Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Part 2 - Florida Bar Day 1 – February 24th, 2009 – Morning Session:
I got up at 6 a.m. and my stomach and nerves were a wreck. I quickly showered, got ready, and did one more short review of the Florida topics that I may encounter in a matter of hours. Then it happened – I was done – there was nothing more to review and I knew that at this point, if it wasn’t already in my head, it wasn’t going to be there. I then checked my email and right on cue and almost as expected there was an email from my Mom and as usual it brightened my day. It honestly brought me to tears, partially because of my emotional state before taking the bar, but mostly because of the amazing support I have from both of my parents and I knew that I was ready to take this exam on and do my best.

It was almost time to leave but I called my Dad before heading out the door. This is somewhat different protocol than what we usually did prior to law school final exams – usually Dad would find out what time the test was and then give me a call prior to me going into the test. Since he didn’t want to interrupt any last minute preparation he asked that I call him. We talked for a few and he mirrored what he had been telling me since my first day of elementary school – just do your best and everything else will take care of itself. He gave me some great encouragement and once again I was in tears for the same reasons above – the test had broken me down and made me an emotional wreck and again, the love and support from both of my parents was so overwhelming and touching I didn’t know what else to do. After our talk I composed myself, made sure I had my admission ticket, prayed one last time, and was out the door.

On the 10 minute walk to the convention center I ended up walking with a kid from Michigan that was originally from Florida. We struck up a friendly and nerve riddled conversation and it really helped to relax us both and then finally we were there. Standing outside the convention center (smoking like chimneys) were some friendly faces that I had gone through bar-bri and the test prep process – Will (the first and best friend I ever had at FCSL), Lee, Hailey, and then an old friend who transferred away from FCSL, Elias, walked up. It was like the old gang was back together again and standing around outside talking really helped all of us relax and it was nice to go into the convention center with people I knew.

We all headed inside and picked up our ID badges and of course I was in the wrong line – my last name (still) starts with a D so standing in the A-C line didn’t do me much good. The guy was nice and took care of me and made sure I got my ID anyway. We then headed upstairs and were greeted by some more friendly faces – one of the deans from FCSL as well as the FCSL academic success team and our bar coaches that helped us through the preparation process. This is one of the things that makes FCSL stand out from many other schools – they were there for us when we walked in the door as 1L’s and they were there for us when we walked in the door for (hopefully) our last test ever – the bar exam. Seeing them and having a short chat really helped relax me a bit and let me know there were a ton of people rooting for me and the rest of the FCSL class.

Then the doors to the testing area were opened and a line began to form at the metal detectors and it was time to go in. When you enter the test there are very few items that are allowed in. The only things allowed in are earplugs, and a few other very small personal items but you can’t even bring in your own pens or pencils – they supply them. So you have to pass through a metal detector and any prohibited items are just thrown away – it makes for quite a cluster with thousands of nervous future lawyers just trying to get in and sit down and take the test. I made it through the metal detectors with no problems and then with a handshake and good luck from Will & Lee we headed in.

Even though I had seen the room the day before it was still pretty intimidating and was alive with activity. All of the tables had been set up and there was a large stage at the front of the room with a table for some bar examiners to sit and a podium in front of the big red digital countdown clock where someone was reading the test instructions. If nerves weren’t a factor up until this point they certainly were now. My heart and mind was racing, stomach was in knots and in my throat, mouth was dry, hands were sweaty. Take whatever you think I was experiencing, multiply that by about 1,000 and then you’ve almost got the right perspective. I finally found my seat among about 2,500 others and settled in. The tables are rectangular and seat two and there is an aisle on each side so you actually share a table with another person taking the test. The wooden tables are very old and sometimes uneven so it looked like writing was going to be an interesting task.

I was in my seat by 8:40 and the test starts at exactly 9:00. The person reading the instructions reads the full script, pauses for about 5 seconds and then begins reading the (same) script again. As if there wasn’t enough running through my mind already I couldn’t figure out why they just didn’t wait, or at least change it up a bit, but it just kept droning over and over again. I did all I could to keep myself from trying to memorize it just to pass the time. At around 8:45 the person announcing asked that the doors be closed and everyone outside to be brought in – they were finally, and literally, sealing our fate. Again, the nerves and anxiety ramped up another degree.

The proctor then finally began to give our final test instructions. After the instructions and bubbling of my name and other info the instructions were done and it was only 8:55 and there was absolute silence in the room. Surely they’d start the exam and timer now that the instructions were done - right? No – the test would start at exactly 9:00 – so what were we to do for the next 5 minutes? Just sit and reflect on everything we’ve been through, all we have learned, and trying to somehow retain all of this information for another 5 minutes. If I had to think of the worst 5 minutes of my life this would certainly be top 3. At this point again, the anxiety/tension was through the roof. Honestly I am getting stressed and sweating through my shirt thinking about it/typing this right now – it’s amazing and you really don’t know about it until you’ve been through it. I had my earplugs in, so all I could hear was my heartbeat and myself breathing and the more I listened the faster it got. There’s really no good way to describe how that time felt other than waiting to be shot out of a cannon or maybe waiting for a rocket launch. The closer it gets to go time the more pressure and it continues to rise and rise until BOOM. Then, with very little warning, at exactly 9:00 a.m. the proctor said 3 simple words that set the February 2009 bar exam in motion – “You may begin” and then BOOM we had liftoff. The sound of 2,500+ ripping into their test booklets frantically at almost exactly the same time is louder than a gunshot (even through my earplugs).

