we got into the night.

  38. How fun to read all these stories!

    I took the CA bar, and my most vivid memories all seem to revolve around food or not having food. I was so stressed out I lost about 8 pounds in the last two weeks right before the exam. My husband went to the grocery store the day before I left and bought me a big container of trail mix, a bunch of five-hour energies, and granola bars for my hotel room to encourage me to eat. The exam itself was kind of a blur. The first day I went back to my room at lunch, took off my pants, and sat on the bed in my underwear watching I love Lucy and eating subway. That night I couldn’t stomach fast food, so I walked to a gas station about a mile away and bought a jar of peanut butter and a spoon and ate that for dinner while I watched stupid tv to distract myself. The third day I’d already checked out of my hotel so I brought something to eat during the lunch break since I wouldn’t be able to go back to the hotel room. I knew they didn’t allow food in the testing rooms but figured I could leave it in the hallway with my other stuff. Nope! Apparently, they anticipated this happening so they had enforcers at all the doors checking bags for food before you were allowed to walk into the building. (crazy;, right?) I ended up leaving my lunch in a paper sack outside. When I came out I discovered that my bag had flopped over, and my poorly wrapped peanut butter sandwich had come undone. The entire spot was a PILE of frenzied ants. Gross. Needless to say, I did not try to salvage my lunch. After it was all over I took the shuttle to the ontario airport and felt like I was finally hungry after about a month of having no appetite. Unfortunately, that is the tiniest airport and every food option closes at 5 My flight wasn’t until 8. By the time I got to my layover at SFO I was starving. I scarfed down sushi and guzzled a couple of beers that tasted amazing. My husband and brothers picked me up at the airport that night and brought me home, where I promptly fell asleep. Bar trip: a three day weekend at the lake with my husband immediately following the exam; two weeks visiting my grandparents in the country; then a month long road trip with my husband.

  39. I took the New York bar exam many years ago, before computers, in the huge Javits Center in Manhattan. Just before the exam was to begin, a woman several rows away from me stood up and let out a thunderous, blood-curdling scream. Then she quietly sat down again. As the exam commenced, the rest of us were fidgety nervous wrecks, while the screamer calmly put pencil to paper and seemed quite composed and unruffled.

    I added a third day and took the New Jersey bar as well. When I got back to NY, I was really wiped and just wanted to crash, but my husband really wanted to take me out to celebrate, so we went to a great little restaurant near our apartment. In the midst of ordering, though, I suddenly burst into tears, and blubbered, “I just want to go home and s-l-e-e-p…!” We went home, and I slept for at least 12 hours.

  40. AgencyCounsel :

    I took the bar in 2001 in Boston. I remember finishing a bit early and hitting the Barking Crab with a bunch of friends afterward.

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