Saturday, 9 June 2018

My Journey To the New York Bar - A week before the exams

July 20, 2016. The day I flew out to New York.

I flew out 6 days before day one of the exams so that I could have enough time to get over jet lag and put in some last minute revision.  The weeks leading up to the flight were pretty intense but the time had finally come.

I stayed in a predominantly Jewish area in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It's only  in Brooklyn where I've personally encountered and communicated with orthodox Jews. You don't see them around where I live in the UK, but there's a Jewish community in London. I was quite intrigued to be honest and I personally found the Jewish people to be pleasantly polite. They are a close knit community and keep themselves to themselves.

During my one week stay in Crown Heights, I didn't feel unsafe at all. It's a quiet area with a consistent police presence. There was always police cars patrolling the area and at night time I saw why; the potential for others from neighboring communities to sell and deal drugs.

 I came across a family (behind me in the picture at the top) outside the apartment block I was staying in, selling water to cars sat in traffic. Even the children, one as young as 6 years old,  outside  hustling with their parents.

 There was a library less than 10 minutes walk. Brooklyn Public Library literally became my second home. I spent a lot of my time revising there. The library was always busy and full of different cultures and backgrounds.

I mostly spent my time in the African American library study room because it was also a quiet room. During one of my revision sessions, I noticed a number of kids doing different kinds of work in groups (see picture below). I spoke to one of the ladies who was tutoring the kids; a lovely retired teacher originally from the Caribbean who had studied in the UK before falling in love and moving to the US. She told me that she set up the study group a few years ago and runs these sessions in the evening during the week and at the weekends to help kids from disadvantaged backgrounds remain interested in education and improve their grades,  so that they can graduate from school. A high proportion of young males,  particularly in the black community drop out of high school.

 I found it pretty awesome that on such a hot day like it was (it was around 30 degrees celsius)  when those kids could have been spending the whole day playing outside, they took some hours of their day to attend the study session.

When I wasn't studying, I was going to the church services in Brooklyn, walking along Central Park or doing a bit and I mean - just a bit, of sight seeing.

 I was very fortunate, in fact blessed, to have a fellow Bar Bri International student, Samantha,  also staying in the Crown Heights area at the time of the exams.  In fact I became close to Samantha as we were preparing for the bar exams. She had just moved to London from South Africa after getting married and started studying for the Bar the same time as I did.

Thanks to Facebook and WhatsApp we kept in touch and helped each other out whenever we had a question or was confused about something. Sometimes we were confused together LOL. It was also nice to see a friendly and familiar face before and after both days of the exams. After the exams, we kept in touch and our paths would also cross again in New York later :)

Sunday, 29 April 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar - The Realization

For those of us who were preparing to sit the exams in July 2016, there was a simulated MBE exam booked for Saturday 7th May. I opted to do this at home instead of traveling to London,  which those of us doing the home study program could do,  as long we set aside undisturbed time, set a timer and sat the Simulated MBE (3 hours for 100 questions in the morning, and the same in the afternoon).

The practice exam was a good early indicator of our progress with the materials already studied and a learning experience for the real exam which was 9 weeks away.

I remember being told that getting 100 out of 200 questions correct would be a satisfactory score on the Simulated MBE at this stage. So, when I didn't reach at least 100,  I did feel as though I was still behind and  thought, 'would I be able to catch up?'

I thought that I would have the rest of May, the whole of June and part of July to focus on the areas of law I was struggling with; to get a sound understanding of the substantive law and improve my scores. But by the end of May, we had only just finished the 7 core areas of law for the MBE exam, which is the multiple choice questions. We still had a further 5 areas of law to cover for the MEE exam, which is the essay part. And never mind the MPT section that I still had to learn LOL.

I really don't know why or how I didn't realize that we still had to do this...I remember thinking to myself, 'i've still got to learn about family and matrimonial law, wills and trusts, corporations, agency, partnership and security interests, 7 weeks before the exam  and still grasp contracts, real property, constitutional law, evidence, torts, criminal law and procedure!!'

