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On Final Day of Bar Exam: Frustration, Relief, Drinking Plans

July 27, 2016, 10:26 PM

Asked about his experience at this year’s New York bar exam, a 12-hour marathon held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan on Tuesday and Wednesday, Colin Ford, a recent graduate of NYU Law School, cast the struggle in dire, personal terms.

“I felt like I got violated the first day,” he said. “I came back today and said, ‘I’ve gotta impose my will.’ I feel like I imposed my will a little this morning, but they might’ve imposed a little will on me too.”

The comment drew knowing laughter from two of Ford’s classmates outside the Javits Center on Wednesday, and was representative of a number of test takers’ sentiments: because of the range and mass of testable material, it’s almost impossible to feel good about the bar exam.

“I’m feeling like all the practice exams and all the studying was to no avail,” said Creighton Davis, another of the NYU grads, explaining that the test questions had seemed much harder than those he’d studied in his prep course.

For the first time, aspiring attorneys in New York are commiserating in complete solidarity with others across the country: Although the state previously administered the Multistate Bar Examination, six hours of multiple choice questions on general legal principles, July marks the first time New York has given the Multistate Essay Examination, three hours of essay questions that also transfer to other jurisdictions.

Previously, the essay portion of New York’s test was state-specific. The MBE and MEE, together with the Multistate Practice Test, are known as the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). The UBE has been adopted in 23 states, plus the District of Columbia. Altogether, the test covers more than 20 different subjects.

“You’re not trying to get an A,” said Taylor Dougherty, who graduated Brooklyn Law School in May and is joining Weil, Gotshal & Manges as an associate in the complex commercial litigation department this year.

Dougherty said the primary challenge of the bar, especially for students who did well in law school, is knowing when to give up on one subject and move to another.

“Bar study was rough,” said Emma Carlson, Dougherty’s law school roommate. Carlson, who’s joining the bankruptcy department at Paul Weiss, said another challenge of the months leading up to the exam was not having the accountability that comes with being constantly surrounded by classmates.

Test taker Mike Scrafford said after completing 95 percent of a Barbri study course over the last two and a half months, he was “disappointed” with how prepared he’d felt during first day and a half of testing.

But Scrafford, sipping Starbucks coffee in the sunlight filtering through the Javits Center’s glass ceiling, didn’t seem too worried, either: “I don’t get too stressed out,” he said.

A recent William & Mary graduate, Scrafford said he’s planning to dodge legal practice in the near term, and is moving from Virginia to New York soon to pursue a career in the music industry and work with an indie rock band, Gold Connections.

Asked where that left him financially, Scrafford said “not well.” “I have a support system that’s willing to put up with me,” he said.

Most of the people interviewed expressed some worry about test results, but were first-time test takers, and had resumes suggesting the odds were in their favor. But for an unlucky few, what’s supposed to be a months-long study marathon can turn into a years-long epic.

A 2015 Cardozo graduate who didn’t want to give her name, sitting on the floor against a glass banister in the Javits Center and eating lunch out of a glass baking dish with her mother, said it was her third time taking the test.

“It was because I got cancer,” the mother interjected. “No it wasn’t,” the student said. Pressed on how a close family member’s cancer diagnosis couldn’t have had an impact on bar preparation, the student shrugged: “Okay maybe it did,” she said.

Interviews with test takers on Wednesday revealed another big bar exam challenge: staying focused for the last three-hour session. Asked about the first thing they would do once they got out of the test, every single person lit up with a smile.

The Cardozo student taking the test for a third time said she’d likely head to the gym. Scrafford said he was getting a drink. Carlson and Dougherty had similar plans: reuniting with a group of male classmates at Juniper, a cocktail bar near Penn Station.

Reportedly, Carlson’s and Dougherty’s classmates, communicating by text message, had been lobbying for some time to go home after the test and change clothes. “We told them they can’t,” Dougherty said. “If they go home first, they’ll never make it to the bar.”

[caption id="attachment_23454" align="aligncenter” width="700"][Image “New York bar exam study materials in a trash can outside the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan on July 27, 2016. Photo: Blake Edwards” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/oltrash1.jpg)]Bar exam study materials in a trash can outside the Javits Center on July 27, 2016. Photo: Blake Edwards[/caption]