Online Posting of Bar Results
Can Boost Anxiety for Grads


Like other recent law-school grads, Maria Weigel, a first-year associate at Dewey Ballantine in New York, was on edge last week as she waited for the results of the New York state bar exam to be posted on the Web early Friday morning. If her name was listed it meant she passed. No name would mean she failed.

Ms. Weigel wished she didn't have to find out in such a public way. "It's a very personal thing, because it involves my job security, my emotional well-being," Ms. Weigel says. "My anxiety level is very high."

Bar-exam results have been available publicly for years, well before the Internet. The New York Board of Law Examiners published the exam results in the New York Times, and test takers would line up at newsstands to grab a copy of the first edition. But having the information on the Web means that law-school classmates and nosy relatives nationwide can easily check up on how test takers fared.

Noam Mandel, an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, also in New York, tried to find his name on the list of people who passed, which was posted at midnight. He couldn't get through dial-up access at home, so he gave up and went to Kinko's for a faster Web connection. It took him until about 12:45 a.m. before he found his name -- misspelled -- on the list.

Word traveled fast. When he got to work the next day, a number of congratulatory e-mails from friends across the country awaited him. "I could see how someone who didn't pass might want to avoid that kind of scrutiny," he says.

Publishing the exam results online allows the state to notify test-takers all at once whether or not they passed, and official notification follows in the mail, says Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the New York Board of Law Examiners. The board has received few complaints about the practice, she says.

Most states now post bar-exam results online, although some require an identification number to access the list of those who passed. California gave test-takers a head start, giving them access to their results late Friday afternoon -- and making them available to the general public Sunday morning.

James Braun, senior executive for admissions at the State Bar of California, says having bar-exam results on the Web balances a candidate's privacy with the public's right to know. By giving test takers an early peek, "It's faster, it's private, and it's easier for people and for us," Mr. Braun says.

Mr. Braun recalls that when he took the bar exam in Ohio in 1971, the results never arrived in the mail. He had to call his local newspaper, which had received a list of the successful candidates.

Still, the stakes can be high. Law firms grow impatient with recent hires who don't pass the bar, and some recent law-school graduates say that having results posted on the Web increases the pressure.

"Many people find out that they passed when people call them and say either 'Congratulations' or 'I'm sorry,' " Ms. Weigel says. "It can get ugly." Ms. Weigel got the good news that she passed after a 20-minute wait to get through to the Web site around midnight.

But Matt Vespa, a fellow with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger in San Francisco, wasn't too worried about the world knowing how he did on the test. He was relieved, in fact, hoping that friends and family would check there first before calling him to discuss the results. "I'd prefer that people find out for themselves online than ask me personally," he says.

In general, Americans prefer not to have their personal information available online, even if it is available at city hall or a local courthouse.

A recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a Washington research group, found that while 76% of Americans favor posting the names of people who have been convicted of sex offenses and completed their prison time, only 27% say property tax or marriage and divorce records should be posted online.

Human error gave John Derrick a scare. The California Web site requires candidates to enter both registration and application numbers. Mr. Derrick, an associate doing civil-litigation work with Mullen & Henzell in Santa Barbara, Calif., inadvertently flipped the numbers and put them in the wrong fields.

"I had totally resigned myself to failure when I realized I might have mixed them up," he says.

John Sanchez, Ms. Weigel's brother and an attorney in San Francisco, saw how technology could worsen the agony. Last year, the California bar's Web site initially told him that his number didn't match any on the list of candidates who passed. After a long walk, a friend checked the Web site for him again.

"Shazam!, I was on the pass list," he says.