“Fond” Memories of the NH Bar Exam
Bar members continue to respond to our request for memories of taking the Bar exam.
'I have NO idea...'
In 1996, one of the essays involved a 3-page fact pattern regarding corporations. I read through the fact pattern and looked at the first question which asked for an analysis as to whether the proper requirements had been met for a “stock subscription agreement.” I had absolutely no idea what a “stock subscription agreement” was and I started to panic. Then, I remembered what Marty Gross had told us earlier that day: “Even if you don’t know the answer, you’re smart people so just write something.” I wrote that I had no idea what a “stock subscription agreement” was but that I would look at the applicable statute and rules and also ask an experience practitioner for assistance in figuring it out.
I have no idea what the bar examiners thought, but I was honest and I passed.
Donna M. Daneke, admitted to the NH Bar, 1996
Lunch hour and a good omen or two...
In the middle of a grueling day of the bar exam, I strolled a few blocks from the Legislative Office Building, where the exam was being administered, to grab a quick lunch in downtown Concord. On my way into a sandwich shop, I spotted noted attorney Tom Rath sitting at a table outside the shop, which I took as a good omen. On my way out of the store, I saw Tom stand up to greet someone who was presumably meeting him for lunch. I quickly recognized Tom’s lunch companion to be then-sitting Supreme Court Justice David Souter. My good omen had gotten better, and, indeed, I passed the exam.
Peter Lavallee, admitted to the NH Bar, 1994
'Do You Think That will be Enough?'
They are still using them...
Photo credit: Flickr by Abritrary.Marks
The Legislative Office Building, until this year, was the test site for the Bar exam.
Photo credit: Flickr by Ben McLeod
I was hired to take a legal position in New Hampshire and although I was admitted in Massachusetts, I had not yet taken the NH Bar. A few weeks before taking the Bar, an older member of the Bar came into my office to introduce himself to me. After a cordial introduction he then asked me: "So, are you studying for the exam?" and I answered "Yes." Seeing that I was not actively studying at the moment, he inquired: "When are you doing that?" I replied I was studying at night and when I could get some time in during the weekends. He prodded further: "So, do you think that will be enough?" and I answered "Yes, I'm hoping it will be enough." Then he asked, "So, do you think you'll actually pass?" and I confidently replied, "Yes, I think I will." He then got right up to my face and said "You better." With that he turned and walked right out without saying another word. Fortunately, I did pass.
Gabriel Nizetic, admintted to the NH Bar, 1989
Plymouth Area Prosecutor
Once was More than Enough!
As I dutifully hauled my Rules of Evidence, my NH Constitution, and my UCC with me to the hulking, dark Legislative Office Building with a lump in my throat early the morning of the first day of the NH Bar exam, I took my assigned seat. I don’t know whether it was cold in the near-vacant building or whether I was just scared (would I pass? Or would I pass out?). As we all sat waiting for “the talk” from the venerable Martin Gross, the smart-looking guy in the seat next to me leaned over, eyed my stack of tomes, compared them to his whistle-clean exam area and said to me with a sideways grin and a snort, “you’re obviously a bar exam ‘neophyte’”. This added to my angst and I replied, wide-eyed, “what, you don’t think I’ll need them?” To which he retorted, “well, I didn’t have time”.
Just then, Martin Gross arrived to deliver his sonorous words of wisdom, we nodded assent to whatever it was that he said (apologies to Martin Gross, he meant well, but I was a wreck), and we were off and writing. I never got a chance to talk more about this exchange with my table-mate, but the obvious did occur to me on the second day as I was faced with a particularly difficult Article 4 essay question. As I riffed through my UCC and began to write furiously, I sneaked a glance at my table-mate. His pen wasn’t moving, his head was down and he was slightly shaking his head back and forth in disbelief. It then occurred to me: if he was calling ME the “neophyte” with an experienced wink, he’s been at this table before . . . . I was just fine with being called a “neophyte” any day if it meant that I wasn’t in the position of that jaded second-timer!
(p.s.: I passed.)
Julie Howard, admitted to the NH Bar, 1988
An Uncomfortable Accommodation
Prior to taking the Bar Exam in July 1998, I contacted the Bar Association and requested permission to sit on the end of the last row during the two day test. The reason for my request was that I have a spinal injury which makes it difficult for me to sit on a hard chair for several hours without getting up to stretch my legs; I wanted to avoid distracting any of my fellow test takers by standing and moving around the room.
