The Six People You Meet at the Bar Exam


Preparing for the July bar exam?  Let us allay (or confirm) your fears with this checklist of the six types of people you’re guaranteed to meet in the room that day, along with some practical, realistic advice on how to quickly riposte each one of them in order to maintain sanity. Good luck!

1. The Perennial Failure

This person has failed the bar exam five times in the last three years, but, without changing study habits at all, thinks this the one time things will go differently.  Even some smart people fail the first time.  Law of large numbers, it happens.  But, if you fail your second and third attempts, you really should consider whether you’re cut out to be an attorney.  Not that being an attorney is particularly hard; you’re just particularly stupid.

Time to start finding alternative uses for that law degree.  For instance, if you roll it up, you can swat flies with it.  Have you considered a career as an exterminator?

2. ‘e Took Yer Jerb!

Foreigners: You hate it when they raise their hand in class and begin a speech that begins with, “In my country . . . .” But you should love it when you see them in the exam room with you. Maybe it’s because they didn’t grow up with Ally McBeal and Matlock, or maybe it’s because they come from countries without the rule of law, but foreigners are terrible at the bar exam. Their passage rate is down nearly 50%, and that’s good news for you.

The overall passage rates in New York and California can make anyone a bit nervous about taking the exam, but just remind yourself: These states also have the highest percentage of foreigners.  They’re lining up to fill the bottom of the curve, so odds are they won’t get to take yer jerb.

3. The Nervous Talker

“What do you think the first essay topic will be?”

“Do you think the distance from here to the bathroom is too much?  I don’t want to lose a lot of time if I have to pee.  Do you think I should pee now?  I don’t really have to go yet.”

“I heard last year someone hung himself after failing the bar exam.  Did you know your life is basically over if you fail?  I really can’t fail this test.”

Some people cope with stress by chatting up anyone who will pay attention to them.  Unfortunately, while this may calm them down a tiny degree, it’s going to make your own stress levels skyrocket.  Not that you’re going to adopt his paranoia, you’re just going to become very annoyed with him.  The best way to deal with this character is to carry headphones.  They don’t even need to be plugged in to anything, just run the cord into your pocket and take advantage of the international sign for “Piss off!  I don’t want to talk.”

Or, if you’re feeling less charitable, confirm every fear he has.

“I heard the essays are going to be harder this year because of the bad economy.  They don’t want to let as many people pass.”

“A friend of mine went to the bathroom during the February exam, and they wouldn’t let him return to his seat afterwards.  Another friend died from holding it too long.”

“I read a study that said nervous people are 300% more likely to fail the bar exam.  It’s usually a sign that they’re underprepared and, in general, not very intelligent.”

4. The Cheater

No notes allowed in the exam room? You know people are going to do it anyways. If you catch someone cheating, you have two options: 1) You can either turn them in and hope for a quick and severe punishment, or 2) ignore it and accept that this one person isn’t going to throw the curve.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important that you immediately move on.  If you let it slide, don’t get caught up watching to see if he pulls out his notes during the exam.  If you turn him in, let the authorities handle it and avoid getting drawn into an argument when they let his infraction go unpunished (and expect that it will; most proctors are too wimpy or lazy to toss out a cheater).

Keep your head in the game.  Besides, almost half of law students admit to cheating in law school, so the bar exam isn’t much different.  You can’t possibly deal with them all, so why bother with the one you happened to catch?

5. The Recession Special

This is a new bar exam taker that cropped up after the bloodletting in BigLaw. Many young attorneys are moving across state lines but don’t have the experience needed to get bar admission reciprocity. They’re taking their second bar exam and will be a wild card when it comes to how they’ll affect the curve.

On one hand, they’ve already passed the bar once.  They know what to expect.  And they may have some relevant practice experience.  While your bar review course is actually primary education for many subjects, for them it truly is just review.

But, on the other hand, they may not be terribly driven to study hard enough to get back into a career that’s already snubbed them once.  There’s also a bit more distance between them and the evidence or T&E class they took Spring of their 3L year, so areas they aced the first time around may be a bit harder this try.

My prediction is they’re going to spoil the curve.  Most of the people canned from BigLaw went to elite schools and passed a tougher exam (New York or California).  Odds are they’ll crush the people who went to provisionally accredited Podunk College School of Law and Cosmetology.

6. The Dead Ringer

A ringy-ding ding dingy-doh, a-ringitty ding dee doh.