As soon as the test started all of those negative thoughts, my anxiety, the racing heart etc. simply disappeared and I was again at peace and focused on the test. It was great to not even have time to worry about the test or failure but just simply taking the test and doing the best I could. The morning portion was the Florida essay portion and the fact patterns were pretty interesting and asked about numerous areas of law within each one so I set off with the one I was most comfortable answering and writing down all I knew. If I did make a mistake during the morning session it would probably be a little time management. I spent an hour and a half (1/2 of my time) on the first essay question I answered simply because there was so much information that I knew I wanted to put as much as I could to get the most points from that question. This limited me to 45 minutes each for the other two (which really wasn’t that limiting) essay questions. I used all of the time given and actually didn’t even have time to get up and use the restroom.

Before I knew it the large red digital timer was under a minute left and I was summing up my final essay through horrendous hand cramps. Once the time is up the proctors and volunteers collect the answers but they weren’t very specific as to what we could do with the question books. Some people asked but were given no answers so I erred on the side of caution and left mine at my table. As it turns out we were allowed to keep the 3 questions and a few of my classmates did. I was kind of disappointed I missed out on an opportunity for some FL Bar memorabilia but I imagine I will live.

So now it is time for lunch and we have an hour and a half but are supposed to be back in the testing room by 1:00 or 1:15 so really it only works out to a little over an hour. Fortunately for me and the rest of the FCSL grads the school pays for a catered lunch in a private room at the hotel that adjoins the convention center by a pedestrian bridge. I cannot stress enough how amazingly helpful this was for us. Knowing exactly where you are going for lunch takes out so many factors that would have added even more stress onto us during our break of all things. I honestly do not know what I would have done for lunch if this option was not available to us. There were some food vendors at the actual convention center, but as you would imagine they were covered up with the thousands of the other people taking the test whose law schools didn’t care enough to set up a similar lunch. I find it funny that law schools gauge themselves and take pride in their bar passage rate, yet not all schools take measures to look after the best interests of their bar takers.

Once I got into the room for lunch some familiar faces were already there like our bar coaches and 2 of our law school’s deans and some other familiar faces who took the test began to trickle in. The atmosphere of the room was really unique – some were silent, others just shocked, some relaxed, and some more freaked out than when they walked into the test. I was on the side of the relaxed spectrum. By no means did I feel like I nailed the essay portion but I had survived.

Surviving that first section in my opinion is one of the main keys to the exam – you’ve been through it – the questions in the next 3 sections will not be the same, but the pressure/anxiety/setting will be the same – it can’t get any worse. Realizing this and accepting this helped me relax and take full advantage of the break and getting lunch. The food was outstanding and the selection was perfect – every kind of food and drink we could have wanted other than alcohol. Although I would have loved a beer at this stage in the process I’m sure it would have led to at least 30 more and probably wouldn’t have helped my score (or would it?).

One of the things that shocked me during the first session of the test were how many people finished early, or just simply quit on themselves. Some stories were exchanged during lunch of other test takers completely leaving an essay blank, and others simply flaming out and leaving an hour in. Even more would fail to return from lunch for the 2nd half of the Florida test. I did not see anyone get up and quit but did notice a few people leaving ridiculously early and that stood out to me. Of course these people could just be amazingly brilliant or they simply let the stress and anxiety associated with the test win. Knowing that, I did not allow this to happen to me and was able to keep it together and provide a coherent answer was a major confidence booster heading into the 2nd half of day 1. Knowing this, regardless of my pending results was enough to give me peace and make me happy that I was at least getting my money’s worth.

The only anxiety I was feeling heading into the 2nd session was what the mystery Florida multiple choice topic the bar examiners had chosen for this sitting. I knew (as all test takers do) that FL civil and criminal procedure, and evidence will be tested – that comprises 2 of the 3 topics since FL civ & crim are combined. What we don’t know and they do not publish is what the final topic tested will be. The possible topics to be tested are: Business entities, which consists of corporations and partnerships, or Wills/Trusts. During my preparation I definitely gave respect to both topics but obviously spent much more time preparing on the two subjects that I knew I was going to be responsible for. Of the two that may or may not be tested I was much more comfortable and had much more success in practice was Wills/Trusts. I didn’t necessarily do poorly with business entities but if given the choice I would certainly prefer to face questions on Wills/Trusts. As mentioned (much) earlier in this blog, the FL multiple choice section which is always the 2nd half of the first day consists of 100 multiple choice questions and we have 3 hours to complete them. In mere minutes I would know exactly what I was going to face...

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