Denver Bar Association
June 2002
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Blood, Sweat, Tears: Bar Exam Survivors

by Marshall Snider


Forget reality TV: Hear about the ultimate test that still haunts Denver lawyers

Harken back to a time when your every heartbeat, thought and breath were of the bar exam. Every sweating brow, jittery hand and blank out that you or a friend might have experienced.

Here are some offerings of bar exam horrors of Denver attorneys, some too horrified to reveal their names, submitted for your approval.

Stuck There

Someone had put duct tape on the table and ripped it off before the exam. But the sticky residue was left. Every time the person sitting at this spot tried to move her paper or her arms, they would stick to the table. She asked to move, but was not allowed to do so.

Annoying Test Mates

One year, the exam was held at the stock show complex. It was hot and smelled of hay and cows. One applicant had to suffer through a number of additional annoyances. First, she was seated next to a guy trying the exam for the third time. He had about 30 pencils in front of him that he ground his teeth on throughout the exam with a clicking noise. A few seats down, a woman kept getting up to go to the restroom; after her seventh trip, she didn’ t return. To add to the stress, at lunch, our heroine attempted to discuss a question with friends, but she drew a blank: couldn’t even remember the question. She wound up lying in the back seat of her car in the fetal position for the rest of lunch.

Black and Bluebook

In the 1960s, the exam was held in the hearing rooms in the basement of the State Capitol. It was July and there was no air conditioning. The ink of the blue lines on the Blue Books melted, and everyone’s hands and test papers were full of blue splotches.

Morals Check

In the old days (to some of you, that’s the ’60s) applicants had to personally appear in front of the Board of Bar Examiners for a " morals check" on the first day of the exam, to determine if they had co mmitted some awful act that would prohibit admission to the bar. Applicants appeared before the Board in a group, so if you had something on your record you would have to explain yourself in front of the whole assembly. One person had to answer for an arrest for " surfing after dark" . A second was asked about his conviction for drunk and disorderly conduct in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1964. When asked if that was during Frontier Days, the fellow said that it was.

" Well," said the chair of the Board with a hearty laugh, " that doesn’t affect your fitness to practice law."


Olfactory Gone Awry

One applicant ate corned beef the night before the exam and woke the next morning with very bad gas. People sitting next to him during the bar exam asked to be moved but the proctors wouldn’t do so. His neighbors just glared at the flatulent guy throughout the day. The applicants sitting on either side of this poor fellow both flunked the exam and blamed him because they were unable to concentrate.

Prove it

One guy moved into a hotel near the exam site. The morning of the second day of the exam he could not find his wallet. He could not be admitted to the exam without ID. Frantically, he tore apart his hotel room and car with no luck. Finally, he found an old health club picture ID in his car, and out of desperation he presented that to the proctor. He was admitted without question. That night he found his wallet under the bed in the hotel room.

Rafting or Lawyering?

About a week into the bar preparation course, in late June, this attorney’s boss called to tell him that he had a spot reserved on a private raft trip through the Grand Canyon, but because of his workload, he was not able to participate in the whole trip. All this was to take place during the bar preparation course, not long before the exam itself.

He decided to go to the Grand Canyon, and he came home and studied only the multi-state subjects, and then took only the multi-state portion of the exam.

In 1984, if one scored well enough on the multi-state exam (he thinks the magic number was 154), then the examiners did not look at the state portion of the test. He did not even attend the second day of the test and has the unused entrance pass to prove it.

On the night of the second day of the exam, a day that he spent at leisure, he met a number of friends at Old Chicago in Boulder. As he went in, they all turned and started chanting " 153, 153" (or whatever number was one below what was needed to pass the multi-state part of the exam.)

" Jealousy is an ugly thing," he says.

Our hero passed. He thinks that not long afterward, the rules of the exam were changed, and now all test takers are required to sit for both days of the exam.

" It would have been an awfully long second day for me," he says.

Writs and Wrestling

One attorney took his exam in 1974, and remembers that the exam was given in the old Denver Arena (now replaced by the Temple Buell Theater) and the Denver Supersonics and wrestling were held in the same venue.

He also remembers," Had we flunked the exam, several of us planned to travel ‘North to Alaska’ and get jobs on the brand new, Alyeska Pipeline."

Kindness at It’s Best

A couple were scheduled to take the exam on a Tuesday and Wednesday in 1969. Because of a death in their family, they had to fly to Boston for a funeral, but expected to make it back in time for the exam on Tuesday. Unfortunately, Denver had one of its "worst-in-recorded-history " snowstorms, leaving their Monday flight cancelled.

They were surprised when Colorado Supreme Court Justice Robert McWilliams took their phone call. The Justice turned them over to Richard Turelli, then clerk of the Supreme Court. After grilling them about why the Boston Red Socks choked that season, he told them to get to Denver by noon on Tuesday, and he would take care of the rest.

They landed after noon, and Turelli told them they could take that portion of the test at Harry Silverstein’s, the head of the Board of Bar Examiners, home. From 7-10 p.m., they took the test and gave it to Silverstein, who was waiting to go to bed. They sat through the Wednesday portion of the test like the rest of the students and ended up passing the exam.

" Looking back on that event 33 years ago made us appreciate the personal concern shown . . ." They had no idea that Silverstein would become Chief Judge of the Colorado Court of Appeals and that Turelli would become the first county court judge in Douglas County.

The Docket would love to hear more stories of terrifying bar exams to publish. Please send them to

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