Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
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A Rite of Passage
Colorado Supreme Justices Share Their Bar Exam Stories
By MARIE NAKAGAWA
Justice Monica Márquez, who had flown home to Colorado the week before to take the bar exam, remembers how her father, now-retired Judge Jose D.L. Márquez of the Colorado Court of Appeals, drove her to the bar exam in his truck. They arrived too early, so she sat “super stressed out” in the truck with her father and watched as others arrived in the parking lot, some frantically flipping through pages for last-minute studying. “I felt like I was back in kindergarten,” she said, remembering the pillow she brought to sit on, the carefully selected pens and snacks she packed in clear plastic bags, and the big envelope with all her personal information for the exam. “That’s definitely a fond memory…” she laughed.
The bar exam is a stressful experience for everyone, especially for those who are studying to take it for the first time. It might help to know that even the Justices of our Supreme Court shared the same stress and worry that many feel as they prepare for and sit through this two-day exam. Chief Justice Nancy Rice, Justice Gregory Hobbs, Justice Márquez, Justice Brian Boatright, and Justice William Hood shared with me their reflections on how they survived the bar exam.
All five took the bar exam the summer after they graduated from law school. The Chief Justice, Justice Hobbs, and Justice Boatright had clerkships right after they graduated from law school, and worked full-time during the day and studied for the bar exam at night. All five Justices had jobs after the bar exam, which required that they pass the exam the first time.
The Justices handled the stress of studying for the bar in similar ways to our own. Justice Hobbs, who sat for the Colorado bar in July and then the California bar right after in August, spent the week before the exams at a cabin in the mountains. Surrounded by the Colorado wilderness, Justice Hobbs enjoyed nature while preparing himself to sit for the bar. “A lot of times,” he said, “analysis and synthesis comes at you sideways when you are not directly thinking about it.”
Justice Boatright remembers that his apartment had never been more clean than the summer he studied for the bar exam. “For a single guy’s apartment, it was extremely clean,” he laughed. Justice Boatright also balanced his full-time job and studying at night with physical activities such as long bike rides and tennis. “It’s important to blow off steam,” he said.
For Justice Hood, studying for the bar exam was like a 9-to-5 job. His then-fiancée, now wife, however, was also studying for the bar and the two had very different studying styles. Both passed the bar, but the summer was not without spats over the other’s study habits (such as who went to the pool to study and who was highlighting too loudly). The two got married right after they took the bar.
The Chief Justice and Justice Márquez shared similar experiences of feeling isolated that summer because they moved away from where they went to law school in order to take the Colorado bar exam. Chief Justice Rice didn’t know anyone and was working every day from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. She was able to focus on studying full-time only the two weeks before the bar exam, when the judge she clerked for let her clock in once in the morning, go to the library to study, check back in at lunch, then go back again to the library to study. “It was the most productive time,” she remembers.
But it was also a lonely time, as Justice Márquez remembered how she moved to Massachusetts that summer to study for the Colorado bar exam. “I got shipments of these boxes of cassette tapes from the bar prep course and listened to the tapes on my Walkman every day, by myself, at the Smith College library,” she said.
As for exam day, the Justices agree it was stressful. Chief Justice Rice remembers being stressed during the multiple choice exam but that the essay portion was better. She brought her own typewriter and took the essays with about 20 other typewriter-users in a closed area where it was quiet. Justice Boatright seriously thought about not coming back for the essays after the multiple choice day because he thought he had done so poorly. “I remember it wasn’t until I got to question 80 on the multiple choice that I thought, ‘Oh, I know the right answer!’” he said.
The Justices have some advice to share with prospective bar exam takers. “It’s a stressful time, but take the exam seriously. You have one test to pass,” Chief Justice Rice said.
“You know that about three-quarters of the exam takers will pass,” Justice Hobbs said. “So relax, be competent, be able to express your reasoning, and have self-control so you can react under pressure but remain confident. That goes for any lawyer.”
“The recipe for not freaking out about the exam is to be methodical,” Justice Hood said. “Don’t leave the studying until the end, and treat it like it’s your job.”
Justice Márquez suggests seeking help and tutoring if you are struggling. “Take advantage of help that is available to you. Ask your local bar association if they provide any tutoring. The Colorado Hispanic Bar tutors law students.”
According to Justice Boatright, the key to making it through the whole thing is “first, you can’t listen to what other people are doing, because some will exaggerate as to how much they study; and second, when you’re studying, study. When you’re playing, be one hundred percent into the playing. Don’t let the worry and stress affect other parts of your life.”
Finally, as Justice Márquez said: “It’s a rite of passage. Hang in there!”
My best wishes to all of you as you prepare for the bar exam. It’ll be over… soon.
Marie Nakagawa is a Staff Attorney with the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. Marie took, survived, and passed the July 2010 bar exam.