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Jordan B. Sebold passed the New York State bar examination conducted on July 24 and 25. Sebold has been waiting for awhile to see those words in print. Until now, though, all he has seen by way of black on white is a form letter from the New York State Board of Law Examiners, opening with these discouraging words: “Dear Candidate: You are hereby notified that you did not pass the examination for admission to the Bar … “ The official bad news, as it has now been painfully established, was the result of clerical error. The board confused Sebold’s passing results with someone else’s failing tally — and thus misinformed not one, but two anxious test-takers. Someone out there — someone who scored rather poorly — may yet be under the impression that he or she passed the bar. Or perhaps the Board of Law Examiners has by now disabused that candidate of such pleasure. That question and others — Has this happened before? What might the board do about its mistake? — remain unanswered. The Board of Law Examiners did not answer calls seeking a response. (Sebold’s name now does appear on the Board of Law Examiners’ Web site.) As for Sebold, to say that he is perturbed could be classified as felony understatement. “When am I not going to be angry? I don’t know. My entire Thanksgiving was basically ruined,” said Sebold, 25, a graduate of Duke University School of Law and an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. “Hopefully in a couple of weeks everything will just kind of calm down.” NO HOLIDAY Sebold was looking forward to the long holiday weekend: to meeting his future in-laws, the Strasnick family of Atlanta; a birthday party for his girlfriend’s 80-year-old grandparents; and champagne all around to celebrate his passage into certified lawyerhood, and likewise for fiancee Joy D. Strasnick, who also took the July exam. She officially passed, but would entertain no congratulations until the errors that befell Sebold were sorted out. “I am beyond mad,” said Strasnick, 25, an associate at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. “The [board] prides itself on being exact. You have to give them handwriting samples, your Social Security number, your admission ticket, and you sign in and out. “And then the only thing you’re supposed to put on the test is your seat number … “ Which in the stressful case of Sebold was the central problem — and, ironically, the solution to the problem. So just what happened? As it turns out, the board confused two entrance ticket numbers (as seat numbers are officially known). The poorer results of ticket 6360 were inadvertently transferred to the record of ticket 6359, the one held by Sebold, who scored rather highly, as a matter of fact. In Sebold’s case, evidently, nobody at the Board of Law Examiners caught the discrepancy by comparing the entrance ticket number to his name and Social Security number. And so it was that when he and Strasnick searched for online exam results just past midnight on Tuesday, Nov. 20, only her name appeared. No better luck came with the next morning’s issue of the New York Law Journal. “We checked on the computer from my apartment. It was one of the worst nights of my life,” said Strasnick, who noted the alphabetical proximity of their surnames. “We scrolled down the 1st Department, but his name wasn’t there. Then we came to my name. “I went numb. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t elated. We just didn’t understand this,” she said. They should have been on the same page! Since Jordan’s official residence is his parents’ home in Tucson, Ariz., she added, “We checked the 3rd Department — but his name wasn’t there either. “That’s when Jordan just fell apart.” Sebold had to pick himself up, though, and pull himself back together in time for a highly time-pressured Wednesday at Paul Weiss. “A deal had to be closed before the Thanksgiving break, and I just had to go in,” said Sebold, who acknowledged sleeplessness. “I kept thinking, How in the world am I going to go to work in the morning? “But I had to finish the job. I tried my best to come in with my working face on,” he said. “If someone asked me if I had passed, I just said I didn’t know. I was embarrassed and depressed.” Nonetheless, the deal was satisfactorily closed, Sebold said. On to sunny Atlanta for a dark Thanksgiving. “The weekend was emotionally draining. He was beside himself,” Strasnick said of Sebold. “He couldn’t fathom how this happened to him. I couldn’t say or do anything to make it better for him.” How could she? “There’s no way that could be right!” Sebold kept saying of the board’s notice. After studying 10 hours a day for seven weeks, how could he flunk? “I knew that stuff,” he said. Meanwhile in Tucson, Sebold’s mother opened the official-looking mail from Albany — the form letter. “There had to be some sort of mistake,” said Ms. Sebold. “He [Jordan] felt exceptionally confident when he walked out of the test. I mean, you know from all those years of schooling if you’ve bombed.” Officially — for awhile — Sebold bombed spectacularly. He scored a mere 11 correct answers out of 50 questions on the New York multiple-choice section, for example. CHECKING THE NUMBERS “No way!” Sebold kept telling his mother as she read him a litany of lousy scores over the telephone. Said Ms. Sebold, with an eye for the fine print, “Well, okay let’s really look this over. The name is correct, the address is correct, the Social Security number is correct … “The only other number I see here … “ Whereupon she recited 6360. She said her son then screamed over the wire, “That’s not my number!” How did he know? “You had to show that seat number like five times or something, and I kept having to look at it,” Sebold explained. “Sixty-three-sixty, that’s easy to remember. But six-thousand-three-hundred-and-fifty-nine?” On his return to New York, Sebold rummaged through his bar materials and retrieved entrance ticket 6359. Aha! Simple, albeit agonizing, human error. “I had this tremendous sense of relief,” said Sebold. But that would not last for long. On Monday when he contacted the Board of Law Examiners in Albany, he said he was informed that it was all his fault. “You sat in the wrong seat,” Sebold said he was told. “You took the wrong exam. You signed the log book every time under 6360.” Sebold was not having it. He said he was instructed to plead his case in a letter, accompanied with the enclosure of his entrance ticket — number 6359. He was told that might take a week or more. Fearing he would get lost in a bureaucratic shuffle, Sebold consulted with Joanne Ollman, director of legal personnel at Paul Weiss. Ollman not only got on the line to Albany, she managed to get past the automated dialing system to an actual human being. Less than an hour later, said Sebold, the same person in Albany who had blamed him for the snafu rang his extension at Paul Weiss. This time, the tone was considerably changed. Sebold said he was told, “I can’t tell you how sorry I am. You passed easily.” So far as a pair of brand-new young lawyers are concerned, not all is well that seems to have ended well. “I understand there can be human error, but it’s just not that hard to take a seat number and match it up to a Social Security number,” said Strasnick, who also went to Duke. “This never should have happened.” “This has been a tremendous amount of aggravation, for really no reason,” said Sebold. “A lot of other states publish bar exam results by numbers first, then when a bit of time passes the list of names is published. “But in New York, when people go the Web site or to the Law Journal, they see names right off and believe what’s there [or what is not] is accurate. “At the very least, we ought to be clearly told to hang on to our entrance tickets.” His mother saw lessons in the mess. “Life is tough, and you need skills to handle what going to be thrown at you,” said Ms. Sebold. “For whatever journey Jordan has ahead of him, this obviously gives him skills. “And you know, Jordan’s going to marry that young woman [Strasnick],” she added. “I told my son, What a wonderful opportunity you’ve had to see what she’s made of. She’ll stick by you, she’s very special.” “I understand there can be human error, but it’s just not that hard to take a seat number and match it up to a Social Security number,” said Strasnick. “This never should have happened.”

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