Friday, August 18, 2006

Taking the Bar, Part One

The Monday before the bar exam was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I cried off and on all day from sheer nervousness, and in between crying jags, I was overcome by long periods of zen-like calm in which I *knew* that I will fail and *accepted* that fact. Everyone always advises you to take Monday off, or at least to take it easy, but I thought I'd be better served by having things as fresh in my mind as possible, so I took Sunday off instead. The weather over the weekend was wonderful, and it was nice to get a chance to enjoy it a little. Still, on Monday I found myself trying to read outlines for Contracts, Civil Procedure, Property, Evidence, and Criminal Procedure-- the subjects that I considered my weakest-- and feeling doomed, utterly doomed.

I went to bed around 11 p.m., hoping that I'd worn myself out enough to just fall asleep. In fact, I felt bone tired, and when I collapsed into bed, I felt as though I was sinking into the mattress-- a sensation familiar from my college years when I was working at least 45 hours a week while carrying a full course load. Back then, if I felt that sensation when I laid down on my bed, I knew that I needed to stand up immediately or else I would fall asleep in a matter of minutes. Over the years, I came to think of that feeling as my warning system, telling me that exhaustion was very close to taking over, and I should try to cut something less important from my schedule so that I could catch an hour or two of sleep as soon as possible. So Monday night, that feeling was actually quite welcome. I thought it meant I'd drop off from sheer exhaustion and that would be that.

Haaaaaa haaaaaahahahahahahahhaha!

I laid in bed, caught in that place between awake and asleep for hours. At 2 a.m., I got up to go to the bathroom. At 4 a.m., I got up to find out why Ash hadn't come to bed (he was working on a deadline). Finally, around 5 a.m., I fell asleep... and at 6 a.m., the alarm went off. A quick shower helped drag me into the land of the living and the very strong cup of coffee that I drank while eating breakfast and reviewing Estates and Trusts notes didn't hurt either, but I was quite worried that I might actually fall asleep during the exam. It was one thing to go to school on 3 hours of sleep when I was 23. It's another thing to try and take the bar on 1 hour when I am 30. I cannot function on less than 7 hours anymore, I'm just too old! Then I read my Professional Responsibility notes while scarfing cereal and it was time to catch the bus.

The bar was being administered at the convention center. I know how to get there in a car, but given the levels of road rage I experience every time I try to drive during rush hour in this city and the sorry state of parking in the downtown area, I thought it better to take the bus. So on Monday night, I went to the port authority website to look up which bus to take. Imagine my surprise when I was told that there is no way to get from here to there! I tried the convention center website, hoping that they, like many places nowadays, might include a blurb like "This location is served by the following bus lines: 1, 53, 5, 39, 60, 48" or whatever. Nope. Next, I tried looking up the convention center as a bus stop on the port authority website. Nope. Finally, after a bit of sleuthing, I found that the bus that stops at the head of my street-- you know, the major busline that runs from the east suburbs to downtown? The one to (or from) which you can transfer from a million other bus lines?-- would take me straight there and let me off about a block from the convention center. But there's no route, according to the port authority, that runs from my neighborhood to the convention center with 3 transfers or less and a destination stop 1/2 mile or less from the convention center.

Anyway, the bus ride there was uneventful and I arrived at the convention center by 7:20 a.m. It seemed so strange to be riding with a bus full of people for whom this was just another work day, not the culmination of years of education and weeks of intense study, a day that could make or break their next career step. It reminded me quite a lot of when I was in Germany for Thanksgiving and everyone was just off to school and work, like every day, and I was feeling incredibly homesick, knowing that back home, my whole family was going to be getting together for dinner at my aunt's farm, without me.

I'd left a little early because the schedule said that I'd arrive at that stop by 7:38, so that left me enough room for error that I didn't have to stress. Instead, there I was, with 35 minutes to kill. Yes, 35 minutes; we were to report to our room at 7:55 a.m. It was kind of weird walking down the sidewalk with a stream of other applicants, everyone vibrating with nerves and/or fear. We proceeded up a series of escalators to a huge, open lobby area slowly filling with people, some of them milling about, chatting to their friends, sharing stories of last minute meltdowns, while others poured over notes one last time. I promptly ran into two of the three members of my 1L study group, and instantly, my nerves disappeared. I can't explain it. It's not like I was putting on a calm front to impress them: they witness all of my 1L freak outs, so it's a little too late to pretend that stuff like this doesn't bother me. It was just that all of a sudden, the bar exam didn't seem to be anything more than one more law school hoop. I'd take a leap and hope to pass through, but if I don't, oh well! A disappointingly low part of me is wrapped up in the idea of being a lawyer or even a law student. This is good because it's kept me nominally sane. It's bad because I haven't really ever caught the study-till-you-drop train.

Anyway, those 35 minutes flew by and suddenly we were being called into the computer based testing room. It was part of an enormous ballroom with a cavernous ceiling, and at first glance, the lighting seemed strange and dim. I was all set to get irritated, but once you got into the room, it actually wasn't bad at all. My seat turned out to be in the very last row, just in front of the proctors' table. I couldn't have asked for anything better: no distractions, no people walking past, and the proctors so close that I don't have to wait for their help if I need it. The girl seated directly in front of me was chatting with her tablemate, telling him that she and her husband had come up from Virginia, and for some reason, that was the first moment that it really hit me that there were lots of people there from somewhere else. I don't know why that never really occurred to me, because as soon as I thought of it, it was like "duh!". Still, at that moment it was totally a revelation to me.

