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Chi’zhii rez girl passes AZ bar exam

By Candacy Begody

PHOENIX

Submitted
Candace Begody

I had not slept at all last Thursday night having tossed and turned in high anticipation of the release of my Arizona bar exam results. I had done everything I needed to do to pass this notoriously difficult exam.

To become a licensed attorney, law graduates are required to pass a minimum competence exam – “the Bar Exam.”

At 7:55 a.m., I took one breath before I clicked and scrolled down the alphabetically listed names. Immediately, “Begody” jumped out at me.

An overwhelming flood of emotions overcame me, and a montage of hardship and moments of both failures and successes sequenced in my mind, as tears began to roll down my face.

I screamed to a friend who had shared in this moment with me, “I passed!” as I began jumping up and down in tears.

Accompanied by many tears of humility and a state of euphoria, I look back on my journey through law school and preparation for the bar exam.

Law school

When I started out on this journey about four years ago, I had no idea how grueling it would be. I had just left the Navajo Times as editor when I began pursuing law school.

It was a full year to even prepare to get into law school – studying for and then taking the Eurocentric, standardized LSAT that in my humble opinion is designed for people of color, like me, to fail, and preparing applications to multiple schools. Needless to say, I got into law school.

Law school itself was intimidating to say the very least.

Many of my peers were groomed at a young age to become attorneys, many were second- or third-generation law students and everyone was very competitive and ambitious.

On the scholastic side, there was a massive amount of reading (anything less than 40 pages per class was a light day; I had one professor who assigned 150 pages twice a week!).

Every day of law school, your faults and weaknesses are constantly pointed out to you. Rarely ever do you get kudos. But you learn to embrace it, appreciate it, and welcome the constant constructive criticism.

I thank the Pre-Law Summer Institute at the University of New Mexico for giving me a taste of the Socratic method prior to law school, a method that law professors use to weed out first-year law students.

I had one professor in property law, who seemed like the sweetest man but whom I believe secretly took pride in using this method to humble us. He called on me randomly one day and asked me questions on two cases for 45 minutes! (Call it woman’s intuition if you want, but I had a feeling my time on deck was coming.)

It was just him and I, going back and forth as he asked the classic questions about facts of the case, the parties, the court’s procedural history, the arguments on both sides, what did the court find most persuasive and why, what would you have argued, among other questions.

This became the norm throughout my first and second year of law school.

My final year

My last year of law school was quite the whirlwind. I decided to apply to business school to pursue an MBA as I had taken an interest in business organizations, taxation and economics.

I was accepted and began my first year of business school during my final year of law school, working on two degrees simultaneously.

I recall telling myself in December that, “Come January (2020), I will be working a straight seven to eight months before I can take a break” and I stayed true to that.

I started spring classes in January and then spent my spring break in Nebraska taking a class on tribal economic development. This was about the time COVID-19 began spreading rapidly through Arizona. When I returned, we were forced to finish our spring classes online.

In May, I started finals week for law school. That came and went and as soon as I was done, I started studying for my business finals.

My last exam of the year was a six-hour corporate finance exam. Only after that exam did I realize that I had completed my final semester having taken nine exams for my law and business programs.

The following day, I started studying for the bar exam. The pandemic forced many, if not all, schools to cancel graduations. ASU Law was no exception.
ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program staff put together a beautiful video presentation honoring the 13 of us who earned our Indian Law Certificates, which aired on YouTube.

The Bar Exam

The bar exam tests 15 areas of federal law and is one of the toughest hurdles for an aspiring attorney.

Going in, I knew the odds were against me. A common trend among Native students is lower LSAT scores and lower GPAs compared to our non-Native counterparts, both of which are indicators of success on the bar exam. Neither of my scores were exceptional so I knew it would be an uphill battle.

But my mindset and what I told myself was very intentional and deliberate. A year and a half before even taking the bar, I began preparing myself mentally. I committed to taking the exam, one time, and every decision I made was going to be with the intent of passing.

I told myself often, “I don’t have to take this exam, I GET to take this exam. I graduated law school and I have earned the right to take the Arizona bar exam.”

A challenge I could not have prepared for was COVID-19, which was ravaging the nation, Arizona and especially Navajo. I received daily reports from my parents about relatives whose lives were claimed by Covid, many who were not able to have a proper burial and reports of the virus enclosing on my community of Ganado and Kinlichee.

I prayed every day for my family and my beloved Navajo people. It was heavy on my heart and a burden to carry all summer. Across the nation, bar exams were being canceled and online bar exams were possible.

Then our nation entered a state of social unrest at the death of George Floyd. I remember watching the inhumane treatment of Mr. Floyd on the news and my heart sunk.

“Where is our humanity?” I remember thinking.

Then, looting, riots and protests began across our nation. In my heart, I wanted to join in the peaceful protests, but I simply could not.

Despite so much uncertainty and a heavy heart from all that was happening around me, I remained steadfast and disciplined in my studying. A few days before the bar exam, I had reached an amazing milestone by completing 100 percent of my bar prep program. All in all, I did about 500 hours of total studying over the summer.

Exam day

Come exam day, everyone had to attest to not having been exposed to COVID-19. Our temperatures were checked at the door with a body screening device and we were required to wear masks throughout the day. All we could bring was our courage, a little bit of luck, and our belief in ourselves.

We were commanded to march in an orderly and distanced fashion to our exam rooms. I did not talk to anyone. I overheard that students had come from Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, New York, California, Texas, Missouri, and other states.

The first day was essay day and we had six essays that tested common law and legal principles. The second day consisted of 200 multiple-choice questions covering six areas of the law.

Studying for the bar exam is a very personal journey and a very lonely one. In the end, it is all you – you have to know you, you have to know how you study, what disciplines you, what motivates you. You have to cheer yourself on, pick yourself up, and only you will know the true struggles you’ve endured.

There are so many people that I could not have done this without. My friends, colleagues, fellow ASU graduates, my friends in Tucson who pushed me to apply to law school and supported me every step of the way.

I received an unbelievable amount of financial support from the American Indian Graduate Center, the Pre-Law Summer Institute, American Indian Services in Salt Lake City, and the Navajo Nation – all of which allowed me to focus solely on studying.

Of course, I send my love and thanks to my parents, my family (my sisters, my extended relatives, and especially my cheii Mencia) and friends (Abby, Wendell, DQ, and many more) and especially, to shiyazhí Mason, who sacrificed as much as I did.

Lastly, thank you to the Navajo Times for sharing my story.

I still have a few steps to go before I can be sworn in as a licensed attorney, but this was a big one. In the meantime, I am finishing my MBA and expected to graduate in May 2021 and excited to see what the future holds.

This accomplishment has come with much defeat and struggle, and it truly was a fight every step of the way. Having grown up on the reservation, there were many unique barriers I faced in law school and the bar exam, but even more unique ones simply being Native American and a woman.

But I share this accomplishment with my family, my beloved Navajo people, and Native America.

And I share my story because I know there are other little rez girls out there (and I personally hold this title – ‘chi’zhii rez girl’ – with pride) aspiring to make a difference and aspiring to achieve our ancestors’ wildest dreams in whatever field they choose.


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