Shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, Jeffery Baker will realize a dream when Alameda Superior Court Judge Gordon Baranco swears him into the California State Bar. You will forgive the San Leandro resident if he breaks into a grin. He may have wondered if this day would ever come -- 34 years after he earned a law degree at the University of San Francisco.
"If that's not a record for the longest time between graduating law school and passing the bar, it's got to be close," he said.
In the interim, he married, raised three daughters, enjoyed a successful career as an insurance adjuster and took the bar exam so many times that even he lost count.
"I think I took it seven or eight times," he said. "Let's say it was eight."
He first tried in 1978, immediately after graduation, and he remembers how close he came. On a test spanning three days, with eight essays and hundreds of multiple-choice questions, he was done in by one or two points of law. The near-miss left him emotionally drained.
"I had put in so much time and effort," he said. "I thought, 'Well, I'll take it again.'"
Then life intervened, and three years slipped off the calendar.
He remembers taking the exam twice in Oakland, three times in Sacramento, twice in San Mateo County and at least once at the Cow Palace. When the motivation would strike him every few years, he'd pull out the law books, study into the night and pay several hundred dollars to register
If passing the bar initially beckoned as a means to an end, it slowly evolved into its own reward.
"I was never that far off," he said, explaining his refusal to give up. "It was maybe two issues on a particular exam. If I'd gotten two more issues right on any of those, I would have passed a long time ago."
He said the exam's demanding format was virtually the same each time he returned. The differences he noticed were all the fresh faces and the arrival of laptops in the testing room.
"I didn't grow up with computers," said Baker, 62, "so I was one of those people who would handwrite their exam. Now, you see these young kids getting out of law school doing everything with a computer. The area for us writers kept getting smaller and smaller."
His finally scored a passing mark in February 2011, although notification didn't come until months later. His first reaction was shock. "I was surprised," he said. "I thought, 'Is that it? Did I miss something here?'"
He attributes his long-awaited success not to studying harder, but studying "smarter." Finding the answer to legal questions, he learned, has more to do with how you approach the issues than your knowledge of the law.
"When you look at all the facts, you need to understand which rule of law applies," he said. "Then, it's like a light bulb turning on."
Thursday's ceremony should be an especially poignant event, because Baker and Baranco have been friends most of their lives. They met in junior high and graduated from Oakland High School two years apart. ("I remember when he was first trumpet in our concert band and I was second clarinet," Baker said.)
What will California's newest lawyer do with his license? He said doesn't expect his life to change. He's not switching careers.
He didn't climb the mountain to claim a prize at the top. He climbed it to prove he could.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com