When I was in law school, I felt like information on the bar was this mirage in the distance – and not necessarily a mirage I wanted to become acquainted with. It was hazy, unattainable, and confusing. Professors would explain pieces of the exam to us, I knew how long the test would be and the basic parts, but mostly information on the bar was used as a scare tactic to force us to fear our exam periods. “If you can’t get a B on my test, you have no hope of passing the civil procedure portion of the bar exam in any state.” This is not true, of course, because after your 1L courses, you have two more years of law classes to take. Two more years to figure out your learning style, implement healthy study habits, and buckle down for the bar exam.
So I got to my third year of law school knowing very little about the bar exam. I didn’t know how to study or prepare for it – in fact, I’m comfortable saying, I didn’t know how to prepare for the bar exam until the second time I sat for it, and that was mostly due to my amazing tutor. I most certainly did not know which state to take the exam in, nevermind which state I saw myself practicing in. Which is why I find myself having a hard time finding a job in Florida with a New York bar license.
Below I’m going to outline the steps I wish I had taken prior to signing up for the bar exam that I think would have made this process easier.
1. Find a Bar Exam Tutor and Pick Their Brain
Had I known about Bar Exam Toolbox in law school, I would have been much better off. If you’re here reading about the bar exam, this site has the best resources around – and I’m not just saying that because I write for them. I haven’t found another site with better resources about how to study, prepare, and emotionally function through the bar exam.
A bar exam tutor will explain the components of the exam, the benefits to taking one state over the other, how the Uniform Bar Exam works, how to prepare for any situation, and what to expect come game day.
2. Take Time Out of Each Semester to Consider where you would like to Practice
I had no idea where I would end up after law school. I imagined I would stay in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, and then in my third year of school I became obsessed with the idea of picking up and moving to New York. I never considered any other states, and I never even looked for post-law school positions while I was in school.
So, my suggestion is to make a plan to consider where you would like to practice. It doesn’t have to be the state you want to settle in forever, but if you think you’ll be somewhere specific for at least the next three years, pick that state. And if you can’t narrow it down, or don’t care where you live, look at the job market in those states. New York City is extremely competitive, but Bend, Oregon might have a surplus of positions and not enough attorneys applying to them.
I wish I had adopted this plan when I was in school. Instead, the summer before my last year of school, I visited New York City for the first time, for three days, and decided I wanted to live there. I didn’t think of much else the rest of the year, didn’t look for jobs (assuming incorrectly that I would find one easily once the bar was over), and then, in my last month of school, signed up for the New York bar exam on a double dare from my supervisor in the Juvenile Court.
(In my defense, New York had adopted the Uniform Bar Exam and most of New England would be following suit shortly after. It didn’t make sense for me to take the Massachusetts bar if I thought I’d move to New York right after, at least not until Massachusetts adopted the UBE.)
So I took the New York bar, and failed. And then I moved back home to Florida and sat for the New York bar again. At that point, it was the dragon I needed to slay to get the chip off my shoulder, but I probably should have sat for the Florida bar instead. I still thought I would move up to New York once I was admitted. I applied to every associate attorney position and compliance role based in New York, but I barely got phone screenings at all. Then I met my partner and decided to pursue a life in Florida. I don’t want to take another bar exam, and have found a way to use my degree that suits me, but I do wish I had foreseen living here as a possibility when I was still in school and thought about taking the Florida bar.
3. Apply to Positions before Law School Ends
In your last year of law school, with the bar on the horizon, start applying to associate attorney positions. Even if you don’t get anything, the act will give you an idea of what’s out there, which states have a broader job market, and what kind of law is in demand. It will also help you practice applying and interviewing so that when you do find a job you love, you’ll already be prepared.
Like I said, I didn’t apply to a single thing before my first round of the bar was over. I had no idea what kind of law I wanted to practice, what kind of firms were out there, and how much I would have loved to be a law clerk. Look into the different avenues of law while you’re still in school and have unlimited access to your professors, mentors and advisors.
Signing up for the bar exam is the first step to becoming an attorney, and figuring out where you want to take it is an essential part of that. If you can think of more than one place you’d like to live and practice in for the next three to five years, take the time during school to research those states, look at their job markets, their bar passage rates, the information required for the bar exam, and what life would be like once you lived there. By taking the time in school to consider what your life will look like when school is over, you will be better able to choose a state to build your career and choosing a bar will be way easier.