If all had gone as scheduled, Cecelie Counts would have been on a plane to California this morning, the two-day agony of a bar exam behind her.
Instead, she prepared to return to a Georgetown University Law Center classroom today to puzzle over wills, civil procedure and other intricacies of the law with some 370 other would-be attorneys. All were victims of Tuesday's power failure, which prolonged the semiannual exam into a third morning.
"I was hysterical," Counts, a 1983 Harvard Law School graduate, said of her reaction when the lights went out. "They hand out the tests. You read the questions. You know the answers. The lights go out. They take back the tests. You say, 'Hey, I knew those answers.' "
Although the power was off for only about an hour, D.C. bar officicials said they had no choice but to reschedule the test for this morning, because the lawyers-to-be had already had a chance to scan the questions and discuss them once they were let out of the darkened classrooms.
"When they went outside, guess what they were talking about," said former D.C. Court of Appeals judge Catherine Kelly, who chairs the bar admissions committee. "I just hope they're all not too upset."
For the bar examiners, the electrical snafu meant that they had to dream up six new essays instantly on subjects ranging from domestic relations to administrative law.
For the exam-takers, the results were snarled vacation plans and, for the ambitious ones who planned to take another state's bar examination today, the decision about which one to complete.
Although D.C. bar officials offered to refund the $123 exam fee to those who decided not to continue, only four of the 376 candidates took that option.
The rest, having endured hours studying arcane details of contracts and torts, decided, if not to grin, at least to bear it for one more morning.
"I was going to be drinking champagne tonight," Liz Gianturco, a Georgetown Law Center graduate, lamented yesterday. Instead, said Gianturco, she faced "another night without any sleep."
"Two days of this exam is far and away enough, without having to come back a third day," Tulane Law School graduate Noel Johnson said after completing the 240-question multiple-choice portion of the test, which is given to prospective lawyers throughout the country.
Some saw the power failure as a blessing in disguise. "It gives me more time to prepare for those subjects," said Georgetown graduate Frank Lindh.
A few, doing what comes naturally after three years of training, hinted darkly of lawsuits attempting to invalidate the exam on those grounds, or seeking recompense for an extra night's hotel room or lost exam fees from other states.
"I was beside myself," said one woman who had planned to take the Massachusetts exam today. "I lose all the fees. I had to call and cancel the flight, cancel the hotel room."
Meanwhile, Georgetown graduate George Farris faced a conflicting commitment he could neither cancel nor postpone. "My wife's about four days overdue now," he said, adding that he planned simply to forgo the exam if she went into labor.
"You can take this exam twice a year for the rest of your life," he explained, "and I probably will be."