Know your graduation requirements.
Each school is different, and it is likely you will have no problem completing everything for graduation. However, it is still important to break out that student handbook and make sure you have a plan to get everything done. Still unclear on what the requirements are? That is what the school registrar is for. Stop by the office and ask!
Unit requirements or writing requirements may sneak up on you during your third year. You don’t want a writing requirement or unit deficit to stand in the way of graduation!
And you also want to be practical about these requirements. If you need to schedule a semester to do your writing requirement, do you really want it to be your last semester? (I remember some friends painfully completing their requirements in the final weeks of law school.) What about if your school or state has a clerkship or pro bono requirement? Do you know when you are going to get those hours done?
Get your 3L academic plan in place to prevent any unwelcome surprises leading up to graduation.
Should you take bar electives?
When third-year students come to talk to me about the bar exam (and their readiness), I typically ask, “What bar exam classes have you taken?” And sometimes the list of the classes they have not taken is longer than the list of those they have taken.
There is no magic answer as to how many bar electives one should take. It depends on the person, their career interests, and where they are planning on taking the bar exam.
Here are some things to consider:
- Your ability to learn law quickly.
If you don’t take a bar class and that subject is heavily tested for the bar exam, you are going to have to learn it in crash-course fashion during bar prep. For some folks, this isn’t a problem; they can study an outline and quickly commit it to memory. For others, the process isn’t as quick and during bar prep they can feel rushed and frustrated by having to learn an entire subject area after likely 4 to 6 hours of lecture. Only you can really determine how you feel about learning law for the exam. I didn’t take all the potential bar classes I could have, but I took quite a few, leaving just a handful of subjects to learn during the bar prep period.
- The area of law you are interested in practicing.
It is important to note that some bar electives are essential because they apply to practice! Are you going to be a family law attorney? Then you should take wills and trusts and community property (in California) for sure. Those also happen to be bar classes. Lucky you! This is just one example. Talk to practitioners in the area of law you would like to practice to learn what bar classes they found helpful in law school.
- Which state bar are you going to take?
Let’s get real here for a moment. It is also critical to think about which state bar you are going to take. Know what subjects are tested and also what the pass rate for that bar exam is (check out bar passage rates).
Do a little research. Is the pass rate 80 percent or more? Are you statistically likely to pass even without packing your law school schedule full of bar electives? Look at the list of the subjects tested in your given jurisdiction and compare them with your law school transcript. See any holes that make you nervous? Also, talk to folks that have taken the bar exam in that jurisdiction. Did they take bar electives? Did it help them?
- Do you think you will get anything out of the class?
One of my professors in law school gave me excellent advice when I asked him how I should select my class schedule. He encouraged me to take classes from professors I thought I would learn from. Law school classes aren’t just about the law; they are about learning to think like a lawyer. If you don’t think you will learn from the professor, it is probably not a good class for you. Although this rule of thumb may not work for all of your law school classes (some are required), it is one you can apply to bar electives. If you don’t think you and the professor are a good match, you likely don’t want to spend an entire semester feeling as if you aren’t learning anything (since learning is the point of being in law school, right?).
Be smart about how you spend your 3L year.
Yes, it should be fun and you should take some great electives and participate in clinics. However, you must keep in mind your upcoming graduation and the bar exam. Making good decisions now sets you up for success next summer.
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Check out these other posts to help you get bar-ready!