The Bar Association was kind enough to grant my request and I was instructed to contact the Proctor upon my arrival. On the first day of the Bar Exam, the Proctor showed me to a room adjacent to the main auditorium, which held two gray metal desks and one leather chair. On one desk, there was a telephone and several banker boxes; the other desk had been cleared for my use during the two day exam.
Approximately ten minutes into the exam, the phone on the desk next to me started to ring. I let it chime twice and then answered it, only to find that the caller had hung up. I ignored the interruption and settled back into my essay when the phone rang again. I answered the call and explained to the person on the other end that I did not work for Facilities and that I could not take a message as I was taking the Bar Exam. The caller thanked me for my cooperation (I am being kind here) and ended our conversation.
I resumed my essay. The phone rang, again. By the time I answered it, the caller had hung up. Aggravated, I placed the phone in the large document drawer of the desk and continued with my essay. Within a few minutes, the phone went off again, causing the metal desk to vibrate loudly with each ring. I answered the phone and "politely" told the caller that Jim or Bob was not there and unplugged the phone.
Thirty minutes later, two gentleman with dollies walked into the room and explained that they were there to move the banker boxes and furniture out of the room. I explained to them that I needed the furniture and requested that they take everything but my desk and chair. They dismissed my appeal and began to move the items as we engaged in a somewhat heated discussion on why I need the desk and chair for my exam.
At that time, the Proctor entered the room and asked me why I was talking to these two gentlemen while taking my test. After a rather quick explanation, the Proctor instructed the two men to come back during lunch to move the furniture. At that time, a third man walked into the room and started to move some of the boxes. The Proctor and I asked him what he was doing and he replied that he received a complaint that the phone was not working and he was there to fix it.
I explained that I was taking the Bar Exam and the phone kept ringing and distracting me so I had disconnected it, which initiated a lecture on why I should not be "playing with State property." He then went on to say, in a rather dry tone of voice, "I would think that someone smart enough to get through law school would have just called the switch board and had them deaden the line." Annoyed, I escorted him from the room and went back to my essays. For the next few hours, the phone did not ring, no one came to move furniture, and I was not troubled by Facilities. Finally, I could work my way through the exam uninterrupted! Oh, in case you were wondering - I passed.
Paul Moore, admitted to the NH Bar, 1988
Pecking His Way Past the Bar Exam
I read with interest that laptops are now being permitted for the essay portion of the bar exam.
When I took the bar exam in 1966 I inquired as to whether I might be able to type my answers to the essay questions. I was quite surprised that the answer was in the affirmative. I was quite pleased about this, as I was a proficient typist and this would facilitate my answering the questions.
As this was eons before word processors and laptops I was permitted to type my exam answers in one of the offices of the justices of the Supreme Court (so as not to disturb others). I always attributed my success in passing the exam for this courtesy which was extended to me.
Howard Standish Bergman, Esq., admitted to the NH Bar, 1966
My Ribbon Ran Out...
I was permitted to use a typerwriter for the essay portion of the Bar Exam, but it had to be "brain dead" -- with no memory whatsoever. So I went to Lechmere's and bought their "bottom of the line" model right out of the box.
The first hour or so of the exam went well, until the "demo size" ribbon that came with the machine came to an abrupt end! I reverted to the blue books until lunch hour, when a quick shopping trip brought redemption. PLAN AHEAD!
Marge Hallyburton, admitted to the NH Bar, 1996
Hallyburton, now on inactive status, recently served in the NH House of Representatives.
Blue Books? Still?
It was an unusual experience to take the NH bar exam in July of 2007, coming as it did some 37 years after sitting for my last bar exam (in Florida). Although I felt more than adequately prepared for the substance of the exam itself, I was shocked to find that “bluebooks” not only still existed but that we were actually expected to write our essay answers in them.
From my college and law school experiences, I thought that bluebooks should have been outlawed as cruel and unusual punishment many years ago. Fortunately, it was recently announced that the Bar Examiners will allow the essays to be answered using one’s computer in the future. It was helpful for the Chair of the Bar Examiners to remind us at the beginning of the exam on the first day that the Examiners cannot grade what they cannot read. It seemed in retrospect that it might have been a good idea to recommend to all registrants in advance of the exam to do some hand exercises with some of those spring-like squeezing gadgets designed to build hand strength-- I and many people at the exam that I talked with later all experienced some hand cramps from writing the essay answers under time pressure, but using computers in the future will simply eliminate that problem.
