Dc Bar Exam Essays On Leadership

The D.C. Bar Board of Governors has directed the D.C. Bar 2020 Strategic Planning Committee to revisit the Bar's existing strategic plan and propose revisions to help the organization direct its activities and resources over the next five years. 

The committee is made up of practitioners working in all areas of the legal industry. Meet the committee members that will guide the process as the organization crafts D.C. Bar 2020.

Kim M. Keenan became the president and CEO of the Minority Media & Telecom Counsel (MMTC) in September 2014, succeeding MMTC’s founder of 28 years. Prior to taking the helm at MMTC, Keenan served as general counsel and secretary of the NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the world. Keenan has also served as principal of her own law firm and served in the litigation practices of two nationally recognized law firms for nearly two decades. After law school, she served as the law clerk to the Honorable John Garrett Penn in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She is a past president of the D.C. Bar and the National Bar Association. Keenan has also served on the senior adjunct faculty of The George Washington University Law Center, the National Trial College for the University of Virginia School of Law, and the Charles Hamilton Houston Law Preparatory Course at Georgetown University Law Center. She is also a former trustee of the University of the District of Columbia. Keenan is a nationally recognized speaker and lecturer on various legal topics and has been a commentator on Fox News, CNN, C-Span, and TV One’s News One Now. Keenan, a top litigator and civil rights attorney, has been the recipient of numerous awards from organizations such as the National Association of Women Lawyers, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP, the American Bar Association, and she is listed on the Lawyers of Color 2014 Power List as one of the nation’s most influential attorneys of color. She was recently honored as a Washington, D.C. Super Lawyer and is recognized as a Top Lawyer by The Washingtonian magazine. A native of Buffalo, New York, Keenan is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and the University of Virginia School of Law.

Corinne Beckwith was appointed to the D.C. Court of Appeals in 2011 by President Obama. Prior to her appointment, Judge Beckwith spent her legal career as a public defender handling the appeals of indigent criminal defendants who had been convicted of serious offenses—first at Michigan’s State Appellate Defender Office in Detroit and then in the Appellate Division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. A graduate of Michigan Law School, Judge Beckwith served as a law clerk to Judge Richard D. Cudahy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago and for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Brigida Benitez

Brigida Benitez is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson and currently serves as president of the D.C. Bar. Benitez’s practice focuses on global dispute resolution, internal investigations, and compliance matters. She was chief of the Office of Institutional Integrity at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), heading the office responsible for investigating all potential fraud and corruption in IDB-financed activities, and implementing programs designed to detect and prevent fraud. Her work covered 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Prior to her tenure at the IDB, Benitez was a partner in another major Washington, D.C., firm, where her practice focused on internal corporate investigations and litigation/arbitration. She has been cited by D.C. Super Lawyers for her work in civil litigation defense, and Hispanic Business magazine has named her a “Woman of the Year” and one of the “100 most influential U.S. Hispanics.” She is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, where she teaches a course on international litigation.

Amy L. Bess

Amy L. Bess is a shareholder with the Washington, D.C., office of Vedder Price P.C., and a member of the firm’s labor and employment practice group. Amy serves as the administrative shareholder in charge of Vedder’s Washington office, as well as on the firm’s Compensation and Hiring Committees. Amy’s practice involves the representation of employers in all aspects of the employment relationship, including litigating employment disputes and counseling clients on compliance with federal, state, and local employment laws.  Amy has extensive jury trial and arbitration experience, regularly conducts mediations, and is often called upon to provide training for employers and their employees on compliance issues, including avoiding workplace harassment, conducting internal investigations, effective management techniques, and documenting performance and discipline issues.  In June 2014 Amy completed her second of two consecutive three-year terms as an elected member of the D.C. Bar’s Board of Governors. She is currently the vice chair of the D.C. Bar’s Pro Bono Committee. She also serves as vice president of the D.C. Women’s Bar Association Foundation Board and as general counsel and a member of the board of the nonprofit children’s literacy program, Everybody Wins! D.C.

Moses Cook

Moses Cook is the executive director of D.C. Law Students in Court (LSIC), an organization whose mission is devoted to inspiring the next generation of social justice advocates and providing high quality legal representation to the District’s low-income residents. Before becoming its director, Cook led LSIC’s criminal division for eight years where he supervised students who represented indigent defendants in D.C. Superior Court. Every summer, he teaches public interest lawyering at The George Washington University School of Law as an adjunct professor. Previously, Cook was a Prettyman/Stiller Fellow with Georgetown University School of Law. He received his law degree from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. While in St. Louis, Moses worked at the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Missouri and volunteered for the St. Louis County public defender’s office. He is a 2014 graduate of the D.C. Bar’s John Payton Leadership Academy.

