Taking the bar exam is no easy feat—an understatement, I know. Sure, you’ve spent three years of law school preparing for this one major exam that stands between you and the career you’ve chosen. You have studied torts, civil procedure, criminal law, contracts, and constitutional law like it was your job. And, you paid a hefty price for a bar review course to ensure you were as equipped to pass the exam as you would ever be.
But, that’s not all there is to getting licensed. Before you can even take the bar exam, you have to apply for the privilege to take the exam. Yes, you heard correctly. And then, when you have taken the bar exam, you still have to apply to your jurisdiction’s bar.
In my experience, quite frankly, applying for the bar was almost as stressful as applying for and taking the bar exam.
Every jurisdiction differs, of course, but I have now applied for three different bars: Virginia, New York, and North Carolina. The process hasn’t gotten any easier. Here are some tips to get prepared for and crush your bar application.
When I applied for the Virginia Bar, I was shocked to learn all the information that the bar required in order to approve my application. I’m talking: past addresses, every employer I’ve ever had, how much debt I carried, how much student loan debt in particular I had, and so on.
Applying to New York wasn’t any easier. But, North Carolina so far probably takes the cake. I recently applied to North Carolina and discovered I needed to list not one, not two, but seventeen references! None of the references could be related to me. None of the references could be related to each other. I needed to include four fellow attorneys, two past clients, and four people who were willing to fill out affidavits on my behalf.
In addition to the names, I needed to include email addresses, physical addresses, and phone numbers for all of my contacts. Honestly, I didn’t think I knew seventeen unrelated people that well let alone had all of their contact information! It actually took me several days to make a list of contacts, reach out to everyone, and make sure I had up-to-date information.
Before you begin your state’s bar application, see if you can do a little research and find out what is going to be required in that application. It may help you get better prepared and avoid a situation where you’re unable to gather the requisite information on time or where your focus is too much on the application and not enough on studying for the bar.
Get And Stay Organized
Over the course of my life I have moved roughly twenty-eight times. That’s almost once for every year I’ve been alive. Imagine my panic when I realized the first time I applied for a state bar that I needed to include the addresses for all of the places I lived (whether I received mail there or not) since I was eighteen years old.
I thought for sure three years of law school, bar preparation, passing the bar, all would be for nothing, because how in the world could I ever remember so many addresses? Would the bar notice if I didn’t include one or two? Could I explain why I moved so many times and beg for mercy?
First, let me assure you that while the bar application is serious and should be treated thusly, it is not, however the end of your legal career if you can’t remember every address for every location where you ever lived.
But, this is a good lesson to save your records now. Keep a journal of all of your addresses, places where you’ve worked, and other key information you know will be required on your application from doing your research as recommended above. Keep a folder of your tax returns, pay stubs for student loans, and other bank records. Anything that may pertain to the bar you already researched, compile that information and keep it organized.
Getting and staying organized now could save you a ton of time and energy later when you’re already exhausted from studying for and taking the bar exam. The bar exam should be your biggest focus, so don’t let being unorganized make you lose sight of that goal.
Maintain Professional Contacts
Not only was I surprised to learn I’d need to list seventeen references on my bar application, I was equally surprised to learn I did indeed know many unrelated people, and felt comfortable asking for a recommendation.
This wasn’t an accident, though. Early on in my collegiate career, I found myself scrambling to find enough references for various applications and quickly realized how important it is to maintain professional contacts for situations like this.
You may think once you get licensed, this issue won’t crop up again. But, as I mentioned, I have now applied for three states’ bars. Ten years after I was initially licensed, I found myself moving to a new state to practice. You never know when these contacts can be useful whether as referral sources or references.
The bar exam is hard enough without making the process even more difficult by not being prepared or organized to apply for your state’s bar. Give yourself a break and don’t forget this important step to getting licensed.