Dear 2015 Law School Graduates,
Graduating from law school is a major life accomplishment, and you should all be proud. But, as you probably already know, as major life accomplishments go, it’s one of the most anti-climatic ones. The excitement of graduating from law school eventually wears off for everyone at different times, but it doesn’t take too long.
Maybe it happened as you heard the first graduate announced as an “esquire” at your graduation ceremony, meaning he or she actually graduated after the fall semester and already passed the Bar. (It’s OK — I resented those people a little bit, too.) Or maybe it was after the ceremony, while enjoying a nice celebratory lunch with your family as they cruelly discussed the upcoming family vacation that you will miss because you will be in a cold, dark library making flash cards and outlines. It hit me when I picked up what felt like a 75-pound box of Bar study materials the day before graduation (seen at right).
You’ve just spent three years killing yourself in law school. Your reward? Two more months studying for a test that dictates whether you can be a lawyer. The celebration is certainly short-lived, but don’t fret: you can do this! Here are some tips from a recent former Bar taker.
- Trust the process. There are tons of Bar prep courses (please sign up for one of them), which all tout that they are the best. The dirty secret is that they all work. You just need to follow what they tell you to do. While these courses hold you accountable with their practice tests, only you can make sure you are staying on top of things on a daily basis. Most prep courses will help you structure your days for the rest of the summer. Follow their road map.
- Learn to take the test. The typical law student is a Type-A perfectionist, which generally serves you well in law school. This can work against you with the Bar exam, however, where writing a perfect essay answer might be impossible with the amount of time you have. As you study, you have to police yourself on time, which means always doing practice essays and questions under test conditions. If your time is up, move on to the next question. It will be agonizing at first, but by the time the exam rolls around, you will be a seasoned pro.
- Give yourself as much time to study as possible… If you can afford to take off from work while studying for the Bar, do it. If you don’t have that luxury, do everything in your power to give yourself as much time to prepare for the exam as possible. This is the moment to be a little selfish and lean on your family, friends and employer.
- … But set aside time to relax. You will undoubtedly look at all of your study materials and have the urge to study every waking moment. This is a great way to burn out well before the exam. My prep course told us to take off Sundays, a rule that I happily followed when I studied for the Bar. It is vital to maintain a healthy balance between studying and relaxing.
- Don’t lose sight of your goal. Whereas in law school you were shooting for A’s, with the Bar exam, you have one goal and one goal only: to PASS! This means you literally are shooting for something akin to a high D (not really, but you get the point), so don’t beat yourself up just because you failed to spot a minor issue in an essay question or don’t know the rule in Dumpor’s case (a doozy that popped up in my Multistate Bar Exam, which I still refuse to look up on principle). Also, if your Bar prep course has sample answers from previous exams, take a look at them. You’ll be amazed at the answers that received decent scores. They can be a real confidence booster!
- Don’t dwell on your answers. During the essay portion of my exam, I reached a question that made me flash back to my third year of law school, when I had the opportunity to take Constitutional Criminal Procedure II or a much less intensive negotiation class. The Bar exam question involved a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. I’ll let you guess which class I chose. Needless to say, my answer was no thing of beauty, but I got through it thanks to my study materials, and I moved on.
- Institute a gag rule among your friends. Want to be miserable from July to November? Discuss exam questions with your friends after the test. There is no better way to induce a four-month panic attack than finding out the property question you think you aced was really a family law question. In other words, DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE TEST!
I will leave you with this: the axiom that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance is true. You just successfully completed the grueling, three-year marathon known as law school. You’ve already demonstrated the skills needed to pass the Bar. As long as you trust the process and manage your time, you can do this. Good luck!