The Five People You Meet at the Bar Exam


Preparing for the July bar exam?  Let us allay (or confirm) your fears with this checklist of the five types of people you’re guaranteed to meet in the room that day, along with some practical, realistic advice on how to quickly riposte each one of them in order to maintain sanity. Good luck!

1. The Perennial Failure

This person has failed the bar exam five times in the last three years, but, without changing study habits at all, thinks this is the one time things will go differently.  Even some smart people fail the first time.  Law of large numbers, it happens.  But, if you fail your second and third attempts, you really should consider whether you’re cut out to be an attorney.  Not that being an attorney is particularly hard; you’re just particularly stupid.

Time to start finding alternative uses for that law degree.  For instance, if you roll it up, you can swat flies with it.  Have you considered a career as an exterminator?

2. The Nervous Talker

“What do you think the first essay topic will be?”

“Do you think the distance from here to the bathroom is too much?  I don’t want to lose a lot of time if I have to pee.  Do you think I should pee now?  I don’t really have to go yet.”

“I heard last year someone hung himself after failing the bar exam.  Did you know your life is basically over if you fail?  I really can’t fail this test.”

Some people cope with stress by chatting up anyone who will pay attention to them.  Unfortunately, while this may calm them down a tiny degree, it’s going to make your own stress levels skyrocket.  Not that you’re going to adopt his paranoia, you’re just going to become very annoyed with him.  The best way to deal with this character is to carry headphones.  They don’t even need to be plugged into anything, just run the cord into your pocket and take advantage of the international sign for “Piss off!  I don’t want to talk.”

Or, if you’re feeling less charitable, confirm every fear he has.

“I heard the essays are going to be harder this year because of the bad economy.  They don’t want to let as many people pass.”

“A friend of mine went to the bathroom during the February exam, and they wouldn’t let him return to his seat afterwards.  Another friend died from holding it too long.”

“I read a study that said nervous people are 300% more likely to fail the bar exam.  It’s usually a sign that they’re underprepared and, in general, not very intelligent.”

3. The Cheater

No notes allowed in the exam room? You know people are going to do it anyways. If you catch someone cheating, you have two options: 1) You can either turn them in and hope for a quick and severe punishment, or 2) ignore it and accept that this one person isn’t going to throw the curve.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important that you immediately move on.  If you let it slide, don’t get caught up watching to see if he pulls out his notes during the exam.  If you turn him in, let the authorities handle it and avoid getting drawn into an argument when they let his infraction go unpunished (and expect that it will; most proctors are too wimpy or lazy to toss out a cheater).

Keep your head in the game.  Besides, almost half of law students admit to cheating in law school, so the bar exam isn’t much different.  You can’t possibly deal with them all, so why bother with the one you happened to catch?

4. The Recession Special

This is a new bar exam taker that cropped up after the bloodletting in BigLaw. Many young attorneys are moving across state lines but don’t have the experience needed to get bar admission reciprocity. They’re taking their second bar exam and will be a wild card when it comes to how they’ll affect the curve.

On one hand, they’ve already passed the bar once.  They know what to expect.  And they may have some relevant practice experience.  While your bar review course is actually primary education for many subjects, for them it truly is just review.

But, on the other hand, they may not be terribly driven to study hard enough to get back into a career that’s already snubbed them once.  There’s also a bit more distance between them and the evidence or T&E class they took Spring of their 3L year, so areas they aced the first time around may be a bit harder this try.

My prediction is they’re going to spoil the curve.  Most of the people canned from BigLaw went to elite schools and passed a tougher exam (New York or California).  Odds are they’ll crush the people who went to provisionally accredited Podunk College School of Law and Cosmetology.

5. The Dead Ringer

A ringy-ding ding dingy-doh, a-ringitty ding dee doh.

It happens every time.  You’re not supposed to have a cell phone in the room, and if you brought it in, you definitely should have turned it off. So, who’s the asshole that let their cell phone interrupt the bar exam?

Nine times out of ten, it’s the proctor.  The tenth time, it’s the tech support guy.  And, if you’re taking the exam in the cavernous rooms at the Javits Center in New York, you really can expect ten or more cell phones to go off.

Feel free to get up from your seat and administer an aggravated battery.  You’ll be doing your fellow exam takers a favor and creating an opening in the increasingly competitive proctor job market.

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