In all honesty,  I had not fully understood how much I was actually required to know or study for this exam until now. At the beginning,  I just jumped at the opportunity to do this as a 'now or never' opportunity because I had postponed it several times before and didn't want to postpone it any longer.  Maybe if I had allowed more time to think about what I was actually getting myself into, I may have been put off by it all and not gone for it! 

Well, I only had 7 weeks to do whatever I had to do to make sure I was ready for the exam and to pass. By the end of June, we had covered all the subjects for the bar exam and we had a full day mock exam on the first Saturday of July,  which I attended in London. 

With the actual exam 3 weeks away, I really wanted to see how much I really knew and how much I still needed to know for the exam. I did better than I did on the simulated exam in May but I felt like I still had so much more to learn. 

By then I was only working 22.5 hours a week so I had an extra day and a half to study! The time went so fast and before I knew it,  I was flying to New York to sit the exam! 

Friday, 20 April 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar - Serious Doubts

Six weeks into the bar review course (which was mid April), I was starting to have serious doubts about whether I was ready for the exams in July. I felt pressure because in order to sit the July exams, we had to submit our completed application by April 30, and pay the $750 fee as well. I had already invested a lot of money to join the course, so was I really prepared to spend a further $750 to apply to sit the exam as well as put money aside for flights and accommodation for the July exam?

I had a catch up call with the mentor that Bar Bri International had assigned to me. The call was helpful to some extent, she encouraged me keep doing the practice questions and learn the substantive law. But honestly, it did not erase the doubts I had at the back of my head. I was really struggling with Constitutional law, Real Property and Torts which were 3 of the main subjects to appear on the exam without a doubt and my scores on the practice questions for these subjects were relatively low. But, because I had been waiting for this opportunity for so long and had already got this far, I decided to apply to sit the exam.

I reasoned with myself that as my working hours were going to be reduced from 30 hours to 22.5 hours a week closer to the exam dates and I still had 10 weeks before I flew out to New York to sit the exam, I could do it! I had no choice but to believe right? All the sacrifices I had make surely would not be in vain right? What did I have to lose? Not sitting the exam would cost me £500 to defer until the following year which was around the same amount as paying the fees to sit the exam when converting into British Sterling so either way my pocket would be a little lighter! At least I got a little trip to New York choosing to sit the exam LOL!

By this time I had not even heard back from the New York State Board of Examiners about my eligibility to sit the exam, so it was a bit of a gamble but I was advised that once I had applied, they would probably respond quickly about my eligibility and they did!

Following the application to sit the exam and eligibility confirmed, I had the task of finding a notary public to attest to my handwriting sample that had to be sworn and sent back to the Board of Examiners. There are not many in my city and the one I found wanted to charge a rate that I felt was extortionate just for me to write a few lines in front of them! LOL! I was able to find a solicitor close to my workplace who charged more the half the price!

Now that all the administrative stuff had been sorted out, it was back to books..focusing most of my time outside working hours and weekends to study.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar - My Own Cheerleader

When the bar review course started, an email was sent to all those who had enrolled on to the home program, encouraging us to set up a Facebook group and/or a WhatsApp group for us to keep in touch with one another and provide support while we were preparing to sit the exams in a few months.

It was not the first time I had chosen a home study program, but it was the first time doing one on this level, having invested a lot of time and money into it and studying the law of another country! I knew I needed extra support and I was happy this was being offered. It was great to know there were others I could reach out too when I needed help with my studies and to just talk about what we were doing...and I did. The group was so diverse with candidates from different parts of the world...the UK, Poland, South Africa, Dubai, Belgium, Bahrain, Lebanon, Mozambique (that's all I can remember).

