Are you thinking about preparing for the bar exam yet? It doesn’t matter whether you are a 1L, or in your final year of law school. Thinking about the bar exam should start as soon as possible so that a good foundation can be laid before actual bar prep begins.
The First Year of Law School
At this point, you’re thinking, “shouldn’t I concentrate on surviving the first year of law school? After all, I’ve heard this is the hardest thing I will ever do, and I have to get through this stage before I even think about the possibility of taking the bar exam.” Well, that may be true, but also consider that because of the breadth of information you will have to cover in a short amount of time, studying for the bar could ultimately be worse.
While your attention should be focused on your first-year studies, there are steps you should take to help set you up for that later time when you will be preparing for the bar exam. For instance, many law schools have a set curriculum for first year students that usually includes basic bar topics like torts, contracts, civil procedure, and criminal law. Put significant time and effort into these classes, especially when it comes to creating outlines and taking practice exams. You will not see these subjects again in this amount of depth for another two to three years. Get a good foundation now. Spend time on those outlines and save them for later reference. It is more likely that you will remember basic rules you studied when you see them again in your own language rather than in an outline provided by a bar prep company.
During your first year, you will be tempted to purchase a bar prep program. Representatives will be on campus at various times promoting their programs and offering huge discounts for signing up early. While those discounts may be tempting, make sure you understand your own unique needs. Who knows, your own outlines may end up providing a good base for studying, requiring you only to enhance your plan with some tutorial time and practice exams. Every bar prep course is not a good fit for everyone. As a result, that discount could turn into money wasted.
The Middle Year(s) of Law School
Congratulations, you have made it into the second year. At this point you may have more input into the courses you take. You’ll have the opportunity to take interesting classes that focus on areas you think you will want to specialize in after becoming licensed. While that is a good idea in concept, your focus at this point should not stray too far from the important goal of passing the bar exam. Maybe take only one elective that interests you per semester. Populate the rest of your schedule with classes addressing bar subjects – constitutional law, criminal procedure, evidence, real property, and professional responsibility. And don’t forget those subjects that are specific to the jurisdiction you will be tested in. Again, keep putting your efforts into outlines you can use later when you start bar prep in earnest.
Professional Responsibility is a class you should plan to take during this time. Once you complete the class, take the MPRE and get it out of the way before your final year of law school so that you don’t have to worry about passing the MPRE while also prepping for the bar exam. And keep your outline, especially if you are in a jurisdiction like California that often includes this subject in the regular bar exam. Your outline will have information about the differences between bodies of law that will be important for the bar exam, but not necessarily for the MPRE.
By this time, you have probably figured out how you best learn and study. If you haven’t already decided what to do about a bar prep course, now may be the time to do it. Consider all the options before you feel overwhelmed.
Your Final Year of Law School
This is when things get serious. Consider what bar subjects you have yet to cover. Include as many of these as you can in your schedule. One thing I would absolutely recommend is to take a Remedies class during your final year. Remedies is a class that forces you to review various subjects you already covered, and thus, sets you up well for the bar prep season.
Finally, get your life in order. Studying for the bar is an all-encompassing exercise. Make sure your family and friends understand how unavailable you may be during this time. Figure out where you are going to study and how. Make a reservation at a comfortable hotel for the days surrounding the bar exam if you have to travel out of town for the exam itself (or maybe even if you are staying in town).
Planning this far ahead will not only help you be successful on the bar exam, it might also set a good pattern for you to use in the future as a practicing attorney.