It occurred to me last night that there are those of you out there who have no idea what this test even looks like. So for those of you not familiar with the particulars of the bar exam, I'd like to be the one to explain it to you.
The exam itself is two days long and each day is 8 hours, which includes 6 hours of actual testing, one hour for lunch, and a half hour of instructions for both the morning and afternoon test sessions. The first day consists of 200 multiple choice questions and the second day is 10 essays. The multiple choice questions test you on "the big six," or the six major subjects with which the National Conference of Bar Examiners has determined every lawyer must be at least a bit familiar: constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, torts, contracts, and property. I don't know who is actually in the National Conference of Bar Examiners, but I imagine them to all bear a striking resemblance to Thomas Jefferson, with a little bit of George Bush, Sr. around the eyes, maybe. The essay subjects are state-specific, and test you on various areas of the law in the state in which you're sitting. In Massachusetts, that includes agency, civil procedure, commercial paper, consumer protection, corporations, domestic relations, federal jurisdiction and procedure, leases, mortgages, partnership, professional responsibility, secured transactions, trusts, and wills. You are also expected to be able to write essays about the big six, for a total of 20 essay subjects tested.
I'm not entirely sure what the multiple choice questions are intended to prove, since they don't actually seem to test your ability to understand the big six. In fact, the multiple choice questions test you about law that doesn't actually exist anywhere, in any state. If that doesn't make sense to you, that's cool, because it doesn't make sense to me either. Some people really rock the multiple choice questions and stake their entire ability to pass on those questions. I am not one of those people, and I never have been. Multiple choice questions get me wrapped around the axle, tripped up, confused, always doubting myself between a few answers that sound basically the same to me, with neither one of them adequately capturing what I believe the real answer to be. The essays are where I shine, not because I'm so familiar with things like corporations or commercial paper (seriously, WHAT is commercial paper?!), but because I have a fairly strong ability to make up stuff that sounds really convincing. The essays are graded by hand (yes, by HAND!), by people who probably look more like John Quincy Adams than Thomas Jefferson, and they basically do a quick-read through your essay, looking for buzz words. I've always wondered what they'd do with a sentence that inherently made no sense, but had all the right buzz words in it: "Daffy Duck is the TESTATOR, and since his WILL evidences some UNDUE INFLUENCE by Kanye West, it's likely that the document will be set aside and his estate will pass to his wife, Angelina Jolie, by the INTESTACY STATUTES." I'd totally get like 10 points for that answer, even if the question had nothing to do with Daffy or Kanye. Hey, as long as John Quincy is happy, I'm happy.
Look, I know what you're thinking. I mean, when I go to a doctor, I'm always hoping that they don't actually know the answer to my medical mystery, but that they have a strong ability to make up something that sounds really convincing. Except, wait, no I don't! I mean, when you're paying someone $350 an hour, you kind of want them to know how to solve your problem, right? Of COURSE you do. Luckily, there's a sizable percentage of lawyers who charge $350 (or more) an hour and DO actually know how to solve your problem. And there are those other lawyers who charge nothing at all to help us protect that which the Constitution was designed to protect. Big shout out for the lawyers who aren't guessing!
But, see, that's the THING about this test. That's the thing that makes me curl my hands into fists and stomp my feet at 11pm when my coffee shop has closed for the night and I'm strung-out from reading my contracts outline for the 400th time.
Just after I'd finished my first year of law school I was at a friend's wedding, chatting with her father. He'd recently graduated from law school himself and he gave me the best piece of advice I've heard about the whole thing: "Lizzi," he said, "there are three very different aspects of learning the law. There's law school, there's the bar exam, and there's the actual practice of law. The only thing that all three have in common is that they have absolutely nothing to do with each other." At the time I thought he was crazy. I looked at him, stunned, and shook my head. I was mute with surprise, there was nothing on the tip of my tongue. I mean, I'd just finished my first year of law school and I felt like a rockstar. All those facts! All that information! Surely I'd learned something useful in that year. But no, he was right, there is nothing particularly useful about law school. Just like there's nothing useful about the bar exam. They're just the tickets that let you into the club. Law school is a marathon, meant more to determine your ability to endure than your ability to apply law to facts.
Like law school, the bar exam is the same kind of hurdle. And in case you haven't noticed, I'm pretty short. Hurdles aren't exactly my strongest sport. In fact, sports aren't my strongest sport. I'm the kind of girl who got an A+ in yearbook and a C- in gym. But here I am, plugging away at mile 20 of the 26.2, jumping over all those stupid fences they keep putting up. And I'll finish, I mean, of course I'll finish. I'm going to look like hell when it's over, I'm going to feel dumber, exhausted, beat-up, and strung-out. But of COURSE I'm going to finish. I can see it now, that ribbon off in the distance, waving a little bit in the breeze, Thomas Jefferson pondering quietly on one side, John Quincy looking disgruntled on the other. Hold onto your powdered wigs old men, I'm almost there.