I joined the gym on Good Friday too. I remember watching one of the introduction videos for the course and one of the speakers mentioned that we should have enough time to rest; make sure we ate well and exercised regularly to help us prepare for the exam.  During my time studying for the exams, the gym was my 'go-to place' to escape when I had done hours of revision and needed to give my mind a rest and unwind. When I was feeling frustrated that I was not understanding what I was reading. I went 3-4 times a week and it was refreshing. Also, I had stopped all extra curriculum activities and things I used to do to keep busy; to invest more in my studies. So, going to the gym was one of the only few things I was doing, a part from working, studying and going to church!

Although I had a new virtual support network through the WhatsApp and Facebook group, it was just that...virtual. Physically speaking, I did not have a study partner or anybody around me to share my journey with,  have lengthy conversations about what I was learning, struggling with etc, because it seemed like they would not understand. But that was the beauty of it all. It was MY journey! It was not meant to be lived or shared with or for anybody else. It is something I had to do for me and grow personally and professionally through it!

So, I became my own best friend! My own cheerleader and motivator on the days when I did not feel like revising, or when I did not get the results I expected! I invested more in my relationship with myself and with God through this!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar: The Slight Hiccup at the Beginning

Once I had enrolled onto the 4 month Bar Review Course and received the course materials and books through the post, I was excited to officially start my journey to becoming a New York Attorney. 

I had more or less organised my time which was to work 30 hours a week (Monday to Thursday) and dedicate Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to review the pre-recorded lectures and work through the study plan provided by Bar Bri International. I was fortunate that my managers at work were flexible and allowed me to cut my hours down and not work on Fridays. 

The course started on Friday 4th of March at 6.30pm and I was so ready for it....until I started to feel unwell and experience chest pains. During the day, I felt so bad I had to go to the walk-in health centre to get checked out and ended up spending a few hours in the waiting room, waiting to be checked out. I was told I had strained a muscle near my chest that's why I was in pain and I needed to avoid movement for a few days. I didn't leave the medical centre until after 8pm and on my way home I found a very drunk lady on the street with vomit all over and in need of help. As we called for an ambulance she stood up and walked into the middle of the road and laid flat on the floor to sleep! This caused a fleet of cars to line up behind her because she was blocking a very busy road and me and 3 other passers by kept trying to get her off the floor but she wouldn't budge! One of drivers came out to see what was happening and was surprised to find out that that the lady was her neighbour! She managed to get her up and take her home! I'm glad she got home safely. An eventful day!

Going back...this was not the start I planned and I had to play catch up with the few days I missed to rest. I also had a lot of adjusting to do, becoming a student again and juggling work and knew I had to put aside things that were not a priority, to invest more time into my studies. 

One of the first things I did was contact those closest to me to explain to them that for the coming months, I would not be as available to do things, meet up and even socialise as I usually was because I would be concentrating on my studies. I asked them to be considerate and to bear with me. It helped so that those around me wouldn't expect too much from me! 

Choosing the home program was ideal for me because of my work schedule and distance from London...but it also feel somewhat lonely because I would be doing this alone, without anyone to consult or feedback too (apart from the tutors). This is what I thought until I received an email from one of the course leaders....

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar - Confronted by a stranger

At the beginning of January 2016, I took the day off work and went to London to attend an open day held by BarBri International. Although I had already decided to enroll onto BarBri's U.S bar review course starting in March that year, I wanted to meet some of the course tutors, mentors and other students to get more of an insight into what I had chosen to do.

The open day was very informative and I left knowing that this was exactly what I wanted to do. As I had a bit of time to spare before traveling back to Nottingham, I decided to sit in Cafe Nero and treat myself to a hot chocolate and some cake. Needless to say, in the end I did not get the chance to enjoy the hot chocolate because an inconsiderate stranger intruded on my quiet time!

As I started sipping into the hot chocolate and began reading the literature given to me at the open day, a gentleman sat next to me noticed it and asked me about it. He mentioned that he was a qualified lawyer in England and without using any functioning brain cells linked to awareness, intelligence, empathy and consideration (or maybe not), he said to me "but you have a stammer, why would you want to sit the New York Bar, it's tough." (I guessed he picked up on the stammer during the conversation).

