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Each year around the so-called season of joy, some aspiring lawyers are informed that they failed to pass the previous July’s New York state bar examination. The New Year is not necessarily a relief from such downbeat news, as most will try again in February — followed by another six grim months’ wait for another, hopefully positive verdict. According to the State Board of Law Examiners, of the 9,407 applicants in July, 2,875 found out in mid-November that they failed the test. In the cause of better-luck-next-time, what aid and comfort to spirit and professional future are available to bar applicants spurned? When John F. Kennedy Jr. failed — on his first of three attempts — the tabloid New York Post marked the occasion with a front page banner, “Hunk Flunks.” The second time, the news was expanded to “Hunk Flunks Again.” It was all quite embarrassing for the late Kennedy, who died in a 1999 plane crash at age 38, especially since he was working for the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Notwithstanding the indecorous Post, Kennedy’s two failures amounted to something of a watershed in the long history of young applicants to the bar. “It brought a lot of attention to the exam,” said Joseph L. Marino, professor of applied legal studies at New York Law School. “A lot of people looked at John [Kennedy] and thought maybe he wasn’t too bright, but then people realized — no, it’s a very tough test and the influence of power doesn’t help you. You’re really on your own. In fact, John was incredibly talented and brilliant.” As Kennedy’s bar review coach, Marino helped make three a charm for his charge. For six weeks, Kennedy was embedded in Marino’s brownstone, studying in one small room, sleeping in another. It was the only way that Kennedy could escape press attention. “Oh, the paparazzi!” Marino recollected. “At his own place, John couldn’t open a window without somebody taking his picture.” According to New York Magazine, another famous wash-out by the name of Edward I. Koch wrote to young Kennedy, “Don’t feel badly. I failed my bar exam, too, and it didn’t stop me from becoming mayor.” Kennedy replied, “It was very kind what you wrote, but I’m still going to have a lousy summer.” Marino, nationally renowned as the go-to guy for those in need of bar review, went above and beyond in the case of Kennedy, a family friend. But since 1975, when he began teaching doctrinal and conceptual law, he has sympathized with scores of other young attorneys in the miserable circumstances of bar exam failure. “Most of these people have never truly failed at anything in their young lives,” said Marino. “There’s not much you can say to make them feel better. I try to remind them that they’re mixing emotions with this new experience, that it’s not a reflection on their ability or competence. “Also I tell them — Well, you’re not going to win all your trials either.” FIRM SUPPORT Sue J. Hodges, managing partner of Pillsbury Winthrop’s San Diego, Calif., office and chair of the firm-wide attorney development committee, is likewise sympathetic. “Young associates who fail the exam are very embarrassed. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often,” said Hodges. With reference to having to repeat the exam, she added, “The biggest penalty is, they have to continue to think about it.” Pillsbury, like other large firms, makes allowances. Associates who fail the bar are not summarily dismissed. “In fact, while we don’t provide bar review expenses, we do provide up to an eight-week unpaid leave so that a person can study,” said Hodges. “We pay for health care during leave time, and we also have an interest-free loan program to help the associates defray expenses while on leave — up to $10,000. My sense is that our policy is pretty much in the [large firm] mainstream.” Other large firms contacted, however, declined to discuss their policies in detail. An associate at one such firm, who asked to remain nameless, explained, “Look how they’re reinforcing a stigma that shouldn’t be there.” As for small firms, “That’s where it’s tough,” said Jacquelyn J. Burt, former assistant dean for the Center for Professional Development at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “If you’re working at a five-attorney personal injury firm, your colleagues are depending on your being able to go into court. But you can’t.” In which case, Burt suggested, the job is lost. Public agencies, she said, have the clearest policies.The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, for instance, grants a month’s leave to study for a re-take of the bar after a first failure — two weeks with pay, with another two weeks charged against annual vacation time. Another month is granted if a second re-take is required. After that, said a spokesperson, “You’re asked to leave.” Those hired out of law school by the Legal Aid Society who fail the July exam are required by the Judiciary Law Provision to take the following February exam, said a spokesperson. Legal Aid underwrites the cost of Marino’s bar review at New York Law School, and applicants are given four weeks’ study leave — two paid weeks and two weeks’ advanced vacation time. If they fail the bar a second time, they lose their jobs. In addition to re-experiencing the unpleasantness of the bar exam itself, many re-takers must also re-experience the cost of preparation. The Bar/Bri prep course, for instance, currently costs about $2,400 — for the first time. With a discount for second-time Bar/Bri students, the cost is $750. Students may opt to combine a second round of exercises with private tutoring arranged by Bar/Bri, which can add another $750 to the tab, according to a spokesman. FORMAL REVIEWS Marino recommends that attorneys return to the formal reviews to brush up on the multi-state portion of the bar exam — either Bar/Bri, Pieper or his own seven-week, 10-session program at New York Law. “And I do strongly suggest that while you need to memorize certain things, understand that the exam has changed dramatically over 29 years and now it’s a real test of analysis,” said Marino. “So, do you need to memorize every little detail about civil battery? No. Because then when it comes time to take the test, you’ll be like a snow globe. You get all shook up and you’ve got this mass of jumbled information. “Here’s a big confidence builder,” he added. “Go to the [New York State Board of Law Examiners] Web site and look up the passing answers. Students can miss detail but still pass because they have the ability to analyze and express themselves.” Burt suggested that re-takers should unburden themselves of needless stress. “Try to avoid people who tell you, ‘Oh, you’ll definitely pass this time,’ ” she said. “ And remember that when you stay up all night studying you just can’t do it physically. “Take the attitude — You know what, eventually I’ll pass. That takes away the all-or-nothing anxiety.”

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