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With so much talk, worry, preparation, stress and terror of the bar, its implications and its difficulties, the experience itself gets lost in the chaos. And now that the winter bar is recently (and for many, mercifully) over, a new generation of lawyers wait for either accreditation or ignominy. The Illinois bar exam itself is, as in most states, a two-day marathon examination with the first day involving essay questions and the second day consisting of multiple-choice questions. Each day involves nail-biting, exhaustion and the culmination of (hopefully) months of studying. Just taking the bar can cost as much as $800 — aspirin not included. A bar review class from, say, BAR/BRI, runs about $1,600. As work weeks are sacrificed for library hours, there are special loans just for defraying living expenses through the bar months. This ultimately places even more more pressure on would-be lawyers — they’ll need a lawyer’s salary to pay off the first of six digits of debt. Simon felt totally alienated from the rest of his “normal” life. “I don’t really have a lot of older friends in the law, so none of my friends really knew what I was going through or why I was freaking out. My mother called once and said, ‘Oh, you always worry too much. You’ve been studying day and night for over a month! How could anything go wrong? Besides, it’s just a test.’ ” ‘Just a test!’ ” Simon lit a cigarette. “ They think I’m in the third grade stressing over my long division test.” “How is it different?” “In law school, I had finals six times for one week. Imagine that they put them altogether: you study for six weeks and then they test you on everything at once.” “But don’t you know how you did?” “At the end of the first day, you walk out thinking about your essays, and you know how they went. But you have no idea how the multiple-choice went. None.” “Didn’t the people in your bar class help with all the stress?” “Are you kidding? They were filled with these jerks from the University of Chicago and Northwestern. They just know they’re gonna work for the big firms. And when they come into class they brag, ‘Oh, I only did 800 [multiple-choice] questions this weekend.’ Let me tell you, they freaked everyone else out. “I didn’t want to deal with that. And that’s the exact reason I took the bar in February: it’s supposed to be different with a lot more family people and second-timers, people who wouldn’t rub it in.” “C’mon, this is the law. You’ll always have people rubbing it in.” Larry worked for a year in a mid-sized firm before taking the bar. He feels his experience helped him in taking the test itself, but also added to his pressure. “The morning after the bar was over, my office manager called asking how everything went. Well, I was hung over. I mean, isn’t that obligatory, to get wasted afterwards? Anyway, I was just feeling better, you know, encouraged, when she hit me with: ‘Don’t worry about the results. No one from this firm has ever not passed the first time.’ I suppose I’m the village idiot if I’m the first one. “My friends who work for lawyers who didn’t pass the first time don’t face the potential stigma that I do; their bosses understand.” “Because they don’t think they’re idiots for failing the first time?” “Because lawyers are only as tolerant as they needed people to be for themselves.” “Hm. So the pressure hasn’t ended with the test?” “Waiting for the results can be worse if you’re the kind of person who would rather pour your energy into being active. For the next two months, I’m in limbo. What’s your preference — hell or purgatory?” “And you think passing and being a lawyer is the heavenly part?” “Maybe not. While I was studying, I’d go into some burger joint for lunch and look at the people working there. I envied them. I wanted a simpler life. They don’t have heart attacks over fire alarms.” “What do — “ “It happened during the exam. The alarm went off and no one believed it … Beforehand, they told us they would not give us extra time, no matter what. And when I heard the alarm, I saw I only had two questions left. I wondered whether I could finish before the fire spread to our room.” “What happened in the end?” “With all the adrenaline, I actually finished before they ushered us out. There was no fire of course. And they ended up giving us some extra minutes. Talk about baptism by fire … “ Terri is an unashamed second-timer working at a small firm. “My first time [studying for the bar], my firm only gave me three weeks off. My boss said he had only needed three weeks to pass and so that seemed like a fair amount of time to him. Working full-time without any partners easing your assignments doesn’t leave enough time to study. I failed. “This time, the bastards were going to only give me