It has only been two years since I took the bar exam, but I am fairly confident it is an experience one does not easily forget. It seems every lawyer, whether seasoned or freshly admitted, has an arsenal of war stories from the bar exam based on their own experience, or that of their friends. Even before I took my exam, I was armed with horror stories of students whose phone rang during the exam because they forgot to take it out of their pocket on break, or whose laptop went flying across the exam room because the person in front of them accidentally pulled the power cord when getting up to use the restroom.
My experience was not quite that horrific, although it definitely had its moments. I took the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bar exams in one shot, so I was scheduled to sit through the exam from Tuesday to Thursday.
Tuesday morning went well. I had everything planned to a T to minimize any chances that something might go wrong. I had a protein-filled breakfast with the goal of it keeping me full until lunch, an espresso shot to keep the caffeine headache away and found a parking spot in the garage without a problem. I was sure to leave my phone in the car heeding the advice from the aforementioned horror stories and checked in at the convention center. Once we were seated in our assigned seats, we were given permission to start up our exam software…and that is when I got my first curve ball. The software would not start. I do not recall the specific message it kept giving me, but it wasn’t good. I didn’t understand why. I was prepared. I installed it right on time, and I did the trial run. Everything worked perfectly – at home. After attempting to start it a few times, I began to come to terms with the fact that I may have to hand-write the exam. With two minutes to spare, I decided to restart my laptop in hopes that it would help. And voila! It worked. The guy seated next to me commented, “it can only get better from here.”
The rest of my Tuesday and Wednesday were fairly uneventful, i.e. things did go according to plan. I completed the essay portion of the Pennsylvania exam and came home on Tuesday. I ate dinner, walked the dogs and probably watched something funny on TV. Wednesday was MBE day. Honestly, it felt like it was nothing like the practice questions I prepared with in my studying. Fortunately, everybody felt the same way. I took comfort in knowing that we were all in the same boat, and drove to Atlantic City for my last day of exam torture.
Thursday was the essay portion of the New Jersey bar exam. I decided to stay at a casino I knew had a deli that was open 24 hours a day and sold breakfast sandwiches. I barely slept, woke up early and headed down to the deli at 6 a.m. I did a couple of laps around the store and didn’t see any breakfast food. I was then informed that they don’t start selling it until 7 a.m. Great. I got a yogurt, an espresso and headed back to my room. Not too long after that, I was ready to head to my car. Then I realized with complete dread that I had no idea which garage I parked in. I had been so disoriented and exhausted the night before, that I did not pay attention to which garage I was in. I ran around the casino from a garage to a garage like a mad woman. Thankfully, I remembered the floor where the car was parked. After a good 30 minutes, I found my car and, practically shaking, drove it to the convention center.
The atmosphere at the New Jersey location was a little…different. Practically everyone was on their third day of exam taking and was utterly exhausted. We all just wanted to be done. Oh, and there were birds flying in the exam area. Yup, birds. We could hear them chirping and flapping their wings above our heads.
After the exam, I drove home. I was wiped, relieved that it was over and convinced that I blew it that day. That evening is rather a blur, but I had my Friday all planned out also. Gilmore Girls. Six episodes in a row. What a way to detox.
The moral of my bar story is that you can be as prepared as ever and things will most assuredly not go according to plan. I am not suggesting that you don’t prepare – of course, plan and prepare because you want to save all of your brainpower for the fact patterns waiting for you. But don’t let yourself spiral into a panic if something doesn’t go right. It will be ok in the end. I passed both exams. You will too.