By Chris Lawson, Editor-in-Chief
On Dec. 5, hundreds gathered at the San Diego Convention Center to watch the California July 2017 bar exam swearing-in ceremony. Family and friends cheered as their loved ones took oaths to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution. The ceremony buzzed with feelings of achievement and triumph, and rightfully so.
To celebrate the hard work and excitement of California Western’s bar passers, the school held a pre-reception at the convention center just before the large swearing-in ceremony.
As most of the legal profession is aware, the California bar exam is considered to be one of the toughest bar exams in the country. The July 2017 bar exam proved no different. This cycle, only 49.6%, less than half, of all applicants passed. From Cal Western, however, the pass rate was 65% of first-time test takers! Thus, there was much to celebrate amongst the large percentage of last year’s graduates who passed this notoriously difficult exam.
At the reception, friends and family of California Western’s newest attorneys enjoyed coffee and breakfast. The successful bar passers mingled amongst one another, celebrating the fact that their hard work paid off. After breakfast, attendees were treated to inspiring speeches from: Niels B. Schaumann, President and Dean of CWSL; Jeffrey S. Isaacs ’68, Board of Trustees; Patricia L. Zlaket ‘09, Alumni Association President; Ellen Miller-Sharp, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the San Diego County Bar Association; and the Honorable Anthony J. Battaglia ‘74.
Among the bar-passers in attendance was Joseph “Joe” Bruno, last year’s SBA president, who shared his story in hopes of inspiring his former classmates with encouragement, hope, and determination. During his 1L year, Joe experienced a humbling spring trimester. His success story is particularly inspiring, as he went on to pass the bar on his first try, despite being told early on that he had low odds of passing the California bar exam. Joe explained, “Academically, it felt like it was the first time I tried hard for something and it didn’t work out the way I thought it would. That is something I didn’t have to worry about in undergrad.” Because of his performance, Joe was told he was at high risk of not passing the CA bar exam. However, Joe did not give up. he used that experience to push himself during the next two years of law school.
Academically, it felt like it was the first time I tried hard for something and it didn’t work out the way I thought it would. – Joe Bruno, CWSL class of 2017
When bar prep arrived, Joe knew that the hard work would need to continue. He stated, “You have this thing hanging over your head knowing you had failed once so it could happened again. Having that feeling, I took bar prep very serious. During lectures I made sure my cell phone was in my bag. I stayed off the Internet and drank lots of coffee to make sure I was awake.”
Joe also emphasized that, despite putting one’s best efforts into bar prep, defeat is a common feeling students experience while they are studying for the bar. “I wasn’t passing the practice essays, and I couldn’t help but feel like that was a bad sign. I learned later that even people at the top of our class were also failing the practice essays.”
On what he learned from the experience, Joe said, “Success during bar prep is doing exactly what you are told to do, as you are instructed to do it, over and over again. Do everything that bar prep assigns to you. Take care of your physical and mental health, and don’t be afraid to be a little selfish.”
After making it through bar prep and taking the bar exam, Joe still struggled with fear of failure. To make matters worse, the California State Bar website crashed right when results were released on Nov. 17. It took up to 15 minutes for many people to see their results. Joe described the terrifying ordeal: “I remember thinking not being able to see my results meant I didn’t pass. I even told my parents at that time that I was almost sure I failed.” But Joe did not fail. He passed. And once Joe saw he passed, it was the best feeling in the world.
Success during bar prep is doing exactly what you are told to do, as you are instructed to do it, over and over again. Do everything that bar prep assigns to you. Take care of your physical and mental health, and don’t be afraid to be a little selfish. – Joe Bruno, CWSL class of 2017
Whether you are preparing to take the bar this February, this July, or a few years from now, stories like Joe’s should be encouraging. Regardless of where we fall statistically, success is within reach for all of us. California Western provides us with the tools, support, and programs we need to become successful bar exam applicants, including peer tutoring, Academic Achievement Workshop, and BARBRI bar prep. The rest is up to us—to show up, to work hard, and to be brave. If we make that commitment, we too will find ourselves at the San Diego Convention Center to take an oath and become practicing attorney.