My eyebrows rose up so high and I had to think twice about the ignorant comments I had just heard! I was in disbelief! He kept commenting (as if he was on repeat mode) how someone "like me" should focus more on jobs where I would be more comfortable and where I would not need to speak much because doing the bar exam was overly ambitious and setting myself up for difficulties.

I don't know why I allowed him to keep talking, but when I had heard enough, I abruptly told him to stop talking because I didn't want to hear anymore of his negative comments. When he tried to explain his points of view further by telling me he was only thinking about me (haha yeah right!), I cut him off! I knew exactly what was behind all of this and I was not going to let the negative words infiltrate inside of me to make me question or doubt what I had decided to pursue!

I reminded him that he should be careful about making such comments and not to judge my intellectual and academic ability because of the way I speak. There are lawyers at partner level in law firms who are deaf, some deaf and mute, others who are blind and communicate through an assistant, but their disabilities do not impede from doing their job.

My quest to keep this as private as possible to avoid such situations, still did not impede it from taking place and this is how things are in life. No matter what we do or do not do, they will always be someone who will have something to say. But when we know who we are, what we are doing and why we are doing it, other peoples' comments will not deter us from our goal; in fact it will add more fuel to the fire that is already burning inside of us to keep going, keep pursing, to show to others it can be done! And that is what I did!

I was tired of being put into a box and shoved in the corner. At 27 years old, I decided enough was enough. I should be allowed to pursue what I have faith to pursue, even if I did not meet the status quo. That's what faith is move mountains, jump over hurdles, and break down barriers!

I found the picture I took on the day, of the hot chocolate I did't get to enjoy lol

Thursday, 4 January 2018

My Journey to the New York Bar - In pursuit, silently and discreetly.

My decision to sit the New York Bar exam and qualify as an Attorney in the U.S was solely based on the dream and vision that had awakened within me, one that I truly believe God gave me.

I didn't consult anyone when making the decision. Once I was fully decided and registered for the Bar Review Course, I told a select group of family and friends and my manager (as I would need to reduce my hours at work and have time off to sit the exams). I decided to keep this as private as possible. I used to be the kind of person who would seek approval from others. Whenever I had an idea that seemed good or I was thinking about doing something or travelling somewhere, I would always consult someone, either a friend, family member, or one of my peers.

Looking back, there were things I wanted to pursue but was talked out of it. Due to not being defined and knowing what I wanted and also because of my respect for the person advising me and my belief that they knew better, I listened to them. But later, I felt frustrated because the other option given didn't produce much and I regretted not doing what I believed was good for me.

There are people who out of love and concern for us, advise us not to pursue something because they think it's not in our best interests. They mean no harm. And there are others who try to put their limitations on us because they do not have the same mindset, vision, courage or faith to do what we are doing or want to do. They think we are being overly ambitious and the risk is not worth it.

In both situations, we have to be very careful not to allow other peoples opinions to interfere or divert us from the calling we wholeheartedly believe we have or the career path we have chosen.

I didn't keep silent about my plans just to avoid people coming to me with their opinions or suggestions of what I should or shouldn't do, but also because I learned that when we talk too much about something, most of the time we get little or nothing done. The energy we put in discussing what we want to do could be put into actually doing it! When I started doing this (and it's something I continue to do) things actually starting happening and moving forward.

I remember there was a period where people were making comments to my face and behind my back, saying that I was spending too much time travelling to America and other places, spending money, instead of focusing on investing and building my life. Little did they know, that's exactly what I was doing! The times I travelled to the U.S was either to sit the different exams required to qualify as a U.S lawyer or to gain work experience out there. I was very selective of what I posted on social media, not to disclose everything I was doing, so a lot of the time it looked like I was just sightseeing and having fun. But in truth those touristic places I visited were usually while on a study break, on my way to and from the library or a meeting. That's why you shouldn't believe everything you see on social media. It's not always a true reflection of what a person has or what they are doing.