Sabine Curto

Sabine Curto is senior director of administration for Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where she is responsible for the management of all operations in the Washington, D.C., office. She has over 20 years of association and law firm management experience and is a frequent speaker on law firm management issues. Prior to joining Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Curto was director of administration at Jenner & Block LLP. From 2008 to 2014, Curto was a member of the D.C. Bar Board of Governors. She is an active member of the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) and served two terms on the association’s Board of Directors from 2008 to 2012. During her term, she was a founding member of ALA’s International Relations Committee. Curto is a past president of the ALA Capital Chapter. She is a graduate of the Fachhochschule Reutlingen  in Germany, Middlesex University London, and the University of Ottawa, where she earned her MBA.

Herbert B. Dixon Jr.

Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. serves on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He is cochair of the Strategic Planning Leadership Council, the entity charged with writing the strategic plan for the District of Columbia Courts and evaluating progress in achieving the goals and objectives of the plan. Judge Dixon is a former presiding judge of both the Civil Division and the Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division. He served as chair of the Electronic Filing Pilot Project, which received national recognition for its success. Currently he oversees the Superior Court’s technology-enhanced courtroom project. Judge Dixon is a former chair of the National Conference of State Trial Judges, a member of the ABA House of Delegates, and a member of the ABA Board of Governors representing District 4, which consists of the District of Columbia and Virginia. Judge Dixon is the technology columnist for The Judges’ Journal and a former member of the ABA Journal Board of Editors.

Andrea Ferster

Andrea Ferster is an attorney in private practice in Washington, D.C. A former D.C. Bar president, her law practice focuses on litigation to enforce environmental and historic preservation laws, transportation advocacy, tax exempt organizations, enforcement of local zoning and land use ordinances, and trail and greenway planning. Her clients include the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, where she serves as general counsel, the Sierra Club, and numerous D.C.-based neighborhood and community organizations. She is a leading national authority on federal historic preservation law and on the legal framework governing “rails to trails” conversions, and has written and lectured extensively on these topics. Ferster received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College in 1979 and her J.D. from The George Washington University Law School in 1984, and is also a graduate of the D.C. public schools.

Suzanne Rich Folsom

Suzanne Rich Folsom is the general counsel, senior vice president - government affairs and chief compliance officer at the United States Steel Corporation. She is responsible for the company’s legal, regulatory, and compliance matters, as well as the company’s worldwide public policy and government affairs initiatives, labor relations, corporate security and corporate aircraft. Folsom’s efforts have been recognized by Ethisphere Institute, Women in Compliance, the Association of Corporate Counsel, the National Law Journal and Legal Times, Corporate Secretary Magazine, and Inside Counsel Magazine. Previously, Folsom served as executive vice president, general counsel, and chief compliance officer of ACADEMI LLC. Prior to that, she held the role of deputy general counsel and chief regulatory and compliance officer for the American International Group, where she established and implemented best-in-class regulatory and compliance processes, helping to remediate the company’s material weaknesses during the financial crisis. Folsom has also served as counselor to the president of the World Bank Group and director of its Department of Institutional Integrity, charged with leading the bank’s global anti-corruption initiatives. Folsom previously practiced law with O’Melveny & Myers LLP and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, and served as the chief of staff to Her Majesty Queen Noor of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, special assistant to First Lady Barbara Bush, and chief of staff to the cochairman of the Republican National Committee. She is a graduate of Duke University and the Georgetown University Law Center.

Ronald C. Machen Jr.

Ronald C. Machen Jr. was nominated to serve as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia by President Obama on December 24, 2009. Machen’s appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on February 11, 2010. Before Machen's appointment, he was a partner at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr and practiced in the firm’s investigations and criminal litigation group. Before practicing at WilmerHale, Machen joined the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia in 1997 and served as an assistant U.S. attorney until 2001. Previously he served as a law clerk to the Honorable Damon J. Keith, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the Sixth Circuit. Machen graduated from Stanford University in 1991 and Harvard Law School in 1994. In 2008, the National Law Journal named Machen one of the “50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America.” In 2007, The American Lawyer identified him as one of the “50 Most Promising Litigators in America Under the Age of 45,” and in 2006, The Washingtonian magazine named him one of Washington , D.C.’s “Top 40 Lawyers Under 40.”

