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Bar News - August 19, 2011

Lawyer’s Life: A Bar Exam Story: Thank Goodness for Admission by Waiver


I was already admitted in Massachusetts and I only needed to take the state portion of the bar exam to be admitted in Georgia. I was well prepared, well rested and eager to get back to work the day after. On the morning of the bar exam I left the house early enough to leave myself an extra 30-minutes before the test started at 9:00 a.m. for a final review of my outline.

Now, you would think that someone who had driven across the country solo at 23 wouldn’t have any trouble at 33 finding a major convention center in Atlanta where the bar exam was being given. I was unfamiliar with the highway and missed the exit (in my defense, the center’s sign was REALLY small) and drove about 20 minutes longer than I had expected to before I pulled into a gas station to get directions. "Keep goin’ south" he said. [Note to self: don’t trust directions from a guy buying beer for breakfast.]

Another 10 minutes and I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore (but maybe Florida?). The rest stop clerk smiled, "The convention center? Honey, it’s in ‘Elanta, ‘bout thirty miles straight north a heah." One minute into the drive back and my earlier risk calculation about driving on an expired license in Georgia, with Massachusetts plates… well, not my best work. (My birthday had been the day before and what with trying to master the Rule Against Perpetuities… again ...) My mind raced thinking of the $1,175 my new boss had paid for me to take the exam, and how much longer the judges would let me file pro hac vice motions in all my cases.

I did 90 m.p.h. on the way back. On average. Of course, there was a HUGE sign for the convention center on THIS side of the highway. I pulled into the parking lot at 8:55 a.m. I knew all the parking spots close to the entrance would be taken, but I quickly thought I should at least check – and then dump my car and hope it didn’t get towed with my lunch in it. An empty spot - THERE IS A GOD!! Just as I turned the wheel I see the sign - "Handicapped Parking." Defeated and looking upward I pleaded, "Necessity defense?" Pausing a split second for my conscience to kick in, I happened to glance to my left and lo and behold… another empty spot! And no blue sign! I screech into it, cut the engine, and look up… "Employee of the Month". I fervently hoped she was among the two percent of Atlantans who use public transportation to get to work. I grabbed my bag and sprinted to the front door.

It was 8:57. A custodian directed me to the bank of double doors 150 feet down the hall. I was shaking from the adrenalin rush as I skidded to a stop, took a deep breath, and knocked. (I wasn’t going to be an ugly Northerner and just barge in, after all.) I couldn’t wait for an answer (proving I am an ugly Northerner). I opened the door and stepped in… and found myself facing all 700+ bar takers, about 15 feet to the left of the announcer,. First thought: "Bad day to wear pants that are a little short". Second thought: "700+ people are now thinking they’ll do better than at least one person today. ‘Done my mitsve for today". I got an exam, thanked God that the woman handling the paperwork spoke fast for a Southerner, thanked God that my father’s name starts with an "A" and took my seat in the front row. It was 8:59.

When I started writing my first essay my heart was still pounding and my hands shook so much my writing was barely legible. Deep breathing didn’t help my head or my hands. I knew my essay was scattered and unpersuasive. I calculated how well I would have to do on the rest of the exam to pass and the margin of error was not in my favor (the first question was worth 25% of the exam). Time was up and our pencils went down. With that act I eyeballed a quiet corner where I could melt into obscurity during the break. I took deep breaths, exhaled slowly, silently chanted "let it go, let it go", and started to put the morning behind me. I looked up at the sound of the P.A. system clicking on. "Before everyone else can be released for the break, would Miss Shortypants please return her registration paperwork it to the registration table immediately."

[N.B. I passed. I was admitted a few years later to the NH Bar … via waiver.]

Christine Alibrandi, currently on inactive status, was admitted to the Bar in 2007 and has a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law.

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