University of New Hampshire

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School of Law
UNH Law Community Rallies Around Graduate After Fire on Eve of Bar Exam

UNH Law Community Rallies Around Graduate After Fire on Eve of Bar Exam

Most law school graduates will tell you that the bar exam is a stressful experience, but few have meant that as sincerely as Brendon Thurston has.

At 3 a.m. on July 29, Thurston, a recent UNH Law graduate, and his fiancée, Crystal, were asleep in their Manchester apartment when their dog began barking.  They woke up to smoke and realized that the building was on fire. They fled, alerting neighbors by pounding on doors on the way out.

Outside, they watched firefighters battle the blaze, which spread all the way to the roof of the three-story building. The residents made it out safely, but the building was deemed uninhabitable. A day before he was due to take the bar exam, Thurston found himself homeless.

“I was sitting outside, watching my house burn, thinking that if my laptop gets destroyed, I will have to hand-write my bar exam,” Thurston said.

After the flames were doused, residents were allowed back into their apartments for just 20 minutes, to take what they wanted. When Thurston and Crystal entered their apartment, they found that the ceiling had caved in. Water was pooled on the floor. Almost all of their possessions were ruined. But Thurston’s laptop had survived the fire, hidden beneath several thick law textbooks.

Thurston made it to the exam, exhausted from a day spent in a temporary shelter trying to piece his life back together. He’d let his renter’s insurance lapse just a short time earlier, as he’d planned on moving once he took the bar exam and – he hoped – found a job working as a prosecutor somewhere in the state.

He and Crystal had been staying in a hotel and weren’t sure where they’d be living in the coming weeks. Everything they owned now fit into a few 50-gallon trash bags. And now he was about to take a two-day-long test that would decide his fate as an eligible hire.

“One person was complaining about not being able to do last-minute studying,” he said, smiling ruefully. “I was like, my house burned down yesterday.”

In the meantime, Thurston’s law school friends Kyle Robidas and Brian Keber were contacting students, faculty and the school’s administration to alert them to Thurston’s plight. They worked with Fran Canning, the assistant dean for students, to set up a fund in their friend’s name.

Almost instantly, Thurston began receiving condolences and offers of help from his classmates, UNH Law faculty, and even alumni he’d never met.

He was stunned.

“I didn’t expect the school would do anything – this was my problem,” he said. “I received dozens and dozens of emails from the law school community. Faculty and students offered furniture. The dean called me from his vacation. One classmate even told me she was going to give me a portion of her first paycheck.”

Things have continued to look up for Thurston. His landlord found a spot for him and Crystal in a nearby apartment building. Recently, he stopped by UNH Law to pick up a check – the sum of donations made out to the fund in his name.  He and Crystal are working on replacing what they lost in the fire – clothes, furniture, even curtains.

“A lot of things still need to be replaced, but this check is going to go a very long way,” Thurston said.

Robidas, his friend, said he couldn’t have been happier with the response from the UNH Law community.

“I know that it meant the world to Brendon,” Robidas said. “It was incredible, once the school started getting the word out, how many people offered words of support, items to replace things lost, and monetary donations.”

As Thurston awaits the bar exam results and searches for a job, he’s grateful to be a part of a supportive community.

“It’s unbelievable, the way people rally,” he said. “In bigger schools, you wouldn’t see this. UNH Law is such a small school – I didn’t fully realize when I was a student how small and caring it is. Even if you don’t get to know everyone in your class, they still know you well enough to reach out when something like this happens.”