Robbins: Hurdling the bar (a reprise) | VailDaily.com
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Robbins: Hurdling the bar (a reprise)

Think of it as like the cosmic singularity. Only in reverse.

The way the Big Bang Theory goes is like this; all the sum and substance of the universe, in the moment just before creation, was jammed like commuters in a Toyko subway train, into an infinitesimal primordial seed. The whole universe, in all its blare and vim and vigor was stuffed into a pinpoint smaller than the period that ends this sentence, just waiting to explode.

The bar exam is like that.



Except in the weeks and months before one sits for the bar exam, the goal is to cram all the stuff and glory of law —every last bit of it from the fundaments of our Constitution to the minutiae of the Rules of Evidence into the small space of your brain. And then, once packed as snuggly as the Genie in Aladdin’s lamp, the goal is to release it on the days of the exam.

It’s enough to give you a headache.



As you read this, it is Day 2 of the Colorado Bar Exam. My younger son, Parke, is among this year’s bar-taking cadre. It is a horror that every lawyer must endure. Because, if you don’t pass the bar, kiss four years of undergrad and three of law school, plus the untold sums you doled out for your education, goodbye. While it’s not called the bar because, if you fail to pass, you are barred from practicing the law, it may as well be.

Not that kind of bar

Before we get to how the torture chamber of the bar exam is constructed, let’s first touch on a couple of preliminaries. Why is it call the “bar” and why does one “sit” for the bar?

The first harkens back to olde England. Once upon a time — as most olde English fairy tales begin — the law that led to the American version of the law arose among what was then the mists and veld of London. In British courtrooms, there appeared a partition or railing (a bar, if you will) bisecting the courtroom, the intent of which was to separate the general rabble of the public (or gallery) from the space occupied by the distinguished judges, legal counsel, jury, and others directly concerned in the machinations of the law.

In English courtrooms, the “bar” was the partition behind which all members of the public must observe and not contribute to the proceedings. In time, in England, and then here, the “bar” came to mean the legal profession itself; those that may sit, or stand, bloviate, and posture on the working side of the bar within the courtroom.

What about this sitting stuff?

Well, I ‘spose, it’s a mite easier to sit for a several-day exam than to dance or prance about. Presumably, it’s less distracting to your neighbor fellow test-takers as well.

Before we venture further, I have a small confession to make; I never sat for or otherwise took the Colorado bar. But, worry not, I am fully licensed and in good standing in the great state of Colorado. Instead, I took the California Bar exam and, at the time, if one’s grade on that three day auto-da-fé of law was high enough, the Centennial State welcomed you — after your payment of a small admission fee — with open arms.

Not your average exam

If you have never “sat” for the bar exam, you may be wondering. “What is all the fuss? This is just some silly test. Right?”

Yeah. Sort of. In the same way that the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are kinda like Manny, Moe, and Jack.

The bar exam is divided into sections like an orange and is spread, like marmalade, over two full days. As a side note, back in the day when I sat for the bar, like a prize in the bottom of a Cracker Jack box, the bar examiners threw in a third day so in those days, in California anyway, it was three full days of what I am certain — in retrospect — violated every precept of the Geneva Conventions.

In Colorado, in Year 2 of the Great Pandemic, the bar exam tees up like this: There are three parts. There is the Multistate Essay Exam, the Multistate Performance Test and the Multistate Bar Exam. In order to pass the Colorado Bar Exam, an examinee must score 276 scale points (of a possible 400). The formula for determining the total bar exam score is sort of a pared down NASA moon-shot calculation:

MBE scale score + MEE/MPT scale score = bar exam score

On Day 1, the MEE portion of the bar exam is meted out. It consists of six questions. Examinees are required to answer all six essay questions in the morning session. A total of three hours is allocated to answer all six essay.

Easy, huh? Except … one is expected to have mastered the almost limitless panoply of the law. Now, there are dozens of areas of law: contracts, torts, real property, Uniform Commercial Code, family law, and so on, and every possible nook and cranny of your brain is filled beyond capacity with the law in its nearly infinite permutations. The truly evil thing about each one of the essay questions is that no hint whatsoever is given as to what area of law the particular question may concern. You are asked a question. Period. It is up to you to figure out both the areas of law and the proper response.

In the afternoon, the MPT comes up to bat. It consists of two 90-minute questions. A total of three hours is allocated to answer the two questions. The MPT questions are designed to test skills commonly used by lawyers competently practicing law. These skills generally include, but are of course, not limited to legal analysis, fact analysis, awareness of professional responsibility, problem solving, research skills, and writing skills.

Go home, lick your wounds, recover.

With the dawn comes the MBE, a 6-hour multiple-choice test consisting of 200 questions. It is divided into a 3-hour morning session and a three-hour afternoon bacchanal of concentrated thought.

Back in the day, in California, the typical pass rate was about 40%. In Colorado these days, the pass rate is closer to two-thirds. But what that means is that about a third of those who, at a minimum, earned their BA, did well enough to be admitted to law school, graduated law school, studied themselves raw for the bar exam, and sat themselves even rawer taking it, oops, did not pass.

It’s sorta rough.

So, good luck, Parke. I have no doubt that you’ll do well. All it takes now, like God in His moment of creation, is marshaling the Big Bang of those wicked months of preparation.


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