Alcatraz Swimmer Helps Man Pass the California Bar

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 14, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Alcatraz, a haunting island prison in San Francisco Bay, closed after three prisoners escaped and plunged into the treacherous waters in 1962.

It is a true story that became legend because the men were never found. It was made even more famous by the movie, "Escape from Alcatraz," starring Clint Eastwood.

Alcatraz also presents a challenge for swimmers, like young James Savage, who attempt the same "escape" each year. But little did Savage know that he would inspire an older man to take another perilous plunge -- the California bar exam.

"About to Quit"

Savage made the Alcatraz crossing when he was 9 years old, the same time that 40-year-old Scott Emerick was preparing to the take the bar exam. Emerick, a second career man with a wife, a child, and health issues, was about to give up.

Then he read about Savage. The boy told a television reporter he almost didn't make it.

"I was about to quit, but then I kept on going," Savage said. That statement gave Emerick courage to try harder.

"I wrote it on a 3-by-5 index card and taped it to the wall in front of me," Emerick told the Merced Sun-Star. "There it sat. I glanced at it several times a day. It was pretty profound, and I went on, studying."

Try, Try Again

Like many people who fail the bar each year, Emerick didn't make it the first time. But he persisted, inspired by the young swimmer's quote, and passed on his second attempt.

Whether by a mantra or other dedication, everyone who takes the bar exam needs extraordinary motivation. Of course, it requires solid preparation, concentration, and sometimes some luck. But persistence is the key.

Maxcy Filer, a legend in his own time, took the bar exam 48 times. Having tried the first time in 1966, it took him more than a quarter of a century to finally pass.

Charles S. Vogel, president of the State Bar at the time, told the Los Angeles Times that Filer's accomplishment said a lot about his 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," Vogel said.

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