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New York's Exam: The Biggest Baddest Bar

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An unblinking look at what it's like to sit for the world's toughest bar exam. Ready? You may begin.

It's 6 A.M., three hours before the start of the July 24, 2001, New York State bar exam at Manhattan's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, and the first arrivals are pacing.

Andrew Gershon, a Hofstra law school alum, mills around a hallway above the still-locked exam rooms. He has decided he'd rather come here at this early hour than continue tossing and turning in his hotel room bed.

"You have the rest of your life going through your head," he says. "Sleep doesn't come easy." Jessica Greenberg, a University of Pennsylvania law grad, is Gershon's sole companion at the moment. She says she would have shown up even earlier had her father not suggested she attempt to get some more rest.

In the scheme of things, Gershon and Greenberg really aren't that early. In years past, jittery candidates have arrived at the Javits Center at 5 A.M. and waited outside for an hour before the security guards opened the doors. To soothe their nerves and kill some time, Gershon reads the New York Post. Greenberg listens to Kermit the Frog warble "The Rainbow Connection" through her headphones.

By 7:30, the corridor is thick with jumpy bar takers. Just down the hall from Gershon and Greenberg, Mary Devin clutches a string of rosary beads blessed by the pope. Her boyfriend, John Hewitt, sits next to her. Despite the soupy July weather, Hewitt has outfitted himself in a frayed gray sweatshirt. "He wore that same Duke sweatshirt to every exam he took during law school," says Devin, who earned her JD from New York Law School. "He looks like a homeless person, but he thinks it retains knowledge. What can you do?"

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