If you’ve been diligently supporting someone throughout law school – whether it be a spouse, a child, a family member, or a friend – you’ve probably been looking forward to graduation just as much as the student. Finally the long nights of studying and stressing about exams, or grades, or internships, or anything else are finally over. But hold on, things aren’t done yet. In fact, things may be even more intense and chaotic than during law school because for the next few weeks your spouse, child, family member, or friend is going to be a bar studier. You may think you’re prepared for a little stress after supporting this person all the way through law school, but the bar exam will likely push your bar studier to a new level of anxiety. So how do you deal with the bar studier in your life?
Understanding Their Situation
Well, to start, it helps to gain a little perspective on what your bar studier is going through right now. She has just spent three years and a lot of money earning the degree that allows her to sit for this exam. She may be facing a large amount of student loan debt upon graduation or feeling pressure from the financial contributions that other people (perhaps you?!) made to her law school degree. Your bar studier is also likely aware that she is taking the bar exam during a period of historically low pass rates and an increasingly competitive job market. She knows that not passing can have negative long-term implications for her career and finances, not to mention that it’s just plain embarrassing. She’s likely looking at the huge book of outlines she’ll need to memorize over the next few weeks and questioning her own abilities. In short, your bar studier is feeling an immense amount of pressure to pass this test and is facing an immense amount of work. So, he or she will probably not be at their best over the next few weeks.
Simply appreciating the stress, pressure, and workload your bar studier is facing can go a long way towards coping with her tension or absenteeism, but it also helps to set clear expectations about what the bar prep period will involve for both parties. Have a conversation with your bar studier – before they’re knee deep in MBE practice questions and mock essays – about any concerns you have and what the plan is over the next few weeks. For example, if your spouse is preparing to take the bar exam, you may want to discuss how your childcare arrangements and chores will be handled during the study period. You may need to come to terms with eating takeout five nights a week or letting some of the usual household tidiness slides. If your child is a bar studier, it’s probably a good idea to discuss the level and tone of your involvement in his or her studies. Do they need some tough love or just encouragement? Do they want you to check up on them or do they need you to take a hands-off approach? It can be helpful to have these conversations even if your bar studier is only a roommate – making clear arrangements about who will take out the trash and understanding that common areas will be buried in books for a few weeks can head off arguments before they start.
Perhaps the most important point to discuss with your bar studier, no matter who they are, is how much downtime you can expect to spend with them. Your bar studier is in for some long days, and it helps to know when and how much time you’ll be able to spend together so that you don’t feel jilted. Even the most diligent student will need to take breaks and making concrete plans as to how you’ll enjoy that time will ensure that it actually happens. And what if your bar studier is such a ball of stress and anxiety that they’re not even any fun to hang out with? In that case, you may just need to agree to not like each other very much for a few weeks. Find something to keep yourself busy while your bar studier completes her preparation and then reconvene when the exam is over.
Look at the Big Picture
As you’re supporting (and maybe suffering) your bar studier over the next few weeks, it helps to remember that this is a short-term situation. After three long years of law school you may think you’re ready for the studying and stress to be over, but believe me, no one is more ready than the person sitting for the actual exam. Give yourself a pat on the back for supporting your bar studier during the ups and downs of law school, keep pumping them up with encouraging words, and take some comfort in knowing that soon he or she will be done with the bar exam. Once the dust settles, your bar studier will be able to appreciate all of your support and things can get back to normal, whatever that may look like!
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