three weeks — again. I threatened to quit to give myself six weeks if that was what it took. Don’t they understand I’m more valuable to them as well as myself if I pass?” “So they’re not accommodating?” “Only once, but promise not to laugh.” I bit down on my popsicle stick. “My failure letter came in a white envelope with green trim. That’s the sign. And my firm, it uses the exact same envelopes. After I failed, I told my boss it was too traumatic for me to use them. He ordered manila envelopes.” I bit through my popsicle stick. “That last week before the bar, I cried more than I studied. I had to wake up earlier to allot time for tears … I’ve gotten so scared about failing again that my partner and I were looking at states with passage rates in the 90s. I’ve narrowed it down to Utah and New Mexico.” “Aren’t you going a bit far?” “Look, lots of people freak out. During the exam, we had a squeaky table and it was irritating everyone. So the proctor, a sweet old lady, gently asked this one girl if she wouldn’t move to a new table. During the break, all of us could hear that girl screaming at the proctor in the hall: ‘What do you want from me? Why did you distract me? I’m taking the bar! I’m gonna sue all you motherf***ers!’ “ “Not bad.” “It gets worse. My professor told me about a California bar where, in the middle of the test, this guy had a heart attack. And no one did a thing. Finally, this one test-taker, who also happened to be a fireman, helped the guy out. They didn’t stop the test. And they didn’t give the fireman any extra time.” “And the victim?” “I don’t know. My professor never mentioned that part.” Ayuna was taken aback with the suggested preparation. “My instructor told us just to shoot for 60 percent on the multiple-choice and 3s [out of 6] on our essays and we’d pass. He was filled with happy little tricks … He told us that there was going to be one essay question we had no idea how to answer. I know people who found a question they knew nothing about, but they had memorized all the rules. So just putting down a little phony analysis and copying down rules verbatim almost always landed a 2.5. Some friends passed on just three weeks of memorization alone.” “Aren’t they looking for substance in the essays?” “My [review] class brought in this former [bar] grader who told us that they spend about one minute grading essays, three on the [ninety-minute] MPT [multi-state performance test]. Throw in some buzzwords and black letter fundamentals and make it look organized and you’ll pass, supposedly.” “So you don’t feel more ready to be a lawyer with all your studying?” “Are you kidding? That whole test was a joke. You’ll use almost none of it anyway. It tests what you need to know to be a lawyer, right? Well, how many lawyers — good ones — would pass today? It’s all just a load, of information that is, that you’re meant to spit out and forget.” “If the test isn’t about useful knowledge, what do you think it’s about?” “Money. The whole test emphasized the corporate side of things. Four of my six essay topics were partnership, secure transactions, corporations and commercial papers. Wills and trusts is still about money. Only federal jurisdiction balanced things a bit. No torts, no crim. Nothing involving public policy. It’s all about greed.” “The test?” “No; everything, everyone. In my exam, there was a girl with a broken pelvis who was in a lot of pain. She wanted to sit by the door in case she needed to leave. But no one near the door would trade seats with her. It wouldn’t have cost them a thing … but it wouldn’t have gained them a thing either. The swine! She ended up sitting in the middle of the room. Jerks!” Many mating rituals involve males accomplishing tasks that have nothing to do with the ability to survive. But the ingenuity, resourcefulness and determination displayed make the winners impressive candidates for practical matters down the road. The bar, then, seems to function as an elaborate, seemingly quixotic display of how much your mind can achieve under a world of stress. Those who pass aren’t necessarily good lawyers, but they have shown that they have what it takes to become one. The bar attempts to condense a lawyer’s career’s worth of knowledge into one examination. Indeed, the whole experience serves as a microcosm for being a lawyer. There will always be those who haven’t a clue, but get by on knowing what it takes to get by and nothing else. There will always be selfish bastards who won’t help anyone they don’t see in the mirror. There will always be good and bad bosses. There will always be anomalous heroes who don’t get rewarded. There will always be false alarms. And there will always be the bar. Free-lancer Mitch Artman lives and writes in Chicago.

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