“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
The last lines of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” are possibly its most famous lines and for me, are truly representative of my journey to becoming an Esquire.
My journey starts back in May 2009. To be brief, I had applied to 10 law schools and only got into one school, a small private law school in southern Massachusetts. I moved to southern Massachusetts in August 2009 and stayed for 3 years to finish law school. I will not get into the details of law school that could be an entire series unto itself. However, I will say it was a very challenging time for me, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. But despite all of the challenges, I did graduate from the University of Massachusetts School of Law at Dartmouth in May 2012.
So, logically the next step would be to sit for the bar exam in Massachusetts or another state in July 2012, right? Wrong! Well not wrong, just not the decision I made. To be entirely honest, I was EXHAUSTED! Mentally and emotionally exhausted from having been in school for 20 years straight! I took no time between high school and college and no time between college and law school. So at 25, I had done what many people do not attempt to do or fail to do. I graduated from law school with a B. However, I could not even begin to approach the first steps to becoming an attorney.
I moved back to New York to live with my parents and tried to figure out my next move. While trying to do this, I realized I had no money to actually do anything, so I started looking for work, anywhere. I decided, rather quickly, that going back to retail would give me the small reprieve that I needed. So I interviewed at the Container Store and was offered a job as a sales associate, making less than $15 per hour. Now, while this is not what most recent law school graduates would have taken as a salary, I was content at the time to just be working. And so for the next 9 months, I worked at the Container Store, forging new friendships and learning more about myself in the process. Something I do not regret.
Then in May 2013, I decided to sit for the Connecticut bar exam. I was only eligible to sit for Massachusetts or Connecticut since my school was provisionally accredited when I graduated. So, off I went to stay with relatives in Connecticut for 2 months while I studied every single day for the bar exam. It was my first time sitting for the exam and I had no idea what to expect. I remembered what we had to do in law school for our bar preparation class. But in truth, nothing will prepare you for studying for the bar exam, like just sitting down and studying for the bar exam, 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months straight. It is one of the most mentally exhausting exams and it truly tests your endurance, stamina, strength, and most of all intelligence.
[Quick side note/personal opinion: the bar exam is not about your knowledge of the law, it is about how well you can take the exam and how well you can relay the interpretation of the law back to the bar examiners. The only way to prepare for this test is to practice, practice, practice.]
I studied every day for 2 months, using the Barbri bar prep course. There were days when studying came easy and there were days when it was impossible to even open a book. But I did complete the work and sat for the exam. For those who do not know, the bar exam is a 2-day exam, 6 hours each day. Day 1 is the essays, MEE and/or MPT (depending on whether your state has adopted the Uniform Bar Examination or if they administer a state specific exam) and Day 2 is the MBE, 100 Multiple Choice questions in the morning and 100 Multiple Choice questions in the afternoon. So, I like so many others took the exam. I hand wrote my essays since I did not trust my computer at the time to make it through the exam. After the 2 days, I went home and went back to work at the Container Store. I found out a few months later, I did fail the exam by 12 points. It hurt but was expected as I had been out of the legal world for over a year.
But while working at the store for about a week, I decided I needed to get back to doing legal work and I sent out my resume to many different places, mostly as a paralegal since without a license to practice I cannot practice as an attorney. After a few interviews, I was finally offered a position as a paralegal for a small immigration firm in New York City. So for the next year and 3 months, I worked every day at the firm learning more and more about immigration law and refining my writing and Spanish speaking skills. I learned so much in that time and am truly grateful to this position for everything it taught me. But, while I did enjoy helping the clients as a paralegal, I knew that I had to go back and sit for the bar exam and become a licensed attorney.
So in December 2014, began the nearly 3 year journey to becoming a licensed attorney in New York State. I started my studies again with Barbri, and I studied alone, no study group or anything. It was just as hard to study this time as it was last time and to make this time more difficult, I had to petition New York State for the opportunity to sit for the bar exam since my law school was only provisionally accredited when I graduated, and to be able to sit for the New York State bar exam your law school had to have full accreditation from the American Bar Association, at all times you attended the school. AND, you had to petition for each bar exam you wanted to sit for. Great! I typed my petition, included my supporting evidence and mailed it off. While the court decided on my petition, I studied every day that I had an assignment with Barbri. I received word in before the exam that my petition was approved.
After the months of studying, in the snow and the cold winter months, I finally sat for the New York state bar exam in February 2015. I sat for both days and at the end of April, found out that I did not pass. When I found out I did not pass this time I cried. I cried and called my mom. I was devastated. I had studied for so long and didn’t pass. It was gut-wrenching, but made me more determined to pass the next time.
After I pulled myself together, I paid the exam fee again ($250) and registered to sit for the bar exam in July 2015. As you can imagine, I did the same thing. I studied from May to July, sat for the exam and once again I did not pass. I found out in late October that I did not pass the July bar exam. I was not as devastated as the previous time, but was understandably upset. At this point, I had gone back to working in retail for a short time at a large department store to make ends meet. I again, registered to take the exam, but I was fortunate to land a Doc Review position in December 2015 and that is where things began to turn for the better.
