Congratulations! You have completed the bar exam, a legal form of torture that you volunteered yourself for! Jokes aside, you have accomplished what many have attempted but few have successfully achieved– you have survived the bar exam. Years of hard work, tears, and determination have led to this moment. You have every reason to celebrate, relax, and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. But now that you have taken the bar exam, what happens next? Unfortunately, you do not magically become an attorney after you finish your exam. You have to wait for results, confirm bar passage, and complete the additional steps that your jurisdiction requires to become a licensed attorney. So how do you survive this waiting period? And how can you keep yourself sane? Fortunately, I have survived the bar exam and the waiting period and will help you get through it!
The Waiting Period
So you take the bar exam and then what? Well you enter a time that many refer to as “the waiting period.” Unfortunately, you do not immediately get results after taking the bar exam. Although it depends on the jurisdiction, the turn-around time between taking the exam and releasing results can be several weeks or months. During this time you are just in limbo. You cannot practice as a licensed attorney until you get passing bar results, get sworn in, and take the additional steps your jurisdiction requires. Until you know if you passed or not, you do not know if you are going to have to retake the exam or if you will be able to practice soon. Thus, you are just waiting.
My Personal Story
I took the Michigan bar exam in July 2019. Historically, Michigan releases unofficial results for the July exam online in early to mid October. Unfortunately, we did not receive these results until October 31. In hindsight, it wasn’t that much of a delay but it seemed like forever when I was in the moment. There were even conspiracy theories that the bar examiners had to re-grade all of the essays because the scores were so low (I will say the pass rate was relatively low for this exam at 61%). Regardless, the waiting period was one of the most stressful and anxiety-ridden times of my life. I am a first generation college student and lawyer and a lot was riding on me passing the bar exam and becoming a lawyer. I was also working at my firm during the waiting period as a “lawyer pending bar results.” I was also CONVINCED I had failed. Fortunately, I did pass the bar exam, and I am now a practicing attorney. But it was not without immense stress that likely shaved off years of my life.
Talking to Your Loved Ones
Family and friends are excited for you and your future! However, sometimes their excitement can turn into pestering you about your results, adding to your stress and anxiety. Personally, I was constantly asked by extended family and friends “did you pass the bar yet?” and was even accused of lying about not having the results yet (crazy, I know). This only increased my anxiety and fears. My immediate family and close friends knew that I would receive results in October and not to bring up the bar exam unless I initiated the conversation. It is important to discuss with your loved ones how you want to handle the waiting period. Communicate whether or not you want to talk about the bar exam and when you should expect results. It is also a good idea to have a game plan once results are released. Having these conversations will help reduce your stress and make the waiting period a bit more manageable.
Manage Your Anxiety
I don’t know about you, but studying and taking the bar exam raised my blood pressure and increased my anxiety. Thus, it is important to decompress and manage your anxiety during the waiting period. It is easy to keep reliving the exam or questions you think you got wrong. It is very easy to convince yourself that you failed or your career is over (trust me, it isn’t, and it will be okay). During the waiting period, it is crucial that you try to relax and take your mind off of the bar exam; your mental health is extremely important. See friends and family, take a vacation, and do things that make you happy. You will thank yourself for taking a break.
Start (or Look For) Work
Although it may seem like your future is uncertain, you will eventually pass and become an attorney. Many firms are flexible when it comes to individuals who are waiting on bar results and will typically hire you as an attorney contingent on bar passage. Even if you fail (which you will also survive), some firms will still allow you to retake the exam. Thus, the waiting period is a great time to start your career or do some job hunting! Plus it might take your mind off the bar exam (at least for a little bit).
You Will Get Through it!
The waiting period seems like forever, trust me, I know. You have worked so hard for this moment just to be in limbo for however long it takes your jurisdiction to release results. I know how frustrating, stressful and worrisome this time can be. However, you have made it through the worst part: studying and taking the bar exam, and you will get through the waiting period as well. The waiting period does have an end, and in the grand scheme of things, is a blip in your life and career. Results will be released, you will be able to become an attorney, and you will be successful. You will make it through and I wish you the best of luck!