The morning session was the Performance Test and the first two essays (each of which had 4 subparts), for which we had 3 hours total. Dirty Birdie and I had been joking on Monday about how we were sure to pass because of the sheer numbers of people we had praying for us. Specifically, I had been praying that the topics would be things that I knew about. The PT was based on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which we covered extensively in Elder Law. Now, you aren't supposed to rely on your own knowledge of the law, but rather on the materials you are given in the file library in composing the item they request. But still, it was nice not to start the day in an unfamiliar area.

I was pounding away on the keyboard, and in the back of my head, I felt that I was rocking the PT. Then I looked up and realized that I had already used nearly 2 hours on just that. Damn. I moved on to the essays and was pleasantly surprised to find that I could articulate *something* on each of them. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that two of the eight subparts asked about Federal Income Taxation, aka, "The Only Subject I Didn't Study Because Everyone Said They Never Ask About It". And lord knows I didn't learn anything in Professor MacPherson's class. I didn't get much written, given that I really only had an hour to do what I really should have had 1 1/2 hours for-- entirely my fault, but still. Nonetheless, I think I at least got a rule, an issue, and some analysis for everything. I can't remember whether I was stating full conclusions or not by that point. I think I may have been able to go back and add them to one or two things, but I figured the analysis was more important. Still, when they called "Time!", I'd answered everything.

At some point during the morning, I had to leave the room to go to the bathroom.

I ate lunch with Dirty Birdie and a friend of hers. I'd packed one of those little insulated lunchbags with an enormous amount of food because I was afraid that I'd get the growlies and not be able to concentrate. As a side note? I bought Frappucinos to take along for a caffeine boost in the afternoon. When I stopped at Target, they didn't have the caramel ones I favor, so I thought I'd just run over to the Horribly Overpriced Chain Store and buy them. I thought they'd be maybe a dollar more expensive. When I got there, I discovered that they were $2.70 more expensive. AND they didn't have caramel either. I stopped back at Target on my way home and got the vanilla flavored ones instead. Some of the men either had really huge appetites or no access to normal lunchboxes because at least three people had brought their lunch in those big styrofoam coolers you use to take beer on a fishing trip. I overheard many, many people telling their friends that they had difficulty finishing because they struggled with timing. That made me feel a little better about my PT-heavy morning.

The next thing I knew, they were calling us back in. We had a bit of a wait this time because the applicants taking the bar on their computers were required to be there early just in case there were any problems, and during the very boring wait I began to nurse an admittedly unreasonable hatred for the guy sitting four rows ahead of me wearing a BarBri shirt with the motto "Do It Once, Do It Right, Never Do It Again". The shirt seemed to be taunting me with its message, whispering to my insecurities, telling them that everyone else but me knows what they're doing.

The afternoon essays included the only two things that I didn't actually know, but in both cases, I thought that the issue they were heading toward was pretty obvious and made up a rule based on that. I know that in at least one of the two cases I was either right or very, very close to it, so hopefully that bodes well for my chances of success. Time was still a problem, though not the critical issue that it had been in the morning. I suppose that there's always just a little more you would have liked to added or a section that you might have liked to reword. In many cases, I felt that my answers were really more "short answer" than "essay", and I'm pretty sure that they were more IRA than IRAC. Still, I don't think I did too badly.

I couldn't believe how quickly the day went. I'd expected it to feel like a marathon, but it wasn't that bad. Not that it was easy, by any stretch of the imagination. But I didn't feel my energy flagging, even though I was working on next to no sleep. Ahhhh, adrenaline is a wonderful thing. When they called time, I stopped typing in the middle of a word, properly frightened by the dire warnings before each section about how refual to stop writing or typing on command would be "considered a serious character issue" and promptly "reported to the Bar". I think I got the main points all covered, though, and was only fleshing things out by that point. There was one question on the afternoon portion that I really didn't know, but I think I made a good guess and a decent analysis based on that guess.

It took forever to get a bus home because the busses kept passing me by, crammed full with people. I finally got on one, and even managed to get a seat a few stops down the line-- thank GOD, because I was starting to feel a little unsteady on my feet as the adrenaline started to ebb. I was sitting there, staring off into space and thinking about how much I wanted to see Ash and how much I wanted to sleep, when the guy sitting next to me asked "Are you French?"

I goggled at him in disbelief. See, this question is a bit of an inside joke with Hulio. We were at a concert once when a guy used this question as a pick up line, sending the two of us into gales of laughter. Since then, it's been our code for cheesy pick up lines and the guys that use them.

He must have sensed my... confusion, because he guestured toward my chest and said "Your sticker-- is it French?". I looked down and realized that I was still wearing the admission sticker they'd given us that morning, and that in some universe there might be a way in which the abbreviations on it could be construed to be French...-ish. So I laughed a little and explained that, no, it was just the admission sticker from the bar exam, as I peeled it off and stuck it inside my laptop bag. He immediately jumped on that, snagging the "honor" of becoming the very first person to ask "Did you pass?". I controlled the impulse to roll my eyes, since he obviously had no idea how obnoxious that question is for bar takers. I kind of chuckled about how I still had another day to go, so it was too soon to guess, and we talked about licensing exams for the next 10 minutes, until he got off, wishing me good luck for the next day. I thought that was very kind, and it really boosted my mood, which was teetering on the edge of a breakdown by that point.

Finally, finally, I got to Ash's place and took a very long nap. We ate dinner and I reviewed my Contracts and Evidence outlines... getting ready for the MBE.



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