Jonathan Mastrangelo

Jonathan Mastrangelo is a compliance director at JPMorgan Chase (“Chase”), where he supervises a team that handles certain high priority regulatory matters, including OCC and CFPB Consent Orders arising out of add-on product, collections litigation, debt sales, and Servicemembers Civil Relief Act-related practices. Prior to joining Chase, Mastrangelo worked in the Legal Department of PNC Bank, where he specialized in handling regulatory and enforcement matters and provided advice to the Compliance and Audit Departments, as well as various lines of business, in connection with regulatory exams and various compliance-related initiatives.  Before joining PNC, Mastrangelo spent several years working in the Washington, D.C., offices of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (now WilmerHale) and White & Case, where he litigated a wide-range of civil and criminal matters and conducted internal investigations and compliance reviews. From 2002 to 2006, Mastrangelo served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. Mastrangelo is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School (magna cum laude) and the State University of New York at Albany (summa cum laude).

Marlon Paz

Marlon Paz is an expert on a wide range of complex securities issues, in the regulatory and litigation context, internal investigations and compliance. He is a partner at Locke Lord LLP and on the faculty of Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches courses on the U.S. regulation of financial institutions, the securities markets, and international business litigation. Paz is a certified fraud examiner and frequent speaker and consultant on issues related to the regulation of broker-dealers and investment advisers. Paz has served in senior positions with the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he played a key role in developing the SEC’s positions on many important regulatory and enforcement matters. Paz was part of the team dealing with the financial crisis and has worked on a number of regulatory measures, including fraud, anti-manipulation, credit ratings agency reform, the respective fiduciary duties of broker-dealers and investment advisers, and the regulation of short sales, hedge funds, and enhancements to capital and financial controls over broker-dealers. During his tenure at the SEC, Paz worked on over 100 enforcement matters involving complex securities issues. Paz earned his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and holds an LL.M from Georgetown University Law Center, an M.A. from Wesleyan University, and a B.A. in philosophy from Trinity College.

Ilene G. Reid

Ilene G. Reid is the executive director of the National Capital Region Chapter (formerly WMACCA) of the Association of Corporate Counsel, which serves the professional and business interests of attorneys who practice in the legal departments of corporations, associations, and other private-sector organizations in Washington D.C., the Commonwealth of Virginia, and suburban Maryland. In this role since 1998, she has overseen the growth of the chapter from 500 members to more than 2,200 and expansion of its services to an extensive selection of educational and skill-building programs, networking opportunities, and professional resources. She also works with the chapter’s volunteer leaders to organize a variety of community service and pro bono opportunities at which members volunteer to help underserved populations. Reid currently serves on the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Committee. Prior to becoming an association management professional, she was an associate counsel at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C, where she focused on employment and labor matters. She began her legal career as an associate at Shaw Pittman Potts & Trowbridge (now Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman) in the employment and technology/intellectual property practices. Before law school, Reid worked as a newspaper reporter in Buffalo, New York, and Orlando. She received her J.D. in 1987 from the New York University School of Law. She received her B.A. in public policy studies and economics from Duke University in 1981. Reid and her family live in Rockville, Maryland.

Robert Spagnoletti

Robert Spagnoletti is a partner with the law firm of Schertler & Onorato, LLP, where his practice focuses on criminal, civil, and administrative litigation. Spagnoletti represents companies and individuals in connection with local, federal, and internal investigations and advises them on District of Columbia law.  In 2012 he was appointed chairman of the District of Columbia Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which is responsible for administering and enforcing the ethical code of conduct governing District government employees and public officials. Between 2003 and 2006, Spagnoletti served as the first attorney general for the District of Columbia, supervising the District’s lawyers and representing the city in its diverse civil, criminal, family, and commercial legal matters, and was responsible for the operation of the District’s child support system. Before his appointment as attorney general, Spagnoletti served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1990 to 2003 where he was chief of the Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Section, prosecuting adult criminal cases involving sexual abuse of adults and children, domestic violence, and child maltreatment. He also served as the 37th president of the D.C. Bar, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and a member of the District of Columbia Federal Law Enforcement Nominating Commission. Spagnoletti graduated from Lafayette College, summa cum laude, and Georgetown University Law Center, magna cum laude. He lives in the District’s Shepherd Park neighborhood with his husband Bernard and their two sons, Hunter and Anthony.

