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I began my full-time studies for the bar exam in early December. "Full-time'' meant 14 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week during that month. I continued to devote every spare minute to study, as planned, in January, and took two weeks off in February, before the exam, to wrap things up.
I decided to go it alone instead of returning to a review course. I had the books that they had given us during the summer, and felt that I'd be better off not getting beaten down by the group panic that pervaded the bar review classes.
I learned that I could not study at home, because my wife was a distraction. Even on the days when I did not have business school classes, then, I found myself commuting to Columbia from our marital home in Passaic, New Jersey.
I saw that sitting in the library at Columbia was not going to be stimulating enough. So I broke down the major subjects into thousands of questions and answers, and then typed them out on Columbia's computer. The questions on the law of contracts, alone, filled 200 single-spaced pages.
Then I found a computer nerd who stayed up until 2 a.m. one night, writing a program for me. This program was great. It would pop a question on the screen. I'd try to think of the answer. Then I'd punch a button, and the answer would appear. If I felt that I got it right, I'd hit the Plus key, and if not, the Minus key. Wrongly answered questions would go back into the stack and circulate up again at random.
When I wasn't at Columbia, I attacked the subjects that I was not putting into the computer. For these, I went through and underlined the key sentences in the review books. Then my wife and I went back through with tape recorders and read all of the underlined stuff into the recorder. I'd listen to those tapes on my way to work.
I have never studied as hard, without stopping, as I did for that re-try at the New York bar exam.
They say there's nothing more stressful than the first year of law school. The drummer to whom I was marching during that year, however, appeared to have been experimenting with a kazoo. Besides, I had friends going through that first year with me, and big, naive dreams about what it would do for my future. In all these ways, my second shot at the bar exam was very different and much harsher, and it had some side effects.
The first had to do with coffee. When I'm sitting around studying, it gives me a real jolt. Or, more precisely, it revives my interest in, say, the doctrines of stare devises and res judicator. A little coffee made a big difference.
Then again, I did not have "a little" coffee. They started brewing an amazing new brand at the Columbia student union. I gave myself up to it and found my life transformed. By February, I was buying exotic blends at Baldacci's and getting a buzz at home too. I bought two thermoses, a quart each, and on each day of the bar exam, I carried them with me, brim full, refilled them both at noon, and took them home empty.
All fun has its price, of course. I was often nauseous from the coffee. Sometimes I'd shake, get dizzy, and even
Double over with stomach pains. To get to sleep at night during those months, I developed the habit of taking two sleeping pills every 10 minutes until I conked out. Sometimes it went on for hours. It was essential, though, because no matter what time I fell asleep, yesterday's caffeine would always hit me like a shock, first thing in the morning. Sometimes I'd find myself standing in the middle of the bedroom floor before I even realized that the alarm had gone off. I'm not kidding.
It's easy for me to say, now, that the coffee was not necessary. Then again, I don't have to sit still anymore, for weeks on end, and study that boring stuff. At the time, I was prepared to do whatever it took to keep myself in line. With the coffee, I felt grim. I kept my nose to the grindstone.
I do not think I will amaze you if I say that the coffee, and the pressure of studying, combined to make things a little, shall we say, difficult between my wife and me. This was a second big side effect of studying so hard for the exam. We had been married for six months by now, and it's definitely safe to say that, once the exam was over, so was the honeymoon.
I usually refused to talk to her when I was studying. When she disturbed me, I would snap at her, and as the weeks wore on, I sometimes found myself screaming at her. A quiet, frightened tone crept into her voice, and we found a distance between us that did not easily go away.
Problems with relationships during law school and the bar exam are hardly news. Even those rah-rah Fordham law professors who say law school can be warm and caring have to admit that
The law school experience is awfully tough on relationships.... [Major decisions concerning a relationship should not be made while in law school and certainly not prior to receipt of grades at the end of the first year.
The full effects upon our relationship did not come out until later. But the nightmares were there now. I dreamt that my wife wanted away from me, but that the law forbade a living wife to leave her husband - so she cut her own head off to escape. I dreamt that someone was moaning, and then realized that I was the moaner, and that I had gone insane. I found myself in a factory in which people were putting themselves into machines that transformed their bodies into piles of chipped flesh, laughing at me as they did it.
I did pass the bar the second time around. And that put me within reach of the goal: to become an attorney.
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