Passing the Test of Time : After 48 Tries, Compton Man Masters Bar Exam

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It has taken him a quarter-century and 48 tries, but Maxcy D. Filer, a 60-year-old city councilman from Compton, has finally passed the California State Bar exam.

When the good news arrived--in a large yellow envelope from the state Board of Governors in Tuesday’s mail--Filer ignored it and went straight to bed.

“I’ve seen those envelopes a lot of times before,” he said.

But his wife, Blondell, thought this envelope looked a little thicker than usual. His son Anthony held it up to the light. “Dear New Admittee,” it said.


News of Filer’s personal triumph swept through the community.

“I’ve gotten more hugs today than I’ve gotten in the last 10 years,” Filer, a portly man in suspenders, said Thursday. “The phone has been ringing off the hook. ‘Let’s block off the streets and have a party,’ they say. I tell them I’m not a party animal. They say they prayed for me and I think they did.”

Compton Municipal Judge Xenophon Lang Jr., who has known Filer for decades and closely followed his struggle with the Bar exam, said: “The word went through the courthouse like a bat out of hell. We’re elated.”

It was 1966 when Filer graduated from now-closed Van Norman University in Los Angeles and sat down for his first crack at the three-day test, considered one of the toughest in the nation. He failed.

Ever since Filer has been taking the test once or twice a year. Two of his sons--in elementary school during test No. 1--have already graduated from law school themselves. They both passed the exam on their first try and have been practicing law for more than seven years.

“The Bar exam is the most mentally demanding thing I’ve ever gone through,” said Kelvin Filer, 35, who is a Compton school board member. “You have to have three days of total concentration. I couldn’t have handled it more than once.”

Maxcy Filer, whose 15-year council career ends June 30, says he decided to become a lawyer during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. During the years of unsuccessful attempts, he has worked as a law clerk for the Los Angeles city attorney’s office and later for his son Kelvin’s private practice.


“I already do briefs, complaints, interrogatories, and appear at administrative hearings,” Filer said. “I’ll be able to do something I’ve always wanted to do and that’s go to court.”

Filer was one of 3,702 aspiring lawyers who took the test in February and one of only 1,869, or 50.5%, who passed, earning the right to represent clients in any California court. He will become one of the state’s 128,000 attorneys. His 48 tries is a record, at least as far as anyone at the Committee of Bar Examiners can recall.

“If someone passed the exam after that many tries, I’m really happy for them,” said John Rodriguez, the Bar’s director of operations. “It means they’ve accomplished one of the major goals of their life, and that’s nice to hear.”

Charles S. Vogel, president of the State Bar, said attempting the Bar 48 times says a lot about Filer’s tenacity.

“If he tells a client he is going to take a case all the way to the Supreme Court, I’d be inclined to believe it.”

His legal odyssey had many stops.

Filer took the test in San Diego, San Francisco, Riverside, Oakland and in dozens of cities throughout Los Angeles County. An earthquake once shook the test center. One fellow test-taker fainted near Filer in the middle of the test. A female aspirant once removed her shirt when the air conditioning failed.


Filer said he may feel somewhat lost when February and July roll around and there is no three-day examination for him to tackle. But he said he won’t miss it a bit.

Kelvin Filer has plans for his father now that he will add an “Esquire” to his name.

“I think I’ll fire him as my law clerk,” he said, “and make the new attorney carry his own weight around here.”