William Michael Treanor

William Michael Treanor became dean of the Georgetown University Law Center and executive vice president of Law Center Affairs in 2010. In 2014, he was reappointed to a second five-year term beginning in July 2015. He previously served at Fordham Law School, where he was dean since 2002 and a member of the faculty since 1991. At Fordham, he held the Paul Fuller Chair. Treanor is a constitutional law scholar who specializes in constitutional history. He has written extensively on the history of constitutional protection of private property and on the original understanding of the Constitution. In addition to teaching at Fordham and Georgetown, he has been a visiting professor at the Sorbonne. He holds a B.A. and a J.D. from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University. Treanor has had an extensive career in government service. In addition, he was honored by the Dave Nee Foundation with the David S. Stoner Uncommon Counselor Award for his efforts to raise mental health awareness among law students.

Timothy K. Webster 

Timothy K. Webster is president-elect of the D.C. Bar and formerly served six years as the D.C. Bar’s pro bono general counsel.  A partner at the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP, Webster’s practice includes both civil and criminal environmental matters, including challenges to government action and defense of enforcement matters, as well as regulatory advocacy and related compliance counseling. Webster has been involved in a variety of cases under the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and CERCLA, as well as “toxic tort” litigation. Finally he also advises clients on food and drug-related matters where environmental issues are implicated, for example, under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. Prior to joining Sidley Austin, he served as a trial attorney in the Environmental Enforcement Section of the U.S. Department of Justice where he litigated complex civil enforcement cases brought under a variety of federal environmental statutes. Webster was raised in Washington, D.C., and is a graduate of Carleton College and the University of Virginia School of Law, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Virginia Environmental Law Journal.

Claudia Withers

Claudia Withers is the chief operating officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Withers was formerly COO of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where among other things she oversaw the development of the EEOC’s strategic plan for fiscal years 2012-2016 and its implementation. Prior to joining the EEOC, Withers was director of programs for the District of Columbia Bar Foundation, where she developed and directed grants and loan repayment programs to support civil legal services to the poor and underserved in the District of Columbia. She also served in the Clinton Administration as a deputy general counsel in the Office of General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Education. As the executive director of the Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington, Withers led an organization focused on innovative strategies to address employment discrimination and disadvantage, including litigation based on the results of employment testing. Withers also served as the director of employment programs for the National Partnership on Women and Families (formerly Women’s Legal Defense Fund). Withers has served as a consultant on EEO issues as a principal in her own consulting firm, Winston Withers Associates. She has been an adjunct professor at the David A. Clarke School of Law of the University of the District of Columbia and the American University Washington College of Law. She is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill School of Law and Duke University. Withers was formerly a member of the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, and is currently chair of the Committee on Admissions of the D.C. Court of Appeals.

This week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia and possible ties to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Some of the more memorable exchanges came between Sessions and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

I won’t go into the merits of the back-and-forth between the two. But the merits of the some of the responses on social media showed a lack of appreciation for what some very famous attorneys have gone through to practice their craft.

A number of users on social media have pointed out that Harris failed the California bar exam on her first try.

Granted, that footnote is a fairly common talking point in profiles of Harris. And to be fair, we’ve mentioned this footnote as well – back in March, when Samuel Chang included this quote in his article on how the decline of bar exam passage rates impacts law students:

If U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, former Dean of Stanford Law School Kathleen Sullivan, and two California Governors Jerry Brown and Pete Wilson could not pass on their first try but were widely successful as California’s attorney general, a top law school dean, and governors of our great state, what does that say of the bar?

Let’s ask that question again: What, exactly, does that say?

There are many higher profile examples of bar failures to add to these four Californians:

  • Hillary Clinton, also a former Senator, first lady, and presidential candidate (and only slightly connected with the topic of the recent Senate hearings), failed to pass the District of Columbia bar exam in 1973, the same year she passed the bar in Arkansas.
  • First Lady Michelle Obama failed the Illinois exam.
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt failed the New York bar, passed it in 1907, and then dropped out of Columbia Law School (though he was posthumously given a J.D.).
  • There’s an urban legend out there that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo failed five times and passed on the sixth – though we might have to alert Snopes on this one. Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Distinguished Professor Emeritus Otto Stockmeyer has been dedicated in correcting that narrative, as is evidenced by his comments on separate posts that are seven years apart. (Update: Otto was 100 percent right. But it was a law librarian, not Snopes we needed to talk to.) But what is true is that Cardozo preceded Roosevelt in dropping out of Columbia Law (an unwitting participant in the James Comey portion of recent hearings).
  • John F. Kennedy Jr. failed twice in New York before passing.
  • Pat Robertson also failed in New York, and then became a mogul in Christian broadcasting and ran for president.
  • Notable mayors of the USA’s three largest cities – New York’s Ed Koch, Chicago’s Richard M. Daley, and Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa – all failed; Koch and Daley eventually passed.
  • Former governors Charlie Crist of Florida (also that state’s one-time attorney general) and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts missed the mark too.
  • Update to the list: Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House Director of Communications, failed the bar exam twice after graduating from Harvard Law.

