No Holds Barred  Preparing for the New York Bar

No Holds Barred Preparing for the New York Bar

Bar & Bench

A friend of mine just took the New York bar exam. While his fate is unknown till mid-November, I thought it might be interesting to get him to write about the process of preparing for the bar and the actual exam itself. So here are his thoughts.

A friend of mine just took the New York bar exam. While his fate is unknown till mid-November, I thought it might be interesting to get him to write about the process of preparing for the bar and the actual exam itself. So here are his thoughts.

The New York Bar – The Ironman Triathlon of the Law

The only reason I took the New York bar was because I had to. I sincerely hope I never have to again. I would rather run across Afghanistan or just hit myself over the head until I’m unconscious. But seriously, I just took the New York bar and here’s a brief summary of the process.


First, some raw numbers. A record 11,532 lawyers sat for the New York bar in July 2009. I’m not sure what the number for 2010 was. The pass percentage was a relatively encouraging 72% (not so encouraging if you were in the other 28%).

The bar exam tests the following subjects – Contracts, Property, Torts, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Constitutional Law, Family Law, Wills & Gifts, Trusts, (have you had enough? Ok, here’s some more) Agency, Partnership, Corporations, Conflict of Laws, Commercial Paper, Secured Transactions, New York Practice and Federal Jurisdiction (there might have been more – I just didn’t study it). Yes, really. All of that. If you’re in law school, it’s not too late to quit and cook for a living.

So how is it all tested? Here’s the break-up:

Day 1 (New York Law) – Morning Session – Three essays and fifty multiple-choice questions.

Day 1 (New York Law) – Afternoon Session – Two essays and a Multistate Performance Test involving a simulated legal practice situation

Day 2 – (Multistate) – Morning Session – 100 multiple choice questions in three hours.

Day 2 – (Multistate) – Afternoon Session – 100 multiple choice questions in three hours.

Preparation – June

The New York bar is big business. There are a number of reputed test preparation providers such as BarBri, Pieper and Kaplan. A typical bar preparation course costs somewhere between roughly $3,000 (Rs.138,000) and $4,000 (Rs.184,000) and typically lasts for about eight weeks – from late May to mid July. Classes typically last for about four hours and candidates are normally encouraged to study for another four hours after class. In my experience, most candidates (or maybe just me) are as willing to do regular self-study as Indian batsmen are willing to take on Bret Lee without a helmet.

Attending classes is a pain but there are some benefits (like the nice girl with the brown hair two rows back…oh forget it). The good news is that you don’t have to stay behind in New York to take classes. You can even attend NY bar classes in California, except that these remote classes involve projecting a DVD onto a whitescreen which folks then watch with cultish obedience.

The classes themselves are not bad, especially considering the stuff that’s being taught. I mean, is there anyone alive who could make the rule in Dumpor’s case sound like fun? But to be fair, most bar instructors are pretty good – almost all of them have a couple of good jokes (each about twenty years old), some catchy mnemonics and a few interesting stories. If you can live with getting up at 7 am, bar class is not the worst thing in the world (although sometimes it’s pretty close).

To sum it up, no one does much work in June. Who could do it, what with the Los Angeles Lakers on the verge of victory, Lady Gaga doing her stuff, your best friends’ all night party in Chelsea? Still, if you’re conscientious, you probably do a few practice tests every day, look over your notes and summarize them. If you’re a saint, you also do practice essays, look through past papers and begin to prepare outlines of your notes. By the way, if you actually did all of that, the rest of us should get together and kill you since you are clearly a future threat.

Preparation – July

In July, people begin to go crazy. The weak ones crack first, you can see them mumbling rules of property law to themselves in quiet corridors. Bar classes end about two weeks before the bar exam and you are finally left to your own devices to discover that you know basically nothing about all that stuff that you thought you had covered.

You make notes. You prepare outlines. You do little flashcards. It’s all no good, kiddo – if you can’t remember it, you won’t.

People binge on food. The truly hard-core binge on alcohol (I’ve never met one of those).

The Big Day(s)

The night before the big day, you don’t get much sleep. Honest. I know a girl who had memorized her notes backwards and had topped every exam since her junior school nursery rhyme contest and even she didn’t get any sleep.

The security arrangements at the venue are very reasonable, that is, if Osama Bin Laden were taking the test. For the rest of us, it’s just ridiculous – anything you bring in has to be in a clear plastic bag, you can’t wear flip-flops (because they’re noisy), you can only eat “quiet snacks” (No, I have no idea what a quiet snack is. Suffice it to say that my attempts to bring in a three course Indian meal were not allowed.).

You can use a laptop to write your essays, provided you register your laptop with the bar exam authorities beforehand. If your laptop messes up, too bad – it’s probably not the worst thing that will happen to you in your life in the law, but you won’t know it at the time.

The exam venue in Manhattan is not a cheerful place. The man sitting next to me said, quite sadly, “My grandfather died in prison. I now understand what it was like.”

Oh and by the way, you might not get assigned a venue in Manhattan. There are apparently other places in New York state – like Albany, Buffalo and Somalia. (I’ve checked. Somalia is not on the list.)

The most ridiculous part? After Day 1, they give you a wristband to identify you as a bar candidate. You can’t take the wristband off between days one and two. Not even when you shower. Some people look at the band and innocently ask you if you went to a club. You restrain yourself from punching their faces in only by remembering that punching a face in is battery, punishable in New York as a crime.

I realize I’ve sounded quite negative about the bar exam so far. Let me end on a positive note. If you do it right, you’ll never have to do it again.

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