Vets End

For decades it squatted on the west bank of the Scioto River, directly across from downtown Columbus — a bland, nondescript, hunched building, instantly forgettable to all who drove past it, noteworthy only for its absolute, unflinching genericness.

The Franklin County Veterans Memorial was home to trade shows and auto shows and generic meetings of groups.  No one really cared much about it, one way or the other.  And when Franklin County Commissioners voted to demolish the building as part of a plan to add some much-needed dash and character to the west bank of the river, no one really cared much one way or the other about that, either — with one striking exception.

For one group, Veterans Memorial was a grotesque living reminder of a horrible few days — a period in their lives that was so terrible that just looking at the building and parking lot brought back soul-crushing recollections of angst and strain, panic and pressure, and the ultimate in testing nightmares.  That is because, for years and years, every new law school graduate who wanted to be licensed to practice law in Ohio had to come to Veterans Memorial in Columbus and sit in its cavernous main room to take the multi-day bar exam.

After three years of law school, your professional and financial future rode entirely on your performance on one test.  It was an all-or-nothing proposition:  pass, and you went on to become a practicing lawyer; fail, and . . . well, failure was unthinkable.  Everyone who has taken the bar exam remembers the sense of suffocating pressure, the grim expressions of their fellow test-takers, and the oppressive atmosphere in that testing room.

Some lawyers who successfully navigated the bar exam make jokes about it now, much like people who’ve been through a painful divorce attempt awkward humor about it.  But the jokes aren’t funny, and every lawyer knows it.  Deep down, every lawyer in Ohio is secretly thrilled that Vets Memorial has been reduced to rubble, and that the ugly physical reminder of their ugly rite of passage is no more.  We are free.

Good riddance!  May the rubble itself burn in hell.

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The Bar Exam

Later this week hundreds of would-be lawyers will take the Ohio bar exam at the Veterans Memorial building in Columbus.  Our nephew Matt will be among them.

In Ohio, you cannot become a licensed lawyer unless you pass the bar exam (among other requirements).  Twice a year, in February and July, applicants sit in a large common room and take a three-day test that addresses various areas of the law.

Because the bar exam is an all-or-nothing proposition — you either pass, or you are unable to practice law despite the three years of law school you’ve just completed — stress levels are absurdly high.  For many people, the bar exam is the single most stressful thing they’ve ever done.  Those who have passed always remember what it was like to take the exam, to sit in that big room with hundreds of other people, all charged with adrenalin and worry and regret that they didn’t study harder, and then to read the initial questions and hope you knew how to answer them.  At breaks between testing sessions, law school friends frantically discuss how they answered the questions in the prior session, becoming more agitated in the process.  Although my bar exam memories are more than 25 years old, these scenes remain fresh and distinct — and painful.

If anyone taking the exam this week happens to be reading this, my advice is simple:  by now, you’re either prepared or you aren’t.  Knock off your studies the afternoon before the first day of the exam, have a good dinner, go see a movie, and get a good’s night sleep.  Being well-rested is a lot more important than obsessive last-second cramming.  Take a book to read during the breaks; revisiting questions with others isn’t going to do anything except increase your stress level.  And get to Vets Memorial early!  Don’t take a chance on a mechanical breakdown or traffic jam.

Good luck, Matt!  I know you’ll do well.