Breakin’ rocks in the hot sun
I fought the law and the law won
I needed money ’cause I had none
I fought the law and the law won.
~Sonny Curtis, 1958
I fought the law.
Perhaps a more accurate statement would be that the law and I engaged in standardized testing combat. I like the more generalized sound of fighting the law better, and anyone who has taken the modern bar exam is probably prone to agree that it’s certainly a fight by most definitions of the word.
Yes, the time to discuss the bar exam has come. If this post is like any of the other posts in which I discuss some big exam then it’s probably going to get tons of traffic. Sorry visitors, if you’re looking for some in-depth statistical analysis, or a spirit voyage of metaphorical mountains and life paths, this post ain’t it. Instead I’m just going to talk about what the bar exam is, what it isn’t, and what my experience taking the damn thing was like. Mostly because I’ll probably have forgotten all of this crap in no time.
For starters, about me, I am not a shining example of the law student turned bar examinee. Go read through a lot of this blog under the “Law School” category and you’ll find that while I bitch and moan like the best of lil’ bitches, I’m pretty damn lackadaisical about the whole affair. That’s not to say I was always apathetic. Way back in the before times I took the LSAT and I went zerk’ over that shiny POS. Walked away with a 99.9th percentile score and said “Yep, screw that.” Then proceeded to be the most median of median law students to ever grace the hallowed halls of our pompous legal education system.
I’m more about the doing, not the circle-jerking in class and the dumb-ass exams. So I spent most of my time in law school doing and I accumulated a metric shitload of pro bono and client-facing hours, which was awesome and I enjoyed doing. However, the lack of my burning Crusade-tier enthusiasm for the RIGOROUS classroom environment extended to the bar exam when it came time to take that shit. In fact, I was so uninformed about the bar exam that I legitimately couldn’t have told you how they graded the damn thing. Seriously, raw scores, scaled scores? No idea what the hell that shit meant. I took Statistics and got an A+ in it… 6 years ago and have long since purged that information in favor of more important stuff like knowing when the best Steam sales are. To be ENTIRELY honest, I didn’t even know what score I needed to get to pass in my jurisdiction until like one week before the exam. It was that bad.
However, don’t think this is building up to some “I’m so gawd dayum awesome I didn’t even study for the bar because I’m just that kewl and I got a perfect score.” Ah.. no. In truth this apathy meant that I didn’t study as much as I should have, didn’t study as well as I should have, and ended up wasting a lot more time than I should have. In fairness to myself, I had a lot going on at the same time, but anyone can hide behind excuses. The fact of the matter is that I did study a lot, for me – but I basically threw the prep syllabus out the window on day one, ain’t no one gonna do 12 hours worth of shit a day, screw that. Well, lots of people do, but not Taco, he has some Witcher 3 to play since he delayed getting it for two damn years. This was, of course, all well and good until the dark specter of the bar exam got close enough that I could smell its ballsack (the bar exam has savage swamp ass). Once I realized that I’d somehow pissed away like 2 months of time working on unimportant things like preparing to move across the world (you know, totes meaningless stuff) and that the bar exam was only like 14 days away and was prepared to ravage my asshole.
That’s when I entered the “freak-the-fuck-out” stage, which I promptly answered by proceeding to not really change anything and to just ramp up the self-pity and emo darkness. But it sucked. I was scratching my hair out and shit.
I’d have avoided that massive bit of unpleasantness if I’d more proactively scheduled my time. So I’m not about to drop some massive-ass treatise on what to do for the bar exam, but I’ll say that – seriously – make a schedule that works for you. Don’t rely on someone else’s schedule. This isn’t like law school where you steal someone’s outline and pretend you made it because you added one case, make your own damn schedule, save your hair follicles.
This is all to say that going into the bar exam I was feeling a very odd mixture of “LOL DON’T CARE” and “I wonder which countries I can flee to to avoid my crushing student debt.” Maybe everyone feels that way, I dunno, but if so then I’ve been talking to the wrong people. On that note, when it came to talking to people about the bar exam I found myself more in the camp of “SHUT THE FUCK UP” and less on the whole “Let’s discuss estoppel by deed *fap* *fap* *fap*” side. This is why I have no friends and will die cold and alone.
But, it don’t matter how much you beg and plead, time keeps trudging along and before you know it it’s time to take the bar exam. While your exact venue will probably range from “shit” to “shit” you may soon find yourself standing before some massive room in a convention center or other suitable complex of misery, woe, and extremely unpleasant temperature extremes.