It happens every time.  You’re not supposed to have a cell phone in the room, and if you brought it in, you definitely should have turned it off. So, who’s the asshole that let their cell phone interrupt the bar exam?

Nine times out of ten, it’s the proctor.  The tenth time, it’s the tech support guy.  And, if you’re taking the exam in the cavernous rooms at the Javits Center in New York, you really can expect ten or more cell phones to go off.

Feel free to get up from your seat and administer an aggravated battery.  You’ll be doing your fellow exam takers a favor and creating an opening in the increasingly competitive proctor job market.

Bitter Staff is a collection of current and former editors, contributors, and various other lawyers who have written for Bitter Lawyer over the years. Posts include interviews, contests, and other general lawyerly and bitter content.

21 Comments

  1. thenambypamby

    July 29, 2010 at 6:23 am

    I’m guessing you were the nervous foreigner talking a lot?

  2. KateLaw

    July 29, 2010 at 7:25 am

    You forgot the “I’ve Got Nothing to Lose” bar exam taker… the person who already took a job outside of the law just out of school and is taking the bar exam for the hell of it.  They don’t need it to practice but are doing it for the hell of it And maybe bragging rights.

  3. Juris Depravis

    July 29, 2010 at 7:35 am

    You forgot the post-mortem fanatic.  Maybe a subset of or corollary to the nervous Nancy, but a pain in the ass nonetheless (especially between sessions/days).  The solution is much the same (headphones to ignore; misinformation to tweak).

  4. Juris Depravis

    July 29, 2010 at 7:46 am

    @KateLaw Good point!  These would likely include the Bar prep course plants, too.

  5. Mindy

    July 29, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    You’re always writing crap about foreigners. What the hell is your problem? Did a foreigner take a job from you? Did a foreigner take a girl/guy from you?

  6. Bar

    July 29, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Did you take the exam in 1963? You would get kicked out of the exam for bringing any type of headphones. You can’t even bring a pen in the room.
    And cheating? I would love to see someone cheat on the bar exam with 20 proctors in the room and video cameras all over the place.

  7. quado

    July 29, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    BL1Y…straight up man… I normally dig your commentary and especially your BL entries.  You’re a little off on this.  The proctors may as well have WWII german uni’s on they do NOT allow any headphones or cheating…really.. man.. I agree on them being pussies part..but because of that they would gang-jump on ANYONE trying to cheat.

  8. Guano Dubango

    July 30, 2010 at 3:30 am

    I had an experience at the NY Bar.  A woman who sat down next to me (alphabetically) started to make grunting noises during the essays, and she then called over the proctor because she said I had body odour.  I showered that morning, so the proctor went away.  That evening, she came up to me and said that I would be responsible if she did not pass the bar.  I do not believe she passed the bar because my name was on the list and there were only men near me on the list.  She was a strange person.

  9. BL1Y

    July 30, 2010 at 5:31 am

    Bar: Most testing sites will allow you to leave a bag or backpack outside, so you can listen to your iPod before going in to the room, or you can just stuff earbuds into your pocket. Also, you’re required to bring a pen if you’re handwriting your essay answers and I didn’t see video cameras in the room in either the Javits Center in NY or the hotel in Montgomery.
    Quado: When I took the NY exam a person behind me was turned in for bringing in notes, he lied about having them, and was caught. No disciplinary action taken, just told not to look at them during the exam. Someone was seen looking at notes in the bathroom at the AL exam and no one turned them in. I saw a proctor doze off, and there were reports of several people leaving to go to the bathroom and wandering off to other parts of the hotel. Not really maximum security.

  10. KateLaw

    July 30, 2010 at 7:31 am

    Guano’s body odor could prob make anyone fail the bar… Haha, hilarious!  I ended up sitting across from a guy who kept putting his head down during the test.  I come to realize that he had shit written on his hands/arms & he was putting his head down to sneak a peek.  It was total bs, but rather than getting upset I totally thought the kid was an idiot… I mean how much useful info could you fit on your hands/arms that would actually be tested?  Point is, it was amazing how clueless our proctors were to the whole “brilliant scheme.” Side note: I have to admit that it was nice when I found out he ended up failing anyway

  11. Frat Guy Law Type

    July 30, 2010 at 8:03 am

    5. 
    Def. gonna spoil the curve.  Capable people who have confidence perform under pressure.  And, let’s face it, the bar exam isn’t rocket science, its a two day stress test.  Or 3 in CA.