There are others out there, including New York Governor David Paterson, the first blind governor of a U.S. state, who was unable to complete the New York bar exam due to a lack of accommodations for his lack of sight.

What you learn from this list is three things: First, if you’re going to succeed in life, fail the New York bar exam at least once. Second, don’t try to sneak that weak Cardozo story past Otto Stockmeyer.

And lastly – passing the bar exam is an act of dedication because it is incredibly difficult to pass.

Looking at the National Conference of Bar Examiners statistics for the 2016 year, bar passage rates are down for both first-time takers – who historically fare better than repeat testers after a regimen of study that can last half a year – as well as the overall test-taking group.


A pattern emerges of a first-timer score that is 10 to 13 percentage points higher than the overall group. Test takers from non-ABA-approved schools scored at a 19 percent rate. For repeat bar exam takers for 2016, the pass rate was 33 percent (38 percent for those from ABA-approved schools).

So if you’re trying to pass on your second time in any given year, there’s a 1 in 3 chance you won’t.

Now, let’s take a closer look at bar exam stats from Sen. Harris’ time frame.

The California Bar Exam, much like its New York counterpart, is notoriously difficult (don’t yell at me, I know it’s an understatement). According to Above the Law, the California exam’s 2016 pass rate of 43 percent was the lowest it has been since 1984, when it was 41.8 percent. First-timers scored at 56 percent.

Here are the numbers for Harris’ years – 1989, the year Harris received her J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and 1990, when she passed:

California Bar Exam19891990
Total Exam Takers6,9976,990
Total Passed4,1634,054
Pass Rate59.5%58%
First-Time Takers4,9094,964
Total Passed3,5443,644
Pass Rate72.2%73.4%
Repeat Takers2,0882,026
Total Passed619410
Pass Rate29.6%20.2%

The gap for 1990 between first-timers’ success rate and the overall rate jumped up to 15.4 percent. The overall pass rate dropped 1.5 percent.

Harris and her fellow repeaters were farless likely to have passed that year. The repeater rate in 1990 means that about 4 out of 5 of Harris’ fellow repeaters failed. That’s intimidating.

But Harris’ passing score means you can beat the odds when you re-take the bar exam.

Missing out on a passing score is painful, but it is not a permanent barrier to becoming a lawyer. Instead of “could not pass on their first” exam – which implies some level of failure – why not accentuate the positive and say someone “passed the bar on their second try”? Or third? Or fourth?

Or 14th?

Paulina Bandy passed that ol’ California bar exam after missing the mark 13 times over eight years. What does she do now? She runs a program for California bar exam “repeaters.”

The amazing thing about the social media nitpicking of Harris here is that it’s only become a “fun fact” since the election – there are only three tweets referencing her failed first attempt at the bar exam before the November 2016 election, yet dozens since then. It wasn’t even bandied about via the low bar of election-season sound bite that sounds good at first glance, but doesn’t tell the whole story.

This is the story:

Harris has gone on to be elected and re-elected as San Francisco District Attorney and Attorney General of California to now serving as the first Indian-American senator, the first black senator from California, and just the second black woman to serve in the Senate.

If you’re retaking it this summer, don’t let the odds get you down. You can totally do this.

Think about all this next time someone snarks about one whiff on one of the hardest tests known to higher ed. Because a lot of law students will be more than willing to take their shot at success if that’s what can happen after you fail the bar exam.

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this article, we reached out to the Cardozo School of Law’s Twitter handles for clarification on their namesake’s bar exam history:

In response, Christine Anne George, faculty and scholarly services librarian at the Dr. Lillian & Dr. Rebecca Chutick Law Library at Cardozo, went – and we quote – “full on librarian on this question.” And it turns out that the story about Cardozo’s bar exam failures is complete urban legend.

George writes:

So let’s lay this rumor to rest and remember to always, always, always cite sources, no matter what the medium.

Adam Music Adam Music is the web editor of Before the Blog. After 20-plus years in the online side of print journalism, he joined the ABA in July 2015. His experience includes stints at the Chicago Sun-Times, RogerEbert.com, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

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