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No attorney is allowed to practice law in California unless he or she develops at least one bar exam war story. Writing answers to legal questions for three days straight most likely qualifies as the dullest 72 hours of your life, but it is remembered as high adventure within 24 hours after the experience. Even if you are oblivious to everything except your exam book, erasable pen, and highlighters during the exam, at least one or two war stories will start to germinate in a day or so, and within a mere week you are guaranteed to be participating in one-upmanship sessions where you compete for high honors as the victim of the most outrageous bar exam experience in history. My own bar exam experience falls directly into this model. My friend Sue announced that she would drive my car (with me in it) to the bar exam. I thought this was a true gesture of friendship, but in fact she was making a preemptive move because I tend to drive at a snail’s pace (school buses routinely pass me on the freeway). She was determined to get me to the exam before it concluded. Although I was older than most Bar applicants and, presumably, more sensible, it turned out that I was not immune to the general hysteria. The night before the exam, my elbow locked, and I would have been unable to turn the steering wheel had it not been for Sue’s “generous” offer to drive. It turns out that everyone (except Sue) develops some psychosomatic symptoms prior to the Bar. The range of ailments apparently is delimited only by the restrictions of the human imagination. Miraculously, my elbow unfroze the minute we entered the examination site and I gripped the pen that was to determine my fate. (Yes, it was my lucky pen, and I refuse to apologize that my panoramic superstitious nature required me to cling to it for the full 72 hours.) In those days, you could take the bar exam without being consigned to a windowless hotel floor rivaling the size and climate of Maine in a snowstorm. Instead, Sue and I opted for the warm, breezy Kaiser Auditorium near Lake Merritt in Oakland. The was the very same venue where I had attended so many Grateful Dead concerts and Sue had attended so many basketball games — combined, these events probably outnumbered the classes to which we had gone. The vibes, in short, were spectacular, if not particularly conducive to legal analysis. In an abundance of caution the day before the exam, Sue and I decided to take a test run over to the auditorium to scope out the scene. Both of us were urban enough to know that securing an ace parking space would be an essential tactic in the licensure process. We were also savvy enough to know that we probably would not want to take BART home after the afternoon session. Thus, we wanted to have parking entirely under control. This piece of reconnaissance turned out to be an excellent precaution. We learned that all the parking was metered, and two bits would rapidly become the coin of the realm during the duration of the exam. We prudently loaded several rolls of quarters into the glove compartment. Our less well prepared colleagues were taken by surprise, and Sue and I could have made a killing in currency exchange if we had not been so distracted by our other obligations. Surveying the territory had another benefit. We got to meet a bar examiner! We had always assumed the committee of bar examiners was a legal fiction developed by mean law professors to scare hapless little law students, but we were wrong! Like us, our bar examiner had come to scope out the site. I knew enough etiquette to understand that I could not ask him what was on the test (we had only just met), so instead I asked him what I could do if the person next to me was annoying during the exam. Our bar examiner graciously escorted us to several round tables set aside for just that purpose. He seemed unperturbed by the fact that there was little, if any, light in the alcove where they were arranged. I asked him how anyone could be expected to write in such darkness. He responded, “Why don’t you just wait and see if there is a problem?” These words were to prove apocryphal. There was indeed a problem — in fact, there were several — and I never could have anticipated them in a million years. Entering the bar exam is like being booked into jail. They let you keep your belt, but you must surrender almost everything else. You must check your backpack and any other personal items. Someone stole a banana from Sue’s pack while she was in the exam, and I suspect she is still plotting revenge fourteen years later. Anyway, you enter the room with one small plastic bag containing your pens (several dozen), erasers, markers, paper clips, ear plugs, and any other absolutely basic necessities. Security is tight, and you are fingerprinted or required to display your driver’s license before the exam is administered. Sue, who retains the personality that served her well in her former life as a basketball coach, made some other suggestions for identification, but these proctors have heard it all and, like soldiers guarding Buckingham Palace, they cannot be distracted. Even though we had chosen a kinder, friendlier site, the room was still large and filled to capacity. Row upon row of tables covered the floor. Everyone was eyeing his or her tablemate for telltale signs of idiosyncrasies that might zing out of control in the middle of the exam. Sue, as it turned out, was seated next to a paper ripper who would write for a few minutes, frown, tear the sheet out of the book, crumple it up, mutter something indecipherable in a stage whisper, and recommence the cycle. She counted herself lucky that at least he was not a compulsive eraser who could shake a table to a 7.2 on the Richter scale. I had a different set of characters on my hands. The very nice woman on my right had come down from Bakersfield the night before and arranged through her husband to stay on a sedate Navy base so she wouldn’t be stuck in a noisy hotel. Unfortunately she was busy reading contracts and therefore neglected to read the shipping news. This meant that she did not discover that the fleet docked the night before the bar exam and the mood was PARTY! She did everything possible to fend off exhaustion during the three days of testing; I shudder to think of her fate. Seated on my left was a guy who started out on the first morning in alarmingly high spirits. By the end of the first day his enthusiasm had dampened to a tolerable level and he was no longer depleting all the oxygen in the area of our table. On the second day he arrived in a shirt that looked suspiciously like a costume from Pagliacci or, more likely, his pajama top. He offered no explanation — but, believe me, p.j.’s or ostensible p.j.’s were an unfortunate fashion choice in light of their effect on the sleep-deprived woman on my right. Well, we got through it. We survived the proctors with high heels clicking up and down the aisles. We survived totalitarian tactics for enforcing the examination rules. We survived the security — in hindsight, it seems laughable compared to what is involved in taking a commuter flight these days. We survived the people around us and we congratulated ourselves for never having to flee to the dread round tables in the lightless alcove. We survived ourselves and our frenzied nuttiness and others survived us. And you will do the same. By the way, let us know your war stories from the 2003 bar exam here at law.com. Trust me, talking about the bar is a lot more fun than taking it! Good luck to all July 2003 Bar applicants! Lois Schwartz is the Writing Specialist in Residence at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

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