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Christopher Castro and Deanne Hogan-Turner, both graduates of Florida Coastal School of Law
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Sep. 30, 201412:00 PM EST

With the Bar behind them, new lawyers looking forward to starting their careers

by: Marilyn Young

Deanne Hogan-Turner’s parents played key roles along her path to become a lawyer.

As a high school freshman, she worked in her mother’s law office in Illinois, doing everything from secretarial work to cleaning up the office.

Her father’s direct involvement would come years later.

Hogan-Turner is among 2,057 law school graduates to pass The Florida Bar exam given in July. And she’s among many second- and third-generation attorneys within that group.

Karl Gruss’ father and grandfather are lawyers.

Chase Harris’ father is a lawyer, as are his older brother and sister.

Adrienne Perry’s father has been a circuit judge in Tampa for as long as she can remember.

“I grew up spending time in his courtroom,” said Perry, a first-year associate in the family law department at Rogers Towers. “I loved it.”

Harris decided to become an attorney after seeing how much his father, Jacksonville personal injury attorney Robert Harris, enjoyed practicing law.

The younger Harris is an assistant state attorney in Angela Corey’s office handling misdemeanor cases. He’s also Perry’s fiancé.

Hogan-Turner’s father wasn’t a lawyer, but he wanted his daughter to be one.

Studying consumes the days and nights

Preparing for the July 28-29 Bar exam was like working a full-time job. Study in the morning, study in the afternoon and study into the evening.

“I’d never studied for two months straight for an exam,” Perry said. “It was rough.”

Gruss described it as “about two and a half months of just bearing down every single day.”

“It was definitely on my mind 24/7,” said Gruss, who works in the real estate department at Rogers Towers.

June was fine, said Anna Hayes, a University of Florida graduate, as she studied eight-hour days five or six days a week. July, though, was do “as much as you could do every day.”

Studying with Gruss and others had advantages. “We kept each other accountable,” said Hayes, who works at Smith Gambrell & Russell.

Rohani Mahyera had studied for a Bar exam before. She passed the New York test in 2012 but decided to take the Florida exam because she was pursuing a job at Holland & Knight.

Working full-time at Deutsche Bank made studying more difficult, Mahyera said.

Hogan-Turner and her boyfriend, Christopher Castro, spent a lot of time studying at an Illinois medical facility where her father was after his unexpected brain surgery.

Her father had been acting a little odd, she said. Tests showed he had a growth on his brain. That growth turned out to be a tumor that doctors wanted to remove.

She didn’t think it was serious. He didn’t, either, based on a phone call the two shared. “He just said, ‘I’m going in and I’ll talk to you when I get out.’”

Self-doubt creeps in

Taking the exam can be grueling.

The first day, Hayes said, was horrible. Basically a cattle call for 3,000 anxious law students standing in lines to get their badges, then waiting to take the exam.

“Everyone was just really stressed out,” she said.

Castro was trying to block out the enormity of what the test meant to him. Trying not to think about the huge implications the test had on the next steps of his life.

“Once you get in that big room,” he said, “it’s hard to block out those feelings.”

A lot of students study for hours after the first day of testing as a way to better prepare for the second. Gruss wasn’t one of those. He took that night off, the first he’d taken off in months.

“I wanted to make sure I could relax as much as possible” before the second day began, he said.

Both Hogan-Turner and Castro, who graduated from Florida Coastal School of Law, had serious doubts as they walked into the Tampa Convention Center on July 28. And it was worse when the test was over.

“Coming out, I didn’t think I passed the Florida section,” she said.

Castro was certain he failed, as well. So certain that when people asked when he would find out if he passed, he said he wouldn’t know until April — the month for the results of the test given in February to be released.

Hogan-Turner and Castro had spent key weeks of the Bar exam prep with her father. Hogan-Turner needed to support her father and Castro needed to support her. The hours of preparing for the test had become secondary.

Making the grade

When the results came out last Monday, many people checked their pass/fail grades over and over again. In February, incorrect scores were released so that made checking what you saw two, three, maybe four times, a necessity.

That morning was “really nerve-wracking,” Mahyera said.

She was in another associate’s office going over an assignment when she learned the results were online.

“I dashed out of his office and went to mine,” she said.

She closed the door, called up the website, looked at her score, then had her associate check her score to make sure the “pass” she saw for herself was right.

After Gruss found out he passed, he called Hayes to let her know the results were in. Hayes had to make sure she lined up her scores just perfectly, because people directly above her and directly below her had failed. Even then, she checked two or three more times.

The next day, Gruss and Hayes celebrated by going to Germany for three weeks.

The call she couldn't make

Hogan-Turner didn’t want to check her scores that morning. She’d decided to wait until the afternoon. Castro, however, slipped into another room to check his score and saw he passed. He knew he had to check hers next.

Castro walked into the room where Hogan-Turner was and said, “So, how does it feel to be a lawyer?”

At first, she didn’t believe him. When she did believe him, she cried.

Hogan-Turner had worried about both of them failing, especially Castro because he had sacrificed so much time to be with her and her father.

She called her mother and her brother to share the news. She wanted to call her father.

Shortly after his surgery, he opened his eyes a couple of times when someone said his name. Sometimes he’d squeeze a hand when he was told to do so.

But he never spoke again, she said, and never really woke up.

He died 10 days before she took the Bar exam.

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