I still remember my rigid bar exam study schedule. Wake up, go to Barbri lecture, come home and outline, eat lunch for no longer than 45 minutes, practice essays, go for allotted 45 minute run, do MBE practice, eat dinner, review practice, go to bed, repeat. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grit as: “firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” Others have described grit as a “stick-to-it-ness” or a combination of optimism, discipline, and self-motivation. I would label it perseverance. Either way, grit describes the qualities that will help you be successful on the bar exam. To take out those outlines and practice exams day after day, week after week, after 3 years of long and hard studying requires grit. Being a lawyer requires grit too – especially if you are trying to find that specific case a partner has told you he needs you to look for at 6:00 when he walked into your office just as you were thinking of leaving (and he is sure there is a case that says what he wants). So if that case doesn’t exist, you’d better improvise.
Similar to my previous blog post on deliberate practice, you do not need to be born with grit. The good news for you is that grit is something you can learn. So then the question becomes: how do we add more grit into our lives? In her book, Grit the Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Lee Duckworth, PhD, and professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania, studied and identified the following traits in gritty people:
You want to be a lawyer, right? Your goal is to win your arguments so therein lies your interest in understanding, arguing and analyzing the law. Add some grit by moving beyond the idea or concept that there is a floating passion out there for you if you can just find it. The law is always changing, so commit to becoming an expert in a certain area, or researching new cases to foster a passion in your area of interest rather than growing bored. Studying for the bar exam is one step towards becoming an expert. Reaching a new level of understanding or knowledge is a passion. Own it. Some of this knowledge might actually lead you to your niche.
Deliberate practice focusing on strategies and techniques to constantly improve is another quality that will add grit to your life. Let’s clarify while we are on this one that just because you are interested in the end result (passing the bar and becoming a lawyer), it does not mean that your day to day routine will be fun. See my bar study schedule above. The reality is that once you are an attorney there will also be parts of a job you do not like such as billing your time or other administrative tasks. However, if you remain interested in your end goal, then your practice will become a means to an end. As Angela Duckworth was writing her book she interviewed Rowdy Gaines, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist. In order to prepare for that Olympic game, he swam approximately 20,000 miles. She asked him “do you love to practice?” He replied: “Are you asking me if I love getting up at 4 in the morning, jumping into a cold pool, and swimming laps looking at a black line at the bottom…No, I don’t…I have a passion for the whole sport.” Here, you need to remember that this methodical practice will get you to your next step of officially becoming a lawyer. And that is the goal you are trying to reach.
Once you’ve figured out an effective practice method, the next quality that will enhance your grit is to find an over arching purpose in what you are doing. Insert future client name here. Who is he or she? Is it a company, or a person? Is it an adult, or a child? How will you be able to right a wrong, or help someone who is unable to represent themselves? All of those long days and nights of studying, practice and the struggle to understand difficult concepts is for the sake of that higher purpose. You are going to help someone.
Finally, being hopeful will add more grit to your life. As Duckworth says in her book: “You really do need hope from beginning to end.” She goes on to say “Because, of course, no matter where you are in your journey, there are going to be potholes and detours and things that might make you think that it’s not worth staying on this path.” Maybe the first essay on the bar exam will test a very small nuance or rule that you glossed over in your studying. Maybe you repeatedly studied the rule against perpetuities and just cannot seem to master it no matter how many times you try to apply the rule. Or maybe you failed the first or even second time you attempted to take the Bar exam. Having hope will help you overcome whatever your challenge may be and move on to succeed. Have the courage to make mistakes, or even fail the exam, and learn from your mistakes.
One thing is clear. Gritty people do not let life get in the way of reaching their goal. 10 weeks. That is what it typically takes to study for the bar exam. Some can get by studying for less time. Add some grit and knock the bar exam off your list.