  12. Evil Lawyer

    July 30, 2010 at 8:54 am

    When I took the California exam eons ago, the power went out in one site, and people typing the eassy portions bar (pre-computer OK?), that didn’t bring a battery pack were so angry when others went on typing they pulled the battery packs out of other people’s typewriters.  There was also the woman who had passed one year with flying colors who was working for the SEC and took the Bar again in disguise, while pregnant and nauseous, and passed with nearly a perfect score. She was in disguise taking it for her boyfriend who had failed it. So she passed in his name but did so well compared to his old score, they investigated, found out what happened and she was suspended from the Bar, fired from the SEC and he of course was booted away from ever being a lawyer.  I thought I had failed becasue there were good looking women in the room that were distracting, and knew I had missed some fact in a property question (the post exam paranoia). I probably passed because my handwriting was so bad they gave up and didn’t want to inflict my exam on another grader.

  13. Magic Circle Jerk

    July 30, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Well done.

    You forgot that fucker who stands up an hour through, says “Done” and leaves the hall. Totally unnerving.

  14. BL1Y

    July 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Frat Guy: The girl sitting next to me went to NYU as did another guy two rows back.  That made me wonder just how many displaced top 10 students were in there.  Magic Circle: We weren’t allowed to leave early at the AL bar, but that would have been me.  I finished the first MBE section with an hour remaining and the second with maybe 45 minutes left. Not that I think this is particularly impressive, or that I did well. I just don’t think it takes that long to read the questions, realize you don’t really know and to then make an informed guess. They’re not deductive logic puzzles and you can’t reason out an answer by staring at a question longer.

  15. Alma Federer

    July 31, 2010 at 7:17 am

    When I took the bar, in the Javits Center, I sat next to a guy who kept sniffing.  I thought he was on Coke or something, but at the lunchbreak, he came over to me and asked me what kind of perfume I was wearing.  When I told him, he said his ex wore that and that I reminded him of his ex.  He then asked if I wanted to meet him for dinner afterward.  I did not know him, so I said my boyfriend was picking me up.  Afterward, he followed me out, sniffing like a dog after me.  I was very upset and had no boyfriend outside waiting, so he followed me to the bus stop.  I finally told him that I would not go out with him again, so he left me alone.  You meet all types of weird guys at the bar exam.  Women should look out because they are all on the make for some quick sex.

  16. Larry

    August 1, 2010 at 8:23 am

    I met a girl after the bar exam when I went out for drinks.  She was interested in meeting a lawyer.  While I wasn’t a lawyer, yet, she didn’t care.  We had a great time that night and for about 3 months afterward.  She was great in bed, and if I had been smart, I would have stayed with her.  Instead, I wound up with someone else who is not nearly as exciting as the girl I met when I took the bar.

  17. Gunners = Glorified Law Dorks

    August 2, 2010 at 6:29 am

    I definitely saw someone cheating during the bar exam. This chick had stuff written on her wrist and the top of her leg. Now, I have no idea what was written there, so maybe she just wanted to make sure she didn’t forget her “SSN,” but I was too freaked out to care.  I did turn in this b*tch behind me whose watch started beeping during the MBE portion and she could not be bothered to turn it off. They didn’t “expel” her from the room like they initially threatened, but they did make this one particularly pompous girl take off her flip flops for the entire day and walk around barefoot since she broke the hard-core “no flip flops” rule.  On a side note, BL1Y, I think you forgot the “Bar Exam Urban Legend.” We’ve all heard them. My favorite (from GA) is the girl who wore a diaper during the MBE so she didn’t have to take bathroom breaks….and she actually bragged about how genius this was.

  18. Son Of Guano

    August 2, 2010 at 10:59 am

    So Alma, what perfume do you wear now?

  19. Jacobie

    August 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    The reason foreigners don’t fair well in US Bar Exams is more due to language barrier than anything else. Without the language barrier I foreigners would outperform the US applicants. I have taken the CA, NY and VA bars and passed first time without Bar Bri or US JD. I can objectively say that the US Bar exams pale in comparison to bar exams in other common law jurisdictions, like England and South Africa. 

    For a truly difficult bar exam try and become a solicitor in Japan or Germany.

  20. pd

    April 4, 2011 at 10:58 am

    While you are insulting the intelligence of retakers, I wonder how many times you took the bar exam in order to actually categorize bar exam takers.
    This is a bad attempt at snarky humor. I have to wonder whether YOU are cut out for trying to be funny at all.

  21. Jerkface

    July 12, 2012 at 11:20 am

    I took two laptops just in case my primary crashed, and I was really glad I did when my primary bought it while setting up for the test.

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