First, while not glamorous or very enticing, Doc Review got me back into the legal realm making some decent money and second, but most importantly, this is where I found my study group. We were a group of 4 women, including myself, who eventually all passed the bar exam at the same time. But who also have helped me to find jobs, kept me going when studying became a burden, and are just some of my closest friends. It wasn’t just a study group, it was and still is our own little support group for minority female lawyers.
We banded together to take the February 2016 New York bar. We each had taken the exam at least once. So there was no shortage of bar prep materials, what we needed was practice and accountability. And that is what we did, we met each morning by 9am and finished at 6pm each day or later, taking a break for lunch. We did this for 2 weeks straight, including the weekends. We came into the city every day to study and practice.
Finally, the time came for the exam. 3 of us sat for the New York exam and one of us sat for the New Jersey exam only (at this time I felt particularly ambitious and sat for both New York and New Jersey). As usual, the results came in late April. Well, yet again as you can imagine, I did not pass. I failed both bar exams. I failed New York by 11 points and I failed New Jersey by 1 POINT. None of us passed. We all, of course, were upset and tired and angry. This was not our first time sitting for the exam; this was the second, third, and fourth time. But, being the gluttons for punishment that we were, we registered for the exam again. To sit for July 2016 bar exam in both New York and New Jersey.
This time we more determined than ever for this to be the last time we took the exam. I personally used Barbri again and supplemented it with Pieper Specialized Essay Review and AdaptiBar Online MBE Simulator.
[Side note: July 2016 was the first administration of the UBE in New York. The UBE consists of the MEE and MPT (essays) on Day 1 and the MBE (multiple choice) on Day 2].
This time we decided to dedicate anywhere from 3 to 4 full weeks of studying before the exam. I dedicated 3 weeks to studying; I left my role at the time to focus on studying. And we did as we did in February, we met EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. From 9am to 6pm at least, we studied, with a lunch break and switching study spots to keep us on our feet. And we practiced, practiced, practiced, and practiced some more.
Finally, July 26 and 27th came. We sat for the bar exam, with the determination to make this the last bar exam we EVER had to take. After the two days were finished, we each went back to work, anxious for the results to come. Then in late October, October 27th late at night, the email came in; with it the letter as an attachment, stating whether I passed or not. I opened my email at 4:30 in the morning on October 28th, after receiving a text from one of my study group peers that she did not pass New York, but don’t worry she passed the July 2016 New Jersey exam (where she lives) and found out a few weeks before.
I anxiously opened my email and saw the email sitting there waiting to be read. I tapped the email open on my phone and read the attachment. I had to read the letter a few times to know that I was reading it correctly. The first line of the letter said “The New York State Board of Law Examiners congratulates you on passing the New York State bar examination held on July 26-27, 2016.” I HAD PASSED THE BAR EXAM!
You would’ve thought I cried, but I didn’t. All I felt was a wave of relief wash over me as I lay in bed reading the letter over and over. My biggest burden in the world was lifted off my shoulders in that moment. I couldn’t go back to sleep but I didn’t want to wake my parents that early in the morning. Naturally being a child of the social media age, I took to Facebook and Instagram to tell the rest of the world about my achievement at 5am.
I waited until they both were up at around 6:30 am and told them. They both cried. They were so proud of me and all my hard work. The hardest part on the way to becoming a licensed attorney was over. All I had to do was sit for the MPRE again because my score had expired and fill out the Bar Admission Application. Oh I forgot to mention, for New York, as part of the bar admission process you are required to take the New York Law Exam. Well I took that exam before I found out my bar exam results and I passed.
Next, I took the MPRE in March 2017. I had to wait for 5 weeks for those results; in the meantime I filled out the Bar Admission Application. Once I found out I passed the MPRE and receive my Notice of Certification from the NYS Board of Law Examiners, I mailed out my application in mid-April. The worst part was waiting for the Character and Fitness interview, essentially the final step before approval. I finally received notice of my interview, it happened on my birthday this year. I was so anxious in the interview, but it was over before I knew it and I just had to wait for the approval. It was a month before I received my approval to be admitted to the New York State Bar. I was overwhelmed when I found out. I couldn’t believe that I was SO close to becoming a licensed attorney. All that was left was to be sworn in.
I received the information in the mail for when and where I had to appear for my swearing in ceremony. August 2nd at 8:30am in Brooklyn, New York.
This was the day I had finally waited for, my mother and brother came to the ceremony with me and I started to well up with tears of joy for this occasion. I had worked so hard to get to this point. And it FINALLY happened. By 11am on August 2, 2017, I became a licensed attorney in the State of New York.
5 years, 2 months, and 8 days after graduating from law school, I became an Esquire.
As you can tell from the infinitely long post, this achievement took A LOT of time. I did not follow the path that most people do when they graduate from law school. There were many twists and turns, personally and professionally, (and it cost A LOT of money), that led me to this achievement.
And while it did take more time than I probably would have liked, just like the last lines of the poem, I took the path less traveled to be an Esquire and it has made all the difference.