Studying for the bar exam is among the hardest things you will have to do in your legal career. It is a test of character, to be sure. It is a test also of your endurance and dedication. Until I launched my own business, I had not gone through anything else that was quite so personal, so intensive. And now, upon reflection, I can see that many of the lessons I have learned in building my business are useful in the context of studying for the bar exam.
By way of background, I worked as an associate in a large law firm for a number of years. Last year, I left my practice to start a small business. In the transition from working as an associate in a large law firm to being an independent small business owner, I was faced with creating some very specific strategies for growing my business and defining my own success. While there is plenty of information out there about what makes a successful small business (and more information still about how many small businesses fail!), much like studying for the bar exam, there is no formula per se. Rather, you have to know yourself, capitalize on your strengths, and devise a system that works for you.
With this said, there are a number of behavioral tools that are key for any successful entrepreneur, irrespective of business type or objectives.
And, incidentally, these tools will serve you well as you are studying for the bar exam, too.
1. Work hard. In pursuing any business endeavor, and in studying for the bar exam, there is no substitute for dedicated hard work. To succeed, you must work hard. You must put in long hours and late nights and get up early to do it all over again. While this may sound obvious, it is the awareness that is important – the willingness to work hard must be front-of-mind every day.
2. Create a schedule. When you are studying for the bar exam, just as when you are running your own business, your days are mostly your own. You are the master of your schedule and what happens within the course of a day depends on you. This can be both a positive and a negative. It is positive because it allows you freedom to work in the manner that is best for you; it is negative because it can be overwhelming, and can lead to a lack of structure.
At the outset when you are studying for the bar exam, devise a defined schedule for your days. Create a schedule that is realistic and easy to stick to. Build in some flexibility and account for variables that inevitably come up from time to time. Make adjustments in your daily schedule where things are not working. And study smart. Think about the best use of your time and energy. Focus on areas that cause you difficulty or that are sure to appear on the exam (and not on remote topics that may or may not appear on the exam in the form of one multiple choice question).
As a tip, make your daily schedule the wallpaper on your computer so you are seeing it constantly. This will help keep you on track.
3. Set goals. No business can thrive without a set of clearly defined goals. This is true when you are studying for the bar exam, as well. Of course, the long-term goal for anyone studying for the bar is to pass. But this goal is a broad one, and difficult to tackle in any meaningful way (it is similar to a small business owner setting the goal of making a lot of money – a valid goal, but not specific enough to take on without smaller, more realistic goals in place first).
To make goal setting realistic while studying for the bar exam, write down daily, weekly, and monthly goals over the course of your studying. These do not have to be major goals in every instance – identifying small, defined goals in furtherance of the larger goal (passing the bar) will suffice and will increase your chances for success. For example, what subject might you study on day one? What improvements would you like to see in your writing by day 15? What score are you aiming for on your mid-study period practice exam? Small goals in support of the larger goal will keep you on track and help you stay motivated when the actual exam is still months away.
As an additional tip here, your goals should be uniquely your own. Do not be influenced by the way others are approaching their studying. Everyone has different study needs and tactics – what works for one person may not work for you. Focus on your own needs and forget about what others are doing.
4. Do not be discouraged. When studying for the bar exam (again, like any business endeavor), it is easy to succumb to feelings of discouragement or dissatisfaction. Any bad news, in the form of a bad practice test, for example, or a day where you did not get as much studying done as you would have liked, can really bring you down. Instead of allowing yourself to be discouraged, use this as motivation to continue moving forward. Stay the course. Start the next day with a fresh perspective, a renewed motivation, and a positive sentiment about the remaining days of studying. No process, including studying for the bar exam, is a flawless one.
5. Take mental health breaks. When I first launched my business, a friend and fellow small business owner told me that the one piece of advice he wished he had been given when he started his business was to take breaks. He said he had run his business for years without rest, because there was always more to be done. When you are studying for the bar exam, your work is never done. It feels as though there is always something more you could be doing. This does not mean that you must spend every waking hour studying. In fact, this is counterproductive. Allow yourself some downtime, and some recharging time. Exercise, even if just for 15 minutes a couple of times a week. Eat regular meals. Spend five minutes on your favorite website.
Allow your mind and body a reprieve from the consuming bar exam study process so you are energized and working at full capacity when you go back to it.
So that’s it, your entrepreneurial guide to studying for the bar exam. Take a moment to take these in, and then get to your bar exam studying like you own it. Because you do.
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Desiree Moore is the President and founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC. Greenhorn Legal offers intensive practical skills training programs for law students and new lawyers as they transition from law school into their legal practices. Ms. Moore is also an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and was an associate at the law firm of K&L Gates. She can be found on Twitter at @greenhornlegal.
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Want to check out other interviews with helpful people? Check out these posts:
- Lauren Fire, Mind Over Bar
- Jessica Klein, Author of The Goat’s Guide: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide To Preparing for the California Bar Exam On Your Own (Part I)
- Jessica Klein, Author of The Goat’s Guide (Part II)
- Sean Silverman, MBE Expert – Preparing for the MBE
Image from Greenhorn Legal.
This post was originally posted by Amicus Tutoring.