I graduated from Fordham Law School in May 1985 and almost immediately began attending bar review classes. I took the Pieper New York bar review because it was a live lecture given in the evenings, five nights a week from 6 till 10 and then Saturdays from 9 till 4. This went on for six or seven weeks.
In those days the live class was taught at Borough of Manhattan Community College on Chambers Street. Since the 9/11 attacks the area has changed so much, I don’t even know whether the building is still standing or not. There were at least 800 or 900 of us in the live class. I continued working full time while doing bar review, until the last two weeks, when I shifted down to a half-time schedule while still going into the office daily (I worked 9-10 and 2-5 every day, and I would close my office door and study from 10 till 2).
This was a difficult period because you’re just absorbing an immense amount of information, much of it related to subjects that you never studied during your law school years. The New York bar exam potentially tested on 35 or 36 different substantive subject areas (torts, contracts, estates, real estate, tax, insurance, etc.) and even though in those days there were only six essays to write, you really needed to be prepared for anything.
(Having said that, John Pieper told us that we shouldn’t worry about insurance or tax, because the exam readers would not want to read 9000 essays about insurance or tax law.)
The last two weeks before the bar we had no classes and were just studying on our own.
My best friend in law school, Barbara, and I sat the exam at Brooklyn Law School. This was purely a matter of chance. Many of my friends / classmates sat the exam on one of the big piers on the West Side, and 500 exams were lost from the pier that year. Just vanished. Lost. Those unlucky bastards had to retake the exam a few weeks later. There were lawsuits, of course.
Barbara debated whether to hire a car service to take us to Brooklyn from our homes on the Upper East Side both days but we finally decided that the subway would be more reliable, and traffic could be unpredictable but was likely to be bad.
The bar exam covered two days at the very end of July: one day was the Multistate exam, 100+ multiple choice questions, and the other day was essay day. I don’t remember what all of our essays were about but I do remember that one of them related to estates and trusts. We wrote in blue books in those days, and I had filled up four or five pages in a blue book when suddenly I had a kind of paranormal experience: my Trusts professor appeared to me in, for want of a better word, a vision, and told me everything I had written was wrong.
I panicked briefly, then gave myself 30 seconds to decide what to do.
After 30 seconds I X’ed out everything I had written so far and began writing a new answer from the opposite point of view. It flowed reasonably well and I read it over and handed it in. That night when I went home I did something I never normally would have done: I pulled out my notebook from Trusts to see if I had gotten it right the second time. And I had.
At about 8 pm on the evening of Day 1, I was lying on my bed in a daze when the phone rang and it was John Pieper! He was sitting the Pennsylvania bar that week himself, and was calling a couple of dozen of his students at random to ask how it was going and give us pep talks. I was so out of it that at first I thought I had dreamed it, until I heard someone else mention getting a similar call.
The bar results did not come out until roughly the end of the first week of December. We didn’t have the Internet in 1985, of course, so when the word got out that exam results were available we all got on the phone and started dialing a mostly-busy number in Albany to find out if we had passed. I confess that when I got the news that I had passed I started sobbing, just from the release of tension.
I was still working for the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs, and on the day I found out I had passed, the baseball winter meetings were going on somewhere, maybe Nashville or Scottsdale or someplace like that. The League President called in at one point and one of my colleagues told him I had passed the bar. I found out later that he announced it later that day at the American League owners’ meeting and I had received an enthusiastic ovation in absentia.
After passing the bar I had to complete a lengthy and invasive questionnaire about every place I had ever lived or worked, my finances, you name it, and provide character references. Then I went for my “character and fitness” interview with a senior member of the Bar, which sounded much scarier than it turned out to be. Finally, in April 1986, I raised my right hand and got sworn in as a member of the New York bar, a membership I continue to this day, although I haven’t lived in New York since 1989.
A few years later I ran into that Trusts professor at a Fordham event, told him the story, and thanked him for his intervention. He blinked politely and said “glad I could help.”