Bar exams pump up occupancy rates
at Albany area hotels, eateries

JoAnne McFadden
The (Albany) Business Review
April 16, 2004

Twice a year, anxious law school graduates flock to Albany, New York City and Buffalo hoping to pass the New York state bar exam.

In 2002, the latest figures available, 3,167 people took the exam in February and 9,693 in July in New York state. Roughly one-third of the total number of people taking the exam took it in Albany.

In 2003, according to estimates from the The New York State Board of Law Examiners, which proctors the exam, about 3,500 people took the test in July, and about 1,200 in February 2004.

The exam is 12 hours, 15 minutes long and administered over two days in three-hour sessions with an hour-and-a-half lunch break each day.

A significant number of aspiring lawyers are from out of town, which means an influx of people looking for meals and lodging in and around Albany.

The students receive notification of where they will be seated for the exam at least three weeks prior, at which point they can make hotel reservations as close as possible to their assigned test sites.

In July, in addition to the Pepsi Arena, Albany Law School and Empire State Plaza, the exam takes place in Albany hotels. This year, the test is planned for the Best Western Sovereign Hotel, Albany Marriott Hotel, Albany Quality Inn and The Crowne Plaza Hotel.

At the Marriott, staff set up schoolroom tables in the ballroom for the exam. The amount of space that the bar exam requires varies from year to year depending on the number of people who are taking it.

In addition to the space the Board of Law Examiners uses for the exam, there are a number of people taking the exam who stay at the hotel, said Mark Zimmerman, director of marketing for the Marriott.

The Best Western has 92 rooms. Roughly 70 percent of the occupancy for the two nights during the exam are test-takers, said Suparmanto, the general manager at the hotel.

"In a nutshell, it does provide us with good business," he said.

According to the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the average occupancy in hotels for the past two Februarys was 76.1 percent. The yearly averages were 67.9 percent.

"When you look at it in that context, in what we generally average, the bar exam lifted our average occupancy by 8.2 percent," said Michele Vennard, president of the convention bureau. The majority of students stay two nights, some three.

Vennard said that some hotels further away from the bar exam locations, like the Clarion Inn & Suites in Latham, ran at 100 percent occupancy during the entire time, which for that hotel was a 28 percent increase over the prior year.

The convention bureau cannot determine for certain if those rooms were occupied by people taking the bar exam, or by others who had to look for a hotel beyond downtown because of the numbers of rooms used by those taking the bar exam; but either way, the increased occupancy is good business for all the hotels.

Many students hole themselves up in their rooms to study.

"The majority order room service and eat at their own leisure," Suparmanto said.

Others venture out from their hotels to nearby restaurants for dinner.

Brad Rosenstein, proprietor of Jack's Oyster House on State Street, kids about his restaurant's role during the bar exam. Students, usually those staying at nearby hotels like the Crowne Plaza or Ramada Inn, come to dine.

"We take credit for most of them passing the bar exam because they've had a good dinner here before the test," he said.

The new lawyers go along with the joke when they return months later.

"It's gratifying, too, when they come back with their families, and they say it was really helpful that we had dinner at Jack's," Rosenstein said.

Rosenstein said having the bar exam in Albany is a positive.

"It helps fill up the tables," he said.

During lunch breaks, restaurants in the Empire State Plaza are buzzing with business, said general manager Michael Snyder.

Best Western Sovereign offers lunch-to-go for people taking the exam, so they do not have to worry about finding a place to eat or getting back in time for the afternoon session.

"We pack the luncheon for them while they're attending the exam. It helps them to make it very, very convenient," Suparmanto said.

The rigorousness of the bar exam contributes to repeat business for the Capital Region--of those taking the exam in February 2002, only 42 percent passed; 68 percent passed in July.