Finally, I don’t know whether it was my fault for assuming that a state building in which the exam was given in July would be well air-conditioned, or whether I simply wore too many clothes, or whether it was just nerves, but at least the first day it was very hot in the exam room, and either from heat or nerves or both, my bluebook answers were consecrated with many drops of sweat that fell earthward. Fortunately, I passed.
Norm Silber, admitted to the NH Bar, 2007
Miami, FL & Gilford, NH
Silber is affiliated with Ruden, Mclosky and Smith in Miami.
Are His Eyes Closed?
I first took the bar exam in Connecticut. Halfway through the exam, I sensed I was getting tense and decided that the best thing to do was to take a moment, relax, and collect myself. I set the alarm on my watch to buzz minutes in the future, closed my eyes and did some yoga breathing exercises to clear my head. Five minutes later, my watch quietly sounded and I went back to work, refreshed and relaxed.
After the exam, the person seated next to me commented on the sang froid I evidenced being able to nap during the exam. Little did he know. (I passed).
Dan Coolidge, admitted to the NH Bar, 1982
Coolidge maintains a solo law practice in Unity, NH
Feeling Like Forrest Gump
I remember taking the bar exam back in 1995, and the test administrator was stressing that everyone should go out and relax after taking the first part of the exam. He said that after he took his bar exam, he went to see the movie Forrest Gump, and that he felt like Forrest Gump after taking the exam, but he did fine.
After that first night, I did go out for some downtime and went to the mall in Concord, but then did go back and study more, as every little bit helps. I passed on the first try, thank God.
I also remember that I had to park in a parking garage and pay for parking, which was on an hourly, not daily, basis. I had to replenish the meter, but did not have any change to do so on my way back from lunch to the exam. I did not want to be late in taking the exam, so I decided to forego replenishing the meter, and risk a violation, mistakenly thinking that I would only get one violation. However, the meter maid came back two times, so I had to pay for two tickets.
They really should do something about those meters for folks who are taking such an exam because you really can’t be going out to the meters every two hours -- it’s ridiculous (i.e. give folks a parking pass and you pay a set daily fee for that day).
Those are my two fond memories of taking the bar exam.
Katherine Boutin, admitted to the NH Bar, 1995
Attorney Boutin is a Senior Investigator, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, in Manchester
Zibel: ‘Do Better than the Average Monkey’
For many years in his position as Supreme Court Clerk, Howard Zibel presided over the administration of the NH Bar exam.
What Zibel remembers most about his years of helping to administer the New Hampshire Bar Exam is the rows of terrified test-takers, waiting to check in. Zibel, now General Counsel for the New Hampshire Supreme Court, says that the high pressure surrounding the exam comes from the fact that, unlike a 17-year-old taking the SAT, bar exam test-takers know exactly what is at stake. “You can’t do your chosen work unless you pass,” he says, “And that’s scary.”
A large part of Zibel’s job was to greet test-takers on test day in the minutes before they began their first session of testing. He used these minutes to impart some advice – and to lighten the mood with what he calls his “two minutes of standup comedy.” Humor was a welcome antidote to pre-test anxiety, and Zibel remembers getting a few nervous laughs.
Zibel had two pieces of advice for exam takers. First, he told them to keep a careful watch on the clock and answer questions in a timely fashion, even if they were unsure of their answers. The tests are multiple choice, with four answers to choose from. “In theory, even a monkey should get 25 percent right,” says Zibel. “Your goal is to do better than the average monkey.” Second, he advised them to relax the night before day two of the exam, rather than study. “At this point,” he reasoned, “you either know it or you don’t.”
Looking back, Zibel hopes that his last-minute standup routine relieved some exam jitters. “Laughter lowers blood pressure, and makes you a little calmer,” he says. “It was a way I could help them through.”
Interview by Elizabeth Faiella.
If We Had Failed...
I took the Bar Exam in 1965. It was a small group of around 40 to 50. Only one woman. The exam consisted of 96 essay questions over a three-day period.