Inside you’ll see a variety of setups, but chances are it will consist of somewhere between 50 (Alaska) and 845,192,271 (New York) tables or desks.
My center was on the smaller side, but you get the general gist of it. It is among these wobbly tables and extension-cords-plugged-into-more-extension cords that you will take the bar exam.
But what is the bar exam? No, this isn’t some philosophical question that we shall debate long into the wee hours of the morn’ – it’s obviously a damn test. But like, what does it consist of, other than THE LAW.
Well. Not much. But it’s all about dat’ presentation. So here’s a plain English breakdown.
The bar exam varies depending on jurisdiction. Some states are what are called “Uniform Bar Exam” or S.H.I.T. states. For the purposes of this blog post, we’re going to be talking about the UBE because that’s what I took. If you want to read about a non-UBE state then just search for “Mr. Hands” on Google and I’m sure you’ll find something.
The UBE consists of three portions, spread over two days. There is also a third day in some states that focuses on satisfying some state-specific component of bar admittance, I had such a state.
It’s the first three portions that I’m going to discuss.
The first portion is what’s called the “Multistate Essay Exam” or MEE, because it’s uh.. given in more than one state. The MEE consists of a bunch of essays which COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY replicate real life, wherein you’ll face a legal issue and be unable to consult anything but memory to answer the question. Because that’s how the world works, no one gets to reference anything, ever. Thus the MEE is a completely realistic and accurate method of testing your ability to be a lawyer. Essay questions cover topics such as “Conflict of Laws,” “Torts,” “Masturbation,” “Wills,” “Real Property,” “Thermodynamics,” “Contracts,” “Evidence,” “G.I. Joes,” “Constitutional Law,” “1980s Horror Movies,” “Trusts and Estates,” “Why are there 8 hot dogs and only 6 buns,” and “Memomics,” just to name a few. Indeed, the MEE requires a vast array of knowledge.
While specific states vary, in my jurisdiction we had 6 essays we needed to answer. You are given a set amount of time to answer all 6 six essays, and time isn’t called for each essay. Therefore you must manage your time to answer all 6 essays. This can require a bit of triage since you might feel really confident about the “Sex Doll Laws in Soviet Russia” question, but you’ll miss it if you spend too much time on that pesky “Restraints on Alienation” question that came before it. Different jurisdictions grade the essays on different scales, but their all flawed and subjective as hell. For instance I don’t think my grader appreciated all the penises I drew in the margins, and those were some damn fine penises. Regardless of the specific grading scale the jurisdiction uses the MEE counts as 30% of your overall bar exam grade.
The second portion is what’s called the “Multistate Performance Test,” and seriously, what kind of shitty-ass name is that? So like, what? The bar exam is such a shit proxy for actual performance that you have to make a portion of test called the PERFORMANCE test? What the flying fuck. So is the rest of the test just unrealistic, incomparable, improbable bullshit? Oh wait, yes it is. This portion, the MPT for short, is also written as opposed to being multiple choice. However, rather than being presented with some fact pattern and then writing a little essay about it as you do in the MEE, in the MPT you do get some bigger fact pattern and then write a memo or brief or something about it. The MPT is also “closed” in that you are given a bunch of files and stuff that you have to read through, and you needn’t rely on anything outside those files to prepare the memorandum. The MPT consists of two such problems, so it’s like 700 pages long. Since the MPT is “closed” there isn’t a whole lot you can do to prepare for it like you can with the MEE, where a purchase money mortgage question is a purchase money mortgage question. You’re supposed to do like 4 thousand practice MPTs, but no, just don’t. Oddly enough I actually enjoyed the MPT portion of the exam because it was the only portion that seemed to even moderately have a real life purpose, yes I should probably kill myself. The MPT tends to be scored the same was as the MEE on a per-jurisdiction basis and counts for 20% of your final bar exam grade.
