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Think Your Lawyer’s in a Trance? You May be Right

To the many who fail it, the California Bar Exam is a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Color it failure in big red letters: in front of friends, family and prospective employers. It’s a double-bill of despair: Disgrace and Unemployment.

Sure, some of the would-be lawyers doubtless deserve to flunk, but a lot are intelligent and well-prepared and suffer mainly from anxiety and a fatal lack of confidence under the stress of a three-day exam, where the failure rate habitually exceeds 50%.

Enter psychologist Michael R. Samko, with offices in Carlsbad and Del Mar, who prepares students for the exam with individual counseling sessions and a dose of hypnosis. Most have already failed once; some have failed multiple times.

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“I tell the bar people that I can’t give them the knowledge to pass,” he says, “but I can help them to achieve a level of relaxation, of letting go, like the jazz pianist who learns to let go and play on a deeper level.”

There are other counselors who prep students for the bar--and even a San Diego Community College psychology professor who started Exam Masters Inc.--but Samko is apparently alone in advocating that students learn to put themselves in hypnotic trances.

Some take practice exams while in a trance in Samko’s office. Some even take the real exam in a trance.

“It’s like being on the verge of sleep,” said a San Diego lawyer who went to Samko after two failures and then passed on her third try. “You sit there and he talks to you in a monotone voice and it enters your subconscious. He tells you you can do it, you’re not a failure, and you start believing in yourself again.”

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The technique is far removed from the Hollywood image of a swinging watch and “look into my eyes.” It involves deep breathing, manual dexterity exercises, and learning to concentrate on a single soothing image (a day at the beach, a walk in the forest).

Samko, 38, has a doctorate from the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego and teaches at National University. He’s a hypnosis consultant to the FBI and has written about the use of hypnosis during childbirth.

Starting with a Harvard grad who had failed five times, Samko says he’s had more than 50 “bar phobics” as patients, with a passage rate of over 90%. Counseling sessions cost up to $120 an hour, less for those without insurance.

For many, failing the bar is their first public belly-flop. Other problems bubble up.

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“The bar exam pushes a button, and a lot of anger and lack of self-confidence comes out,” Samko said. “That’s what we have to overcome.”

Historical Spinoff

The large number of news stories on the 25th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy have apparently had an unintended impact on Christmas toy sales.

North County toy stores say one of the hottest selling items this year is the remote control PT 109, 2 1/2 feet long, with full gearbox, twin props and rudder.

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It sells for $49.99. Batteries are not included.

Winning Luncheon Play

Excuse me, is my stock up or down?

As the coach of a losing team, Al Saunders’ tenure with the San Diego Chargers is shaky. The team owner let him twist in the wind last week when news stories said he was soon to be fired.

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If Saunders hasn’t heard by Jan. 11, maybe he should attend a luncheon symposium sponsored by Prudential-Bache Securities at the La Jolla Village Inn. The topic: “Investment Opportunities with Alex Spanos,” owner of the San Diego Chargers.

Making a Big Statement

To get approval from the San Diego City Council to build a hotel next to the Torrey Pines Golf Course, Sheraton corporate officials and their attorneys and their architects and their consultants assured the doubters that the hotel would not be big and blocky.

It will be compact and discreet, they assured. Modest and unassuming. You’ll drive along Torrey Pines Road and hardly see it.

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The concrete and iron are now pushing skyward. Along with a big sign announcing the hotel’s name: Sheraton Grande at Torrey Pines.


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