The review course was three weeks. Jack Middleton was one of the two lawyers who offered the course. The course was in Manchester and the exam in Concord at the old Supreme Court building. [This building now houses the NH State Library.]
After the last day of the exam Ed Thornton, Pierre Morin and I spent some time with our meager dollars at one of the American Legion Posts in Manchester drinking beer, convinced we had failed. Ed (who has since passed away) put it in perspective by pointing out that if we failed we would be forced to take a job that paid twice as much.
Arthur W. Hoover, admitted to the NH Bar, 1965
Took the Exam 1.5 Times...
I took the bar exam first in the summer of 1974. It had two parts. The first day was the Multistate multiple-choice standardized test. The second day was the NH essay portion. When the results came out later that year, I found out I had failed. In 1974, if you failed, you could meet with the Bar Examiners for a critique of your exam. When I attended the meeting with the Bar Examiners, I found out my score was 69.9. One needed 70 to pass. I guess there was no "rounding up".
Up until that time, the bar exam was only given that one time per year. However, for some reason, a decision was made that, in February of 1975, a second Bar Exam would be given. But that one would only be the Multistate exam. I and the others that had failed in the summer would take the Multistate again to try to raise our total score to 70 or above. Well, I must have done well enough to raise my score because I passed. And, if one passed, one was not given the score. So, I don't know what my new score was. But, after all these years, I'm still anxious for the Bar Examiners to reveal how they score the exam.
Even though I had to take the test twice (or 1.5 times), I am happy that I took it when I did. Since that time, the system was changed to two full Bar exams a year (not just the Multistate in February); and then passing the ethics exam was later added as a requirement. So, although I do not recall the bar exam as a pleasant experience, I probably had it easier than some admitted later. When the exam is given now and what it covers is a mystery to me. And one that I am not curious to solve!
Leo P. Graciano, admitted to the NH Bar, 1975
In 1976, the only memories that stands out (other than over - the - top anxiety and a grinning Martin Gross [then chair of the Board of Bar Examiners] saying "we are just here to test basic competency") was the guy sitting next to me, a former classmate. He finished the Multistate Exam with about 20 minutes to go. He was sitting there smirking with some satisfaction wh ile I had at least 10 more questions to deal with. I felt sick afterwards. When the list of passing applicants was published, my smirking neighbor was markedly absent!
I also promised myself I would never take another test of any kind and I have been true to my promise to this day. Worst summer of my life.
Marty Glennon, admitted to the NH Bar, 1976
One Year After Taking the Exam, Proctoring It Seemed Worse
I took the exam in the summer of 1976 – along with Howard Zibel and Marty Glennon (see posts) and an elementary school gymnasium full of others. I was stumped by one essay question and to this day still ponder what it was about; a debriefing afterwards among bar review course class mates neither enlightened any of us nor made any of us feel bad that we’d missed something obvious. But I had concerns as to whether I’d passed.
I was clerking for Justice Lampron at the time and on a crisp October morning Martin Gross and I arrived at the Supreme Court building at the same time. As he and I walked up the steps I saw he had a single sheet of paper in his hand that I knew had to be the bar exam results. I was very briefly tempted to bump or trip him so he’d drop the paper and I could pick it up and see if my number was included among those who had passed. Needless to say, I didn’t, and after what seemed a very long wait, I found out later that morning that I had passed.
But the next year was worse. The NH Supreme Court judicial clerks had to proctor the exam. Watching the class of 1977 sweat through their bar exam was even worse than taking the bar exam the year before.
Abigail Elias, admitted to the NH Bar, 1976
Elias is the Chief Assistant City Attorney, City of Ann Arbor, Michigan
Sweating It Out Was Not Just an Expression in ‘76
The year I took the exam(1975) it was held at an elementary school. It had to be over 90 degrees in the shade that day and the water fountains in the school were all designed for 8-year-olds. As I was in the over 6-foot crowd, you had to get down on your knees to get a drink- but then I was on my knees praying anyway!!
I took the NH exam on a Tuesday and then went to Portland, and did the multistate there on Wed. and then declared my change of residency to Maine and took the Maine exam on Thursday. Maine held it at the law school in air conditioned space so the comparison with my NH experience was fairly stark.
Gordon Grimes, admitted to the NH Bar, 1975