The third is what’s fittingly called the “Multistate Bar Exam” or MBE – such an original name. If you haven’t realized by now, the people who make the bar exam have no souls and therefore they just were kinda like “Ya know what, fuck it, let’s just call this the bar exam, bar exam – because we can’t think of some cooler name like ‘Multiple Choice Questions to Render that JD Useless.'” The MBE consists of 75,000 multiple choice questions and lasts for 600 hours – or at least that’s what it feels like. Also like 5 minutes into the MBE someone will finish and you will at first ponder killing yourself, and then them, and then everyone. Each MBE question consists of a bunch of answers all of which might be right, some of which are just more right than others, because where’s the fun in having you know, actual answers. The MBE tests basically every topic under the sun, so I hope you’re well versed in Ancient Babylonian Sheep Herding Techniques, because that is definitely gonna be on the MBE. Also you should probably expect some stupid topic your prep materials told you totally only shows up once every 20 years, because you’ll get 80 damn questions in a row about it and proceed to piss your pants right there in the bar exam as a silent but disgusting protest against the man. The MBE, despite being standardized bologna, is worth an astounding 50 freaking percent of the entire bar exam. So you can do really well on “babby-fills-in-the-bubbles” and utter shit on the MPT, and still pass. Makes a fuck load of sense that does.
Then there is that variable state portion I talked about, which covers topics/subject areas more specific to that jurisdiction. For instance in Vermont there is an entire day about Ben & Jerry’s Law and the Legality of Shooting Leaf Peepers. I’m not going to talk about that day because it’s just too varied. Just know some random stuff like when your state was founded and then proceed to write 15,000 words about why your state is the best state and you will
undoubtedly fail probably pass.
And that’s the bar exam©™®!
Easy as pie – if the pie is poisoned, on fire, and rigged with explosives.
Of course the testing experience is just as much fun as the test itself! You probably have to travel, stay at an overpriced hotel, and then be at the exam center at 2:30am. On the way in you also need to donate a kidney to the bar examiners, but at least they let you pick which one (I’m pretty sure they eat them). Once in line and one organ lighter, you get to go through a variable level of security depending on your jurisdiction. Some places (*cough* Virginia *cough*) make you wear BUSINESS DRESS to this shit, because it’s not bad enough as is. But if you’re like most people and not taking the exam in such a
fucking shithole fine example of statehood you’ll probably notice a couple of people wearing pajamas and then the rest will be decked out in paraphernalia for whatever law school they graduated from because vanity knows no bounds. I wore my finest. Which is to say I wore the only outfit I have. Seriously I wear the same jeans and shirt for a month at a time, ask SB.
You then stand in line from 2:35am until about 1:00pm and eventually you’ll make your way to a desk where some proctor whose soul died in World War I will make sure you’re not trying to smuggle some unholy contraband such as a GOD FORSAKEN PENCIL into the exam. There will inevitably be someone who didn’t follow the proper rules on Ziploc bag size and will be shot on site – be sure to step over the pooling blood and cranial fluid, it is oddly sticky. In my case there were uniformed police offers there too, because it’s not like there is anything better they could be doing with their time. Eventually after being stripped naked, anal probed, tazed, shaved, and given a burlap sack you’ll be able to enter the exam room which will either be -100 degrees or 200 degrees, either or. You may even be offered coffee, but that’s just to make you suffer more since you’re stuck in that room and can’t use the bathroom because this is the BAR EXAM and FUCK YOUR BIOLOGICAL NEEDS.
You then get to sit at your desk where you’ll spend the next 400 years. It will either be awkward silence as you don’t want to talk to anyone around you, or someone will try to talk to you and you’ll want to stab them in the face with the pen the armed SWAT team outside stole from you. You’ll sit waiting on everyone else to get signed into the exam room for anywhere from 30 minutes to 60 years. Eventually things will get started and the bar examiners will say a bunch of shit you don’t even care about. You didn’t come here today to listen to some 80 year old lawyer talk about the good ole days, you came to pretend you learned something in law school in order to give whatever institution you came from a brief boost of relevance in a dying world. THEN, after what you THOUGHT were the instructions, they will proceed to start reading you the actual instructions which will take another 5-6 hours and will cover such rigorous topics as “make your marks heavy and dark and don’t chew out your neighbor’s eyes.” However, just when you have figured out how to strangle yourself with that power cord from 1970 that has been strung across the floor with duct-tape, the exam will finally begin.
You’ll then feel a rush of adrenaline followed by alternating feelings of “FUCK YES I AM A LAWYER GOD” to “What if there was a grate at the end of the pipe and Andy Dufresne couldn’t get out?” Those latter thoughts are dangerous because they might cause you to ponder the philosophic question of why you are yourself covered in shit. Eventually time will be called and you’ll have answered somewhere between 0 and 1000 essays. However, since you started late due to the geriatric proctors you’ll have all of like 15 damn minutes to eat lunch. You’ll then be let loose into whatever convention-center type place you are taking the exam in and will see lots of happy smiling people.
