If I were to ask a random sample of law students what the most important factor in passing the bar exam is, many of these students would say “intelligence” or “hard work”. Both are incorrect. The most important factor in passing the bar exam is one’s commitment to the bar exam.
How do I know that? Because some of the most intelligent, hardworking law students and lawyers have failed the bar exam due to a lack of commitment.
When I was a student at Harvard Law School, the faculty was tremendously excited about a young constitutional law professor, Kathleen Sullivan. Many on Harvard’s faculty considered Professor Sullivan to be one of the most intelligent constitutional law scholars they had seen in a long time. Professor Sullivan eventually became the Dean of Stanford Law School. Then she decided to practice law in California and took the California bar exam.
Guess what? Brilliant constitutional scholar Kathleen Sullivan failed the California bar exam. How could a top legal scholar fail the bar exam? According to William Urquhart, a partner in the firm she joined, Professor Sullivan spent little time preparing because she was inundated with work from the firm she joined and Stanford Law School, where she ran the school’s constitutional law center.
Governor Jerry Brown, who went to Yale Law School, failed the California bar exam on his first attempt, as did several of his Yale classmates. Does anyone care to argue that Yale law students are lacking in intelligence?
Finally, a bright classmate of mine at Harvard Law School also failed the California bar exam on his first attempt. Why? While I was working 8 hours a day 6 days a week studying for (and passing) the California bar, my classmate enjoyed a much more relaxed schedule. He decided that he was only going to study the subjects that were tested on the MBE portion of the bar exam. (At that time, federal civil procedure was not tested on the MBE). Unfortunately for my classmate, three of the essay questions on the California bar that year focused on non-MBE subjects: federal civil procedure, California wills & trust law, and California community property law. Needless to say, my classmate did not pass that sitting of the bar exam.
What do Kathleen Sullivan, Jerry Brown and my classmate have in common? They are all very intelligent and hardworking, but they failed to pass the bar exam because they failed to commit to passing the bar exam.
What do I mean by commitment?
Suppose you visit a doctor and get some very bad news: you have a horrible disease that is often fatal. However, there is a treatment that can cure you. The treatment takes two months and you have to go through a series of drug treatments and physical therapy that takes 8 hours every single day.
How committed would you be to doing this treatment?
Would you say, “Gee, I’m working, I can’t do 8 hours a day, I’ll do two hours a day”? Would you skip a day to attend a relative’s or close friend’s wedding or birthday party? Would you make changes to the treatment schedule that your doctor set out for you? If the answer to these questions is “no”, then you are truly committed to the treatment.
If you want to maximize your chances of passing the bar exam, you need to have the same level of commitment to the bar exam that you do to the treatment of the horrible disease. While you are studying for the bar exam, the bar exam is your life. It is a full-time job, and everything else must be put on hold until you have finished taking the bar exam. If you do any type of work, no matter how short the hours, you are reducing your chances of passing the bar exam.
There are other commitments you need to make in order to maximize your chances of passing the bar exam. You need to commit to getting enough rest when you are not studying for the bar, so that you are alert when you are studying, and your studying is efficient and effective.
You also need to commit to getting as much help and support as possible. Help and support includes the following:
- Getting the bar exam preparation resources that are right for you,
- If at all possible, having someone else prepare food for you and take care of routine chores such as laundry,
- Engaging in some stress relief activities every day.
The final step in committing to passing the bar is to let your family and friends know about your commitment and asking for support. Tell them that in order to maximize your chances of passing the bar, you need to focus completely on studying for the bar and will not be available for casual phone calls, texts, meals etc. Let them know that this has nothing to do with your love and affection for them; it is simply something that is necessary for you to succeed in your career. You should also ask for their help. Can someone cook for you or bring you meals? Do your laundry? Take care of your pets?
If you take the steps to make a full commitment to passing the bar exam, you will vastly increase your chances of passing the bar exam.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Getting Ready to Start Bar Prep? Do These 5 Things First
- Surviving Bar Exam Prep: Keeping it Together When You Want to Freak Out
- The Ins and Outs of Studying for the Bar Exam
- How to Draft a Study Plan and Stick to It
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