Spring ’23 Alums Among top FL Bar Exam Scorers

Headshots of two young men who graduated from Stetson Law in 2023. Left: Sean Caulfield; Right: Samuel Ciulla
Spring ’23 alumni Sean Caulfield (left) and Samuel Ciulla (right) had two of the highest July 2023 Florida Bar Exam scores.

Like many of his classmates, Spring 2023 Stetson Law graduate Sean Caulfield was in the library nearly seven days a week following commencement.

Though grueling, studying for the July Florida Bar exam got a little easier as the summer went on – especially with support from Stetson Law’s extensive bar prep resources, Professor Ellen Podgor (his bar coach), and Professor Stacey-Rae Simcox (his mentor).

“It was a long and hard process, but as the summer goes on you get into a routine and it becomes a bit more bearable,” Caulfield said.

All that work paid off – and then some. Not only did he pass, but he and classmate Samuel Ciulla were among the top bar exam scorers in the state.

“We are incredibly proud of Samuel and Sean,” said Law Professor Alicia Jackson, Director of Academic Success and Bar Preparation at Stetson Law. “They are a testament to hard work and dedication to their law studies and preparing for the bar exam. Great things are destined for them as we welcome them to the legal profession.”

A rare honor for a job well done

That designation comes with the opportunity to speak at a Florida Bar Association swearing-in ceremony for new members. Caulfield spoke in front of the Florida Supreme Court on behalf of the newly admitted attorneys while Ciulla spoke at Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeals induction ceremony in Tampa.

“It was truly an honor to address my peers at the induction ceremony, as these new attorneys are all incredibly bright individuals who passed one of the hardest exams in the country, so being able to celebrate this momentous occasion with them was certainly rewarding,” Ciulla said.

Caulfield said it was an honor to celebrate the milestone with his peers and his family, who made the trip to Tallahassee for the occasion.

“Everyone who was sworn in that day put in an enormous amount of work over their law school careers to get to that point, and it was an honor to represent Stetson, speak before the justices, and celebrate the accomplishments of his new class of attorneys,” Caulfield said.

Exam day nerves

The day they walked into the exam room in July, both were already accomplished Stetson Law alumni.

Caulfield participated in the Honors Program and Stetson Law Review, graduated with honors, and received Stetson Law’s 2023 Elizabeth M. Leeman Award. Ciulla participated in the Stetson Law Review, graduated with honors, and was Stetson Law’s Spring 2023 valedictorian.

Even so, neither saw passing the bar as a sure thing – let alone being a top scorer.

Caulfield said when he got a phone call regarding his score, he immediately thought there had been a mistake and that his passing score had been rescinded.

“I wanted to hang the phone up right then and there,” he said. “But thankfully I didn’t.”

For Ciulla, who began studying full-time three weeks early so he could take weekends off (thus avoiding burnout), it took a few moments to sink in.

“Getting the call from Chief Judge Daniel Sleet that I achieved one of the higher bar exam scores was unfathomable at the time, but after processing the news, I reflected on all the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice I put in over the summer – it was all worth it,” he said.

Investing in success

College of Law leadership places particular emphasis on equipping students with everything they need to pass the Florida Bar Exam on the first attempt.

A head shot of Stetson Law Dean D. Benjamin Barros in front of pillars in the Great Hall.
Stetson Law Dean D. Benjamin Barros

Stetson Law Dean D. Benjamin Barros, who started in his role in July of 2023, views improving first-time bar exam passage rates as a key priority.

“As an institution, we are committed to doing everything we can to help prepare our graduates for the bar,” Barros said. “At the end of the day, though, passing the bar takes a great deal of diligence from each graduate. We are incredibly proud of Mr. Caulfield, Mr. Ciulla, and all of their peers for doing the hard work necessary to pass the bar.”

Stetson Law had one of the top first-time bar passage rates for the July 2023 exam. This is also not the first time a recent College of Law graduate has achieved one of the highest scores on the exam.

In February 2022, alumnus Craig Zyburo received the highest Florida Bar exam score out of nearly 450 test-takers.