Valley Voices

Diane Skouti: Passing the bar exam (or not, gasp!)

It’s that exasperating time of year. Unless you’ve spent any time in law school, or you know someone who has, you may not be aware of the Bar Result calendar.

Since the bar exam for would-be lawyers is administered only twice a year nationwide, once in February and again in July, the results come out — potential purveyors of doom and despair — in May and November. Even among those in the not-legally-informed-community, the significance of bar result time is universally understood. Up there in consequence with the medical board exams for would-be doctors, the bar results are the undisputed measuring stick for those who will and will not, become lawyers. This time around, anyway.

This twice-a-year rite of passage (or not) is quite dramatic, to say the least. It’s no joke to give three to four years of your life to some of the most relentless and expensive study imaginable, and then spend a small fortune to take a test that you fail, which bars you from becoming a lawyer for that year (hence the name bar exam — well maybe that’s not the only reason for the name, but it makes perfect sense). This results in yet another round of test fees and study within inches of death…again.

Bar result time is the harbinger of altered career paths and frazzled personal lives. In other words, it’s a really big deal. Bar results make terrific stories. It’s the ultimate question among law students, sort of like the civilian equivalent to, “Where were you during the earthquake?” Where were you when you got your results?

It seems appropriate, now that the 2015 bar results season is in full swing, to share a few local stories, for the collective joy and sense of communal accomplishment they bring. Over a third of the attorneys in the Fresno area are graduates of our very own highly respected, not-for-profit law school in Clovis. San Joaquin College of Law’s overall bar pass rate is over 82%.

The names of the test takers have been changed to protect their privacy, since this is one of the biggest events, or biggest washes, in most law students’ lives.

Brad was especially nerve-wracked during the three-month waiting period between the test and test results because he failed his first time out. As a husband and father of three young girls, Brad felt an urgent sense of pressure to get his law career started. He had secured a full-time position as a clerk at a local law firm during law school and was studying for the bar exam from 5 a.m. till work, and then again for hours after work, each day.

Brad was aware that the odds don’t often smile on second timers. He maintained an even keel during the three-month waiting period after the test, but barely. On results day, he and his wife stopped at Starbucks in Kettleman City on their way to the beach, just before the appointed hour for the posting of the list online. Test takers are given a pass code for entry to a limited-access results website when it’s time to learn their fate.

“My reaction was one of thankfulness,” Brad says. “I was so unbelievably happy to put the whole thing behind me.”

Harry got married just one week prior to starting law school. His beautiful bride never even got a honeymoon.

“This is law school. You cannot miss a single day,” they told Harry at orientation. He accompanied his wife to the maternity ward with study guide in hand, twice. He credits his newborn daughter for his passing the bar after his third trip to the delivery room.

Mathew, part owner of a family trucking company, had to skip his first bar exam because the summer cantaloupe crop needed hauling on test day. He waited until the February exam, passed it, and then opened his own law firm.

And there are so many more. Eleven bar passers from our own San Joaquin College of Law this round. Congratulations, bar passers! And to those with gut enough to even attempt such a life-altering challenge as well. You’ll get ’er next time.

Regardless of how one feels about lawyers and the absolute necessity they’ve become in today’s complex world, it goes without saying that the accomplishment of completing law school and passing the bar exam is a triumph worthy of respect.

Diane Skouti is the alumni coordinator for San Joaquin College of Law and she can be reached at