Your fellow examinees will be happily chattering about the exam questions, which they know they aren’t supposed to do but they do anyways because they “cleverly” frame them in abstract and obtuse ways. Feel free to kill them if your character and fitness process is already over. If it’s not, just fuck them up real good but don’t kill them. Once you’ve inhaled your meager nutrition you’ll get to go stand in line again. Then you go inside and hear the instructions again. Then you repeat this for the rest of your life until you die.
That is legitimately the bar exam. It’s NOT some super magical awesome right-of-passage “muh fraternity” bullshit. It’s a test that doesn’t really test your abilities in a realistic manner. It’s just some artificial barrier to admission that costs a shit ton of money to take and is tacked onto an already problem-ridden legal education system. I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s not. Pass rates aren’t going to shit for no reason. But it’s NOT some metaphysical religious experience that tries your heart and soul on your passage to be the SWORD OF JUSTICE. Nah, it’s just a stupid test. If someone tries to argue otherwise, Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A is the answer.
Once the bar exam is over they inform you that it will take sometime between 2 and 4000 months to get your grade back to you, and that they’ll post a pass-list on the internet so that all your friends and family can easily check to see if you failed. Then, sometime after all that, you’ll have to go be sworn in. Depending on your state this will range from really easy, to gawd damn stupidly difficult – because magic words and mythical traditions are important and necessary after all.
In the meantime don’t worry about checking the online portal though, within 3 seconds of the names going live you’ll see all your law school acquaintances that passed posting “Annoying-bitch-of-a-Friend’s Name, Esq.” as their Facebook status. This way people know that they passed the bar exam and are definitely not insecure and dead on the inside and get by only through momentary flashes of pixels which equate to social validation on the internet.
If you’re fortunate like me you’ll have family and friends who leave you the fuck alone and let you tell them if you passed or not. But if you’re unfortunate they’ll be up your ass like wildfire, especially if they are too stupid to realize it’s all be plastered across the entire damn internet already thanks to the board of bar examiners. There is literally a “LOL UR KID DIDN’T PASS” website, thanks family.
However, you might also be fortunate like me and pass. If you did, I offer my sincere congratulations. Since states have different minimum passing scores, “passing” is different depending on the person. I did well enough that I surpassed the minimum score for every single state, that was cool. However, had I passed my jurisdiction by even 1 point, I’d still be happy. Truth is I don’t intend to bop around taking a bunch of bar exams, because holy shit I’d rather be reborn as a 8 year old on one of those ships that sank in the Children’s Crusade. The passing all jurisdictions bit just enlarges my wee-wee and is otherwise worthless.
If you did not pass, then I’m not going to offer my condolences, I’m going to congratulate you for putting up with that shit in the first place. Whether you decide to retake this dumb-ass exam, or move on with your life, I wish you the best either way. For those of you who stumble across this post while waiting on scores, for what it’s worth I thought I was going to fail for the entire waiting period. However, I was going to write the same post regardless. So please don’t feel like this facetious bit of word vomit is just because I passed, it’s not. It’s because this whole affair is stupid as shit and is part of an education system which is even more idiotic. I don’t think it’s really worth a super intensive post without incredulous overtones. So, if you failed, congrats on making it to the other side, even if it isn’t with the result you wanted. You gave it a shot, and that’s worth a fuck-load more than the person who doesn’t have any idea what you went through trying to give you some pep talk about failure (or even better, the lawyer who took the bar in 1947 and totally understands where you are coming from because nothing has changed in 70 damn years, nope). Fuck that. Congrats on what you did accomplish. Now either get back in the saddle or move on to something else, life’s too short to worry about some 200 year old proctor (who is probably a vampire, come to think of it) lecturing you about your damn cough-drops being in wrappers.
Regardless of pass or fail, the final answer is always the same:
And that, dear friends, is all I have to say about the bar exam. My apologies if this post wasn’t what you were expecting, but I kind of like the way it turned out. If you need me I’ll soon be doing whatever it is lawyers do.
But for now, I’ll just relish the fact that I fought the law.
And I won.
Until next time,
P.S. – If you’re curious as to which version of “I Fought the Law” is my favorite, it’s without a doubt the